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AR tops the bill at F8 with Camera Effects Platform beta and launch of VR project Facebook Spaces

Facebook used this year’s F8 keynote address to showcase its augmented reality (AR) initiative, lauded as “the first mainstream augmented reality platform” that will employ artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) to help developers build games and apps based on its technology, amid a host of other announcements.

Facebook CEO addressing attendees at F8 2017

Also included today (April 18) at the social network’s two-day, flagship developer conference were developments regarding: its AR Creative Effects Platform; VR-powered Facebook Spaces; enhancements to Developer Circles program; as well as updates to its chatbot Messenger Platform, including planned tie-ups with Apple Music and Spotify.

Facebook F8 kicked-off with chief executive Mark Zuckerberg telling attendees that its AR project (launching in beta today) would help make smartphone cameras “the first mainstream augmented reality platform”, with the project helping developers introduce basic effects such as face masks, and art frames (as well as build their own features) to their apps.

The 'first mainstream AR platform'

The AR project, dubbed Camera Effects Platform, effectively turns smartphone cameras into the first AR platform, providing an opportunity for artists and developers to create effects for the Facebook camera, according to a blog post promoting the initiative.

Included with this new platform are two creative tools, Frame Studio and AR Studio, that help developers create a full spectrum of camera effects, from simple frames to interactive AR experiences.

Meanwhile, back at the F8 keynote, Zuckerberg explained his theory on why Facebook Camera would become the first AR platform to hit scale. “I used to think that glasses were going to be the first AR platform, once we got the form-factor that we all want, but we’ve actually started to see primitive versions of these applications,” he said, referencing mobile apps such as Pokemon Go and others.

What these all have in common is that they serve three core purposes by allowing developers to: display information such as arrows pointing to objects in a picture, add digital objects such as emojis and enhance existing objects like adding filters to an image.

“A lot of people look at the stuff and it seems too basic… we look at it and we see the beginning of a new platform. We’re not building with primitive tools because that’s what we want to work with. We’re building with primitive tools because we’re still early in the journey to build better ones,” added Zuckerberg.

He went on to say: “We need an open platform so that any developer in the world can build for augmented reality without first having to build their own camera and then get a lot of people to use it. But when you look at all the different cameras around that are out there today, nobody has built a platform yet. So today we’re going to start building this platform together, and we’re going to make the camera the first mainstream augmented reality platform. If you take one thing away today, this is it!”

The Frame Studio element of Camera Effects Platform is currently live and those interested in participating in the AR Studio element of the beta program can apply here.

Facebook Spaces

With F8 now in its 10th year, Facebook also used the flagship developer event to showcase its efforts in AI, which, ultimately, powers its AR projects, VR including its first social VR product in the guise of Facebook Spaces, as well updates to its Messenger Platform.

“AR and VR go hand-in-hand and this VR experience will give you a taste of what it’s like to be with your friends no matter where they are in the world, and start interacting with all sorts of digital objects on the road to full AR,” explained Zuckerberg.

Also debuted at the event was the Facebook Spaces beta, which is now available to Oculus Rift users in beta. These are services that lets users build a VR-version of their own personality based on their Facebook data, and allows them interact with a network based on their social network.

“Facebook Spaces lets you easily phone a friend in the real world with Messenger video calling, so you can bring even more people into your VR space. They can answer your call on their phone to instantly open a window into your virtual world,” reads a blog piece promoting the project.

“Whether you want to show off your latest 3D drawing masterpiece, play an amazing 360 video your friend would love, or just spend time chatting, it’s one of the best ways to be in the moment together, from anywhere."

It goes on to read: "Today is only the beginning. We’re launching in beta, and we’ll add new features as we learn from your feedback and continue exploring what makes social VR experiences most meaningful. We also plan to bring the experience to more platforms over time. We’ve only just scratched the surface of social VR technology. In the future, it will continue to transform the way people around the world stay connected with their communities and those closest to them. We can’t wait to get there."

Messenger updates

Elsewhere during proceedings, the company also previewed the launch of Facebook Messenger 2.0, an update to the chatbot feature it debuted last last year’s F8, which now processes over 2 billion messages each month with over 100,000 developers accusing the platform, which now has an increased emphasis on discovery, with the social network featuring Chat Extensions on its platform.

“We already have AI that helps businesses answer questions from their customers, and today we’re going to launch a bunch of discovery tools that help you find the businesses and bots that help you find and discover the kind of businesses you want to discover on the platform," said Zuckerberg.

This includes the launch of a discovery tab inside Messenger, that will help users better discover the bots that can help them surface the information they need as well as tools that can help facilitate group purchasing and planning.

One key update featured at F8 was a partnership with music streaming service Spotify that would let users of Messenger Platform search for any music track or artist they are interested in from within the messaging service, via a Spotify integration, and then share said content without having to leave the original app.

The integration also lets users play tracks on Spotify from within the messaging thread, with Apple Music also penciled in to launch on the platform “very soon”, according to Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus, speaking at F8.

“What we want to do is see how people will interact how people will interact,” he added while showcasing a tie-up with Delivery.com, that will allow social ordering from the food-ordering business where all participants in a messaging thread can curate an order and then complete the purchase with native payments.

Marcus went on to preview an additional games tab to Messenger that involve enhancements to Games on Messenger that will enable real-time gaming, plus turn-by-tune games from within the service.

“2017 is going to be an amazing year together with Chat Extensions, better AI, and more engaging games,” concluded Marcus. “I really believe you have everything you need to take your business tho the next level.”

Facebook F8 continues tomorrow, and will contain updates on other Facebook Projects such as the launch of its Aquila offering, a solar-powered plane designed to fly over geographies with lower internet penetration (such as developing markets) and improve internet connectivity.

Included in the Day Two of proceedings will be updates on its Building 8 project, a scheme where the internet giant is working on “direct brain interfaces where you can communicate using only your mind.”

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Ronan Shields

I'm the digital editor at The Drum, and cover adtech and martech. Prefer news and analysis, over opinion pieces. Current fascination(s) are blockchain and media futures trading; also curious about transhumanism on a personal basis. NYC-based, but really London Irish.

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