Facebook poaches Google’s AR/VR engineering lead to take over Portal team
Facebook poaches Google’s AR/VR engineering lead to take over Portal team
Facebook Gets A New VP Of AR/VR Hardware And Portal Lead
Facebook Gets A New VP Of AR/VR Hardware And Portal Lead
Facebook Builds a VR Space, but Will Anyone Come?
Facebook Builds a VR Space, but Will Anyone Come?
Facebook schedules F8 2019 for April 30-May 1 in San Jose
Facebook schedules F8 2019 for April 30-May 1 in San Jose
I Mentored Mark Zuckerberg. I Loved Facebook. But I Can't Stay Silent About What's Happening.
I Mentored Mark Zuckerberg. I Loved Facebook. But I Can't Stay Silent About What's Happening.

Facebook is restructuring its augmented-reality glasses division as it inches closer to launch

VR Cover

Facebook is restructuring its efforts to build futuristic glasses as the company's augmented-reality efforts inch closer toward the launch of a commercial product.

The Silicon Valley tech giant has moved hundreds of employees from its research-focused unit Facebook Reality Labs to a new standalone product team focused on AR, Business Insider has learned.

The employees had already been working on AR tech at the Reality Labs group prior to the move, and the shift indicates Facebook continues to be focused on developing augmented-reality hardware and that its approach is shifting from something experimental and research-driven to a focus on delivering actual commercial products.

It's not clear exactly how many employees were transferred. One source estimated there were 650 employees within the Reality Labs group and that 60% of them were being transferred (just under 400), but the Facebook representative Tera Randall disputed this figure, instead saying: "A few hundred people moved out from FRL to work on AR product. We're growing both teams and expect FRL to increase by 20% this year."

The legendary programmer and games industry veteran Michael Abrash is in charge of FRL, and he will jointly lead the new AR product team with Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, Facebook's vice president of augmented reality and virtual reality. The changes were introduced around November, Randall said, and have not previously been reported.

People Would Shell Out Money For It. Most people recognize that the best virtual reality headsets cost quite a lot. After all, the best virtual reality experience is worth spending money on. One study found that a majority of consumers would be willing to spend up to $500 for the right virtual reality gear. This is really good news, considering that some of the top headsets for virtual reality cost about $500. There are also plenty of lower-priced ones that can be used for virtual reality as well.

"We made a shift to a more functional organization last year and brought the AR product work into our product org and out of research, now that we are closer to shipping," Randall said. (Some AR research will continue to be conducted through FRL.)

Facebook executive Michael Abrash at the company's Oculus Connect 5 conference in 2018 with a rendering of how AR glasses might look. Oculus/YouTube

On Wednesday, the Facebook executive Rafa Camargo also announced he was changing roles, becoming the new vice president of AR/VR hardware at Facebook under Bosworth. He now works alongside Ficus Kirkpatrick, who manages Facebook's AR and VR software efforts.

The AR team change follows a broader shake-up in Facebook's approach to experimental projects. In late 2018, as Business Insider previously reported, Facebook quietly scrapped the Building 8 umbrella organization that housed the various hardware and AR research projects.

Some of Building 8 was moved to Facebook Reality Labs — a rebranded version of Oculus Research, an older VR/AR-focused research lab at the company. Facebook now uses FRL to house some of its most far-out research — like brain-computer interfaces and "soft" robotics. These efforts are continuing as normal post-reorganization. Meanwhile, the newly created Portal organization took responsibility for the eponymous Portal smart video chat device Facebook had just launched.

Its not just about the fun and games. Other than providing action-packed, fun-filled entertainment for the entire family, VR plays a big role to help humanity as developers use it to help those in need in ways that were unimaginable 20 years ago. Some use it to cure phantom pain among amputee victims, while others rely on VR to provide therapy for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. VR has also been proven to help children with autism by teaching them social cues and real world lessons. It is being used as a practice board for surgical students before they make the first cut. There is even a VR content targeted at young adults that simulates their physical condition when they get to their 60s, and thus encourages them to save for the future.

Multiple AR hardware products in development

It's not clear whether the AR hardware product closest to commercialization is the futuristic glasses Facebook has previously discussed or another, undisclosed product.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg teased the company's vision for augmented-reality glasses at Facebook's annual developer conference in 2017. A digital mock-up of how the glasses might look, displayed to the crowd in an onstage presentation, resembled ordinary-looking eyeglasses with the capability to superimpose digital objects in the field of view. Facebook has said relatively little about the project since then, though Kirkpatrick confirmed to TechCrunch in October that the glasses were still being developed .

According to a source Business Insider spoke with, development of the AR glasses has progressed and there is now a physical prototype. The source, who had tried on a prototype of the glasses, said they resembled traditional glasses much more closely than the bulky AR headsets offered by Microsoft (the HoloLens) or Magic Leap.

"They look like really high-end glasses," the person said, adding "it's light enough to not feel heavy on your face, and it wasn't light enough to feel like you could just sit down and break them."

The source described being told that the glasses were originally scheduled for a 2020 launch but that it had been pushed back to around 2022. Randall disputed this, however, saying in a statement: "We have an exciting AR road map that includes multiple products, so your intel on release dates is wrong."

The Virtuality Group Arcade Machine Experiences. The 1990s saw huge developments in virtual reality. With the rise of the arcades and arcade games, it was only a matter of time, before developers started coming up with new and exciting concepts and ideas. A company known as The Virtuality Group was at the cutting edge of virtual reality, launching a wide range of arcade games and machines that let either one or a couple of players immerse themselves into amazing 3D visual experiences. This happened in 1991, a year before the movie The Lawnmower Man further introduced the Virtual Reality concept to a wider audience of people.

She confirmed that meant Facebook was working on multiple hardware AR products but indicated they might not all launch. She declined to provide specifics.

Do you work at Facebook? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via Signal or WhatsApp at +1 (650) 636-6268 using a non-work phone, email at rprice@businessinsider.com, Telegram or WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice . (PR pitches by email only, please.) You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

Mark Zuckerberg has signed the death warrant for the smartphone
Mark Zuckerberg has signed the death warrant for the smartphone
Facebook confirms that it's building a pair of AR glasses
Facebook confirms that it's building a pair of AR glasses
Facebook Staffers Once Brainstormed Ways to Sell User Data: Report
Facebook Staffers Once Brainstormed Ways to Sell User Data: Report
Facebook Open Sources ‘DeepFocus’ VR Research
Facebook Open Sources ‘DeepFocus’ VR Research