Facebook Unveils Augmented Reality Platform at F8 Conference

April 20, 2017 - 3 minutes read

Ten years after Facebook launched its game-changing Platform, the company is looking ahead to its next big conquest: augmented reality. “If you take one thing away from today, this is it,” said Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday in his keynote address at the annual F8 conference. “We’re making the camera the first augmented reality platform.” The company introduced its new Camera Effects Platform the same day, which allows app developers to build AR filters for its in-app cameras. Although there are only six developer partners working on the platform now, Zuckerberg’s comments at F8 indicate that it will eventually be open to more creators.

App developers who have mocked Facebook for ripping off Snapchat lately can now put those steals into context; this is a more ambitious project than just keeping up with youth trends. Copying Snapchat was also an easy way to catch up, as Facebook was decidedly late to the AR game. Most of what Zuckerberg showed off in demos at the conference were variations on Snapchat’s existing AR filters, enhanced by simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), a live 3D mapping function. In one particularly nifty demonstration, Zuckerberg showed off a two-dimensional photo of an office that had been transformed into a three-dimensional image, panning around the space and filling it with water effects, bouncy balls, and Skittles. The new cameras also employ object recognition to suggest filters based on the object, some of which will be “useful,” Zuckerberg promises.

As cool as a lot of what Zuckerberg’s demos were, the practical applications for Facebook’s AR features are not yet clear. By Zuckerberg’s own admission, AR is still in a “primitive” stage, but he suspects that it will be even bigger than virtual reality, even if he does not yet know how the AR business model will work. A large part of the company’s AR ambitions appears to be to eliminate the need for a lot of physical objects by projecting digital objects into the real world. For example, Zuckerberg is proposing that your TV could be replaced by a “one-dollar app ‘TV'” that you watch on a blank wall in your house. It’s a novel idea, and even if we’re not quite there yet, Facebook’s new camera platform is an exciting opportunity for Bay Area app developers looking to get into AR just as it’s poised to go mainstream.

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