Mark Zuckerberg looks on right on me as he explains how this conversation is different from most professional conversations that have taken place over the past 18 months. “You are sitting to my right,” he said. – That means I’m on your left. We have a common sense of space. And that’s true. On a Zoom call, he was just a small square in a matrix, staring blankly at a webcam. But here in Horizon Workrooms, Facebook’s new VR meeting space, it feels like you’re sitting a few feet apart, especially with Zuckerberg’s new avatar looking remarkably like the real thing. , of the Caesar cut with blue eyes that do not blink.
There is one problem, however: his mouth does not move.
I can hear the voice of the Facebook CEO and I can see his hands moving as he gestures, but the net effect is more like a Hummel figurine explaining his take on the metaverse. I’ll put it this way: it’s not not sinister.
It is also quite easily repaired. Zuckerberg comes out of the conference room, slipping away, and a few moments later rejoins the virtual mouth fully operational and the Uncanny Valley successfully crossed. “It’s really baffling when even a little piece is off,” admits Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, vice president of Facebook Reality Labs, sitting across the room at a long, circular table.
Horizon Workrooms, which the company officially announced today, is also officially in beta. This means that problems arise. Sometimes, says Bosworth, people come entirely in blue. But aside from the whole mouth – a known bug, Bosworth calls it – the platform performed remarkably smoothly in a demo earlier this week. Although this may not be the first time that a company has attempted to create a compelling VR version of a meeting (not by a long shot), Workrooms represents Facebook’s first public attempt to activate what Zuckerberg has called the “infinite desktop.” Turns out the Metaverse is more like a Meetaverse.
Few months ago, WIRED reported that Facebook Reality Labs teams held weekly meetings in a home VR app. It was Horizon Workrooms. Either way, this did not come about from the pandemic-induced lockdown. At least, not entirely. “Obviously our enthusiasm has only increased in the last 18 months or so,” says Bosworth. A few years ago, the FRL team began to look into the problem of virtual work; While tools like Zoom and Slack have made remote collaboration possible, Bosworth points out, they don’t necessarily do much for creativity.
This is where Workrooms comes in. When you first launch the app in your Oculus Quest 2 headset, it prompts you to trace the front edge of your desktop with a remote control, then pair the headset with your computer; With setup complete, you find yourself sitting at a virtual desktop the same size as yours, with your laptop screen hovering in front of you. Using a compatible MacBook Pro or Logitech keyboard? These are traceable, which means that a virtual dummy sits on the desktop in front of you; when you reach out to type it, the Quest’s passthrough camera engages and you see your own IRL hands layered over the keys. You can put manual controllers aside as well, as the Quest 2’s manual tracking allows you to interact with workrooms by pinching and swiping. (You’re going to want to make sure there isn’t a full cup of coffee around. Trust me.)