US Meta invests heavily in the construction of the virtual space “Metaverse”. The company, which opened an office in Zurich, plans to hire up to 300 technicians in the future. We asked Rasmus Dahl, head of the Meta Zurich office, about the future of virtual reality (VR).
This content is 2022/04/09 09:00
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in October 2021 that he would change the company’s name to “Meta”. At the same time, he is also launching the concept of a “Metaverse” virtual space that will replace the Internet in the future.
But will users really move away from their mobile and PC screens and immerse themselves in the 3D world with VR headsets?
Meta, a major social media company, opened an office in Zurich in 2016, which was the old company name of Facebook. Previously, the company had acquired Zurich Eye, a spin-off from ETHZ. Zurich Eye is a company that has worked on “computers to see” and artificial intelligence, and developed technology to teach machines to “see”. The know-how thus cultivated in Zurich is used in the development of the “Quest” VR glasses essential to Metaverse.
swissinfo.ch: Why did Meta decide to open an office in Zurich at the time? And why is Switzerland important for Meta’s business activities?
Rasmus Dahl: It’s been about five years since Meta joined Zurich. I chose this place because there was a local company called Zurich Ai, a spin-off from ETHZ. Basically, we take over the company’s business, focusing on the strengths of ETHZ in robotics and computer vision, especially in the technical field of self-position estimation called SLAM.
If you look closely at the quest, you will see that there are four cameras. This camera and other sensors track the position of the device in space. Then, the data obtained there is converted into virtual space.
We strive to provide the best user experience with Quest’s VR glasses by taking advantage of technology being developed here, such as technology that won’t make you feel uncomfortable even if you move your head around. virtual space.
Currently 54 years old. After starting his career at Nokia, he worked for a start-up linked to virtual reality. The company was later acquired by Facebook (now Meta). He has been head of the Meta Zurich office for two years.
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swissinfo.ch: What is the position of Swiss universities and research institutes for Meta?
Dar: We work with the ETH Zurich and the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL), but of course we are always looking for new partners.
One of the main reasons Meta invests in Zurich and Switzerland is its access to cutting-edge research. Much of the research carried out by EPFL and ETHZ is very important for the development of our products. And here you can find talented people who can create such complex computer models.
swissinfo.ch: What type of technician are you looking for?
Dar: I’m mainly looking for robotics engineers. Among robotics, it is a technical field used in particular for autonomous robots and autonomous cars.
We are looking for experts in computer vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Basically, it covers all areas that help build the metaverse.
swissinfo.ch: What is the mission of the Zurich team?
Dar: We mainly do quests. We are not working on the hardware itself, but developing technology to locate and “track” the device in space. The VR glasses themselves are developed and produced in another location.
We work with teams around the world to ensure a good match between software and hardware. This work requires close collaboration.
For example, you need to decide where to place the camera and what to do with the lens. There are a lot of things that need to be agreed between the different teams on the details.
What is the Metaverse?
The metaverse refers to a three-dimensional virtual space where users can interact with others and experience things using new technologies such as AR (augmented reality) and VR.
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swissinfo.ch: What exactly is Zurich developing regarding the construction of the Metaverse?
Dar: As I mentioned earlier, Zurich does not manufacture the hardware itself. We haven’t even built a Metaverse experience. I haven’t worked on the Horizon work room of the VR conferencing app.
However, we are developing many technical components that enable these experiences. It is an awareness of the environment. I’m pretty professional when I try to explain it, but basically I’m working on a software package that allows the glasses to recognize the world.
Thanks to this package, it is possible to create digital images of people, for example, and to interact with objects in the virtual space. This is one of the most invested areas of Meta Reality Labs. Zurich accounts for around a quarter of Meta’s total investment in this area.
Therefore, the work here is very important. The tracking algorithm was developed in Zurich and is used in both the original Quest and Quest 2.
swissinfo.ch：swissinfo.chProvides news inside and outside Switzerland for Swiss Abroad. Is the metaverse useful for distributing information?
Dar: Of course I mean it. Take Matterhorn, a famous tourist destination in Switzerland, for example. You can write articles about tours in Zermatt (with Matterhorn) and take videos.
What if you could “move instantly” to the Matterhorn using the VR Goggles quest? You can look on top of the mountain (using VR glasses) and feel the sound of nature in 3D sound. Then the experience and information will be even more impressive.
swissinfo.ch: Where is the responsibility to build the metaverse?1Are these two companies? Or will it be an open platform?
Dar: Meta does not build, own, or operate the Metaverse on its own. Building and maintaining the metaverse requires collaboration with policy makers, experts, and industry partners.
I think the building of the Metaverse is more like the advent of the internet than the introduction of apps. At each stage, we plan to work with other companies, development services, experts and decision makers.
swissinfo.ch: Meta is its platform, busy dealing with issues such as hate speech, harassment, fake news and scams. Experts believe that the Metaverse can jeopardize the privacy of its users. How does Meta intend to protect users against abuse?
Dar: That’s a very relevant question. As I mentioned earlier, we plan to work with many institutions. The important thing is not to rush, but to act wisely.
We have a strict data protection process, which of course also applies to the Zurich team. Meta has a management mechanism to ensure the careful handling of data. Target Data is data provided to the Meta Software, Platforms and Metaverse.
swissinfo.ch：VRorWITHSupposedly “VRI have “tricks”. With the real worldVRInconsistencies in movement cause sickness. How does Meta deal with this problem?
Dar: I’m also sick of virtual reality. The helmet I tried for the first time was before Meta, but I got very drunk. The key to the solution is the tracking system. It should be very precise.
The perceptual system of vision is different from the perceptual system of other parts. Nausea occurs when there is a gap between the experience of perceiving with the eyes and the experience of “measuring” the inner ear through body movements.
However, the evil of virtual reality is controllable. We are working here to make that happen. I’ve tried several of the early prototypes, and the algorithms have improved week by week, and I’m less disgusted.
swissinfo.ch: I have worked for Nokia for many years.2000Nokia was on the verge of extinction due to a series of errors in management decisions in the second half of the 1980s. You currently work for Meta, do you think Meta is on the right track?
Dar: I don’t know if Nokia and Meta can be compared. The two companies are different companies that flourished in different eras. However, I think there are similarities in Nokia’s initial approach: how to learn from customer feedback, how to evolve the product and adapt it to the market.
All of these approaches are practiced in Meta. To succeed and do pioneering things, a lot of things have to be in harmony. You need mature skills, but you also need the right team. You need a team of people who work on the problem and take what really matters to the customer seriously.
▲ The swissinfo.ch office built by author Alexander Thoele on the Metaverse.
(Translation from German, Fumi Kashimada)
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