Facebook wants your avatar to travel the world for you using new technology – Screen Shot
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Facebook wants your avatar to travel the world for you using new technology

Facebook is working on something special for us—again. You might have never heard of Facebook Reality Labs (FRL), Facebook’s research division exploring the future of social presence, but unlike what the social media giant is mostly known for, such as stealing our data and spamming us with memories, this branch of the company actually seems to be developing a positive project. On Wednesday 25 October, FRL announced that it has been working on a new exciting project: all-day wearable augmented reality (AR) glasses. Previously, the lab worked on Codec Avatars and ultra-realistic reconstructions of real-world spaces to make this new technology possible. So what is so exciting about this alternative version of the Google Glass, which was a failure after all? Facebook’s glasses will combine AR with virtual reality (VR), and possibly reinvent the way we connect and interact with each other (while hopefully not stealing our data, but that’s another story).

Teleportation is not yet attainable, so how exactly is Facebook planning on making us travel the world? By using a hyper-realistic avatar of us and digitally mapping the world out. Recently, FRL has been working on Codec Avatars that were, until now, only based on people’s faces. But, clearly, this was not enough, as the company announced that, “Enabling true social presence requires more than just heads.” Digital and virtual communication through AR and VR, as far as Facebook is concerned, can only be complete once our body language is added on top of words, including our hand gestures and even posture. That’s why, for this project, full-body avatars are being created, and they will look exactly like you and me.

While Facebook has clearly announced that this technology won’t be available as a consumer product anytime soon, it has already imagined a future where people will be able to create and use these ultra-realistic avatars of themselves with just a few pictures from their phone’s cameras. The pictures will then become animated via VR headsets. But any kind of avatar has to live in a world, and in this case, Facebook wants to implement it in a digital version of our world, imitating exactly the way it looks.

That’s where FRL’s second project comes in. In June, the company revealed its latest ultra-realistic 3D models of real-world environments. The simulated environments showed rooms that included subtle details, such as mirror reflections, rug textures, and other features that make our world look realistic. Through a combination of a high-accuracy depth capture system, state-of-the-art Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM) technology, and a dense reconstruction system, the Facebook division achieved a high level of fidelity—making this new world almost indissociable from our reality.

While only a few rooms have been digitally recreated for now, Facebook is exploring how it can enable people to recreate their own personal spaces in the near future. This is the closest we could get to teleportation, where anyone could be with their friends and family and spend time inside meaningful places via VR. This project has the potential to enable remote work, remote relationships, as well as giving people the chance to see their own world from their sofa. Until now, VR technology has been used for specific virtual experiences, but never before was it possible to imagine a world where you could travel anywhere you want, even to your parents’ living room.

The many positives that this new technology could bring are evident, and Facebook went as far as stating that it would “have a hugely positive effect on how we live, eliminating commutes and transforming the way we collaborate and create.” And part of it is true, this technology has the ability to connect the whole world.

The future of social interactions is indeed very close to switching from online to AR—something that is well understood in the gaming community already. Staying connected, informed, and in tune with the people and places around you and at a distance—both physically and virtually—sounds promising, but as always, new technologies that come with such big changes to our lifestyles should be apprehended first, and safely implemented secondly. For this to work, Facebook will have to use an enormous amount of data. So please Facebook, work on it with privacy in mind, yeah?

Could digital clothing help stop climate change?

Attention influencers and avid instagrammers—the days of having to squander exorbitant amounts on one-time statement outfits are over, as companies have launched virtual clothing lines that could be purchased online for a reasonable price and be edited right onto your photo.

The pioneer of this technology is the Norwegian company Carlings, which launched its first digital clothing line back in November in response to a swelling number of influencers purchasing one-off outfits exclusively for social media purposes. Their collection, titled ‘Neo-Ex’, derived its style from video games such as Tekken, and featured bright neon colours and futuristic looks. Influencers and instagramers could purchase one of the 19 outfits on offer for £9 to£30 and submit a photo of themselves to Carlings’ 3D designer team, which would then digitally tailor the clothes onto the buyer’s image.

The digital-clothing trend caught on like wildfire, and now companies around the world, such as Moschino, The Fabricant, and Nike, have been dropping their very own virtual designs.

Aside from being financially accessible (at least for the time being), virtual clothing offers a solution to the polluting habits of the fashion industry currently responsible for 10 percent of the world’s carbon footprint and the second-greatest contaminator of local freshwater around the world.

In an interview for Elle, Kicki Perrson, brand manager at Carlings Sweden, said, “By selling the digital collection at £15 per item, we’ve sort of democratised the economy of the fashion industry and at the same time opened up the world of taking chances with your styling, without leaving a negative carbon footprint”. Persson further stated that due to the incredibly positive responses Carlings is expected to launch its second virtual clothing line this summer.

Naturally, influencers seem enthused at merging fashion with the virtual realm. Daria Simonova told Elle, “I really love this idea because firstly, it’s environmentally-friendly and secondly, clothing nowadays is more like an art form for social media. Digital clothing is super convenient, and the design potential is huge because it’s way cheaper”.

Overall, digital clothing seems to be a fairly promising innovation. It is eco-friendly, affordable, and allows for uninhibited creative freedom. Yet, the ultimate impact of virtual fashion will depend on the future of this rising technology and its application.

Virtual clothing currently exists as a social-media-centred enterprise, and its main function is to be worn online for promotion purposes and likes-mining. It seems, however, that the majority of fashion-industry waste isn’t generated by influencers, but by the masses whose lives don’t revolve around Instagram and who gain more satisfaction by touting their outfits in the real world. And so as long as virtual clothing is trapped within the confines of social media, its ability to scale-down fashion induced pollution would be limited.

Digital fashion could prove far more environmentally friendly if it is ultimately used as an augmented reality feature that replaces real clothes. Furthermore, if clothing-design softwares became a household product it would enable millions of people to run wild with their imagination while spending zero resources on attire. True, augmented reality isn’t likely to penetrate the mainstream market in the immediate future, but it isn’t light-years away from us either, and we would greatly benefit from beginning to visualise its potential contributions to society—as far as fashion is concerned.

Virtual fashion is on a trajectory that can only be expected to accelerate and expand over the next few years. It remains to be seen whether it will live up to its ideal of rendering the fashion industry more sustainable or simply fuel the social-media inferno of brand and image-building.