Facebook has a strong presence in the virtual reality space with the Oculus family of devices, and it wants to make sure things stay that way in the future. As initially reported by Alex Heath of The Information (via TechCrunch), the company has tasked Mark Lucovsky, former developer of Windows NT, with creating a brand new operating system. The goal is for Facebook to stop depending on other companies' platforms, like Android or iOS, in order to maintain its presence in the AR space.
In some way, Facebook has tried to stand up to Google and Apple's mobile platforms with the HTC First, a phone that was built around the company's social network, but that attempt was a resounding failure. Sometime in 2013, the company also reportedly worked on a project called Oxygen, which would make it easier to distribute Android apps without relying on the Play Store.
This apparent lack of trust in major mobile platforms is why Facebook wants to be independent going into the augmented reality market, despite its failed attempts to do so in the past. Andrew Bosworth, Vice President of hardware at Facebook, said:
“We really want to make sure the next generation has space for us(...). We don’t think we can trust the marketplace or competitors to ensure that’s the case. And so we’re gonna do it ourselves.”
The investments go beyond software, of course, and Facebook is scaling up its hardware development for augmented and virtual reality. A new office for AR and VR is opening up in Burlingame, near the company's headquarters, in a 70,000-square-foot facility that will house around 4,000 employees in the second half of next year. The office might also serve as Facebook's first fixed retail experience, with the company saying it plans to have a publicly accessible area where customers can try and buy its AR and VR products.
In terms of products we can expect, Facebook will not only have its Oculus devices, but it's also working on smart glasses with Ray-Ban, as well as confirming in the past that it's working on a proper augmented reality headset, similar to Microsoft's HoloLens. The company is even working on devices that can recognize the words users are thinking without them even having to say them, a project that's seen promising development so far. The brain interface device has been shrunk from the size of a fridge to something that fits in a user's hand, but it's still not ready to be put in a real product.
The augmented reality market is still in its early stages, and to the general consumer, its growth has appeared to be somewhat slow, so it may be surprising to see such a large investment from Facebook at this point. On the other hand, the company likely has to do this early on in the game, so it can achieve the independence it's seeking. Naturally, it remains to be seen how well that works out.