Mark Zuckerberg believes that a billion people will be connected to the metaverse within the next decade.
Alongside the announcement on Thursday that Facebook would be renaming its parent company Meta, we were also offered a sneak peek at some new hardware.
Project Cambria, as the headset has been codenamed, is a virtual reality device and will probably be quite an expensive one.
It won’t be a replacement for the Oculus Quest, now on its second version and just known as the Quest by Facebook – sorry, by Meta – but a “high-end device at a higher price point”, it said.
It will be sold at this higher price “because it’s going to be packed with all the latest advanced technologies,” the company explained.
These technologies include “improved social presence, colour passthrough, pancake optics, and a lot more”, it added.Advertisement
What are those technologies, you might reasonably ask. Welcome to the vocabulary of Virtual Reality.
Firstly, “improved social presence” isn’t actually a technology itself but a description of what the technologies will allow – the sensation of being present among other people. Facebook, er, Meta uses this phrase to describe the value of interactions on Instagram and Facebook the platform.
Passthrough is a technology, however. It’s the ability for someone wearing a headset to see the world around them as if they weren’t – only they are, so the headset has to generate the image of the world.
When people are wearing the Quest, passthrough is in black and white. Colour passthrough simply means that this is going to be in colour – and potentially a higher quality image too.
Pancake optics describe a kind of compact flat lens which will be critical if virtual reality headsets aren’t going to weigh too much, as the size is generally driven by the display.
But there’s a long way to go before the quality of these lenses finds the sweet spot between image quality and energy efficiency. Displays can often be quite grainy and dim, requiring an increase in brightness that drains battery life.
“It’s going to bring us a step closer to the metaverse and we’re excited to share more in the future, so stay tuned,” the company added.
A few other details have come out about the headset, including new sensors in the device which will allow people’s virtual avatars to maintain eye contact with each other and detect and reflect their real-life facial expressions – part of the social presence aspects of the system.
The ability, as with colour passthrough, to accurately render objects and surroundings in the real world will also allow Project Cambria headsets to offer some mixed-reality features, from the full virtual reality experience to perhaps overlays for some augmented reality features.
Facebook/Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg has spoken about the company becoming one that is increasingly seen as a “metaverse business”.
Last week the company announced plans to hire 10,000 people across the EU to help bring this idea to fruition with the prediction that the metaverse will reach a billion people within the next decade.
The metaverse is a concept coined in the 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash to describe a kind of three-dimensional virtual reality version of the internet where people are present as avatars and move through a digital representation of a physical world.
Meta: UK competition regulator tells Facebook owner to sell GIF library Giphy
The investigation into the acquisition has been acrimonious, with Meta previously being fined £50m by the CMA for deliberately refusing to comply with the regulator’s inquiries.
Facebook’s owner Meta has been issued a legally binding order to sell the GIF library Giphy after an investigation found the takeover “could harm social media users and UK advertisers”.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an in-depth investigation into the deal in April after raising a number of concerns. It subsequently warned of the potential forced sale in August.
Giphy – a website for making and sharing animated images, known as GIFs – was acquired by Facebook (now Meta) in May last year to integrate the GIFs with Instagram, but the CMA has now ordered the acquisition to be unravelled.
Sky News understands Facebook intends to appeal the CMA’s decision. It has four weeks to do so and the appeal would go to a the Competition Appeal Tribunal, which is independent of the CMA.
Meta could potentially challenge that ruling in the UK courts, but only on points of law.Advertisement
Stuart McIntosh, who chaired the independent inquiry into the acquisition, said: “The tie-up between Facebook and Giphy has already removed a potential challenger in the display advertising market.
“Without action, it will also allow Facebook to increase its significant market power in social media even further, through controlling competitors’ access to Giphy GIFs.
“By requiring Facebook to sell Giphy, we are protecting millions of social media users and promoting competition and innovation in digital advertising,” Mr McIntosh explained.
The investigation into the acquisition has seen points of acrimony, with Meta being fined a record £50m by the CMA for deliberately refusing to comply with the regulator’s inquiries.
Meta argued that it has been in compliance with the competition watchdog’s primary orders at all times.
At the time of the fine, the company complained that the CMA delayed for seven months a request to amend these orders which was eventually agreed in what the company described as nearly an identical manner to what had been requested.
When Facebook first merged with Giphy it terminated the image library’s advertising services, “removing an important source of potential competition” according to the CMA.
This was considered “particularly concerning given that Facebook controls nearly half of the £7 billion display advertising market in the UK”.
However in Meta’s response to the preliminary findings, the social media giant described the acquisition as a simple vertical merger and said that Giphy was financially troubled and suggested that its attempts to monetise its GIF library for display advertising were unsuccessful.
“If GIF paid alignments were the promising business model that the CMA believes they are, then one would expect to encounter them in the real-world at scale… Yet that is not the case,” the response stated.
According to the regulator, the acquisition potentially also enabled the social media giant to change the terms of access to the GIF library for its competitors.
“For example, Facebook could require Giphy customers, such as TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat, to provide more user data in order to access Giphy GIFs.
“Such actions could increase Facebook’s market power, which is already significant,” the regulator said.
In its review of the merger, the CMA said it risked entrenching Meta’s market dominance, noting that its platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp) already accounted for 73% of all user time spent on social media in the UK.
A spokesperson for Meta said: “We disagree with this decision. We are reviewing the decision and considering all options, including appeal. Both consumers and Giphy are better off with the support of our infrastructure, talent, and resources.
“Together, Meta and Giphy would enhance Giphy’s product for the millions of people, businesses, developers and API partners in the UK and around the world who use Giphy every day, providing more choices for everyone.”
COVID-19: Mild and moderate cases during pregnancy doesn’t harm babies’ brains, finds study
Parents should be reassured, there is “no evidence that a maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection has any effect on the brain development of the unborn child” say scientists.
Mild and moderate coronavirus infections in pregnant women appear to have no effect on the brain of the developing foetus according to a new study.
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic “there is evidence that pregnant women are more vulnerable” to the coronavirus, according to a study presented to the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
The new study aims to identify what the possible consequences are for the unborn child if the mother is infected during pregnancy, and to study the likelihood of the virus being passed on to the foetus.
“Women infected with SARS-CoV-2 during pregnancy are concerned that the virus may affect the development of their unborn child, as is the case with some other viral infections,” said Dr Sophia Stoecklein, senior author of the study.Advertisement
“So far, although there are a few reports of vertical transmission to the foetus, the exact risk and impact remain largely unclear,” added Dr Stoecklein, from the department of radiology at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
“The aim of our study was to fill this gap in knowledge regarding the impact of a maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection on foetal brain development,” she added.
MRI scans were used to study 33 pregnant women who were infected with COVID-19 during their pregnancy, with the women roughly 28 weeks into the pregnancies at the time of the scan.
The scans were evaluated by radiologists with years of experience in foetal MRIs who found that the brain development in the assessed areas was age-appropriate in all of the children, with no findings indicating any infection affected the brains.
“In our study, there was no evidence that a maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection has any effect on the brain development of the unborn child,” Dr Stoecklein said. “This fact should help to reassure affected parents.”
But she cautioned that only mothers with mild to moderate symptoms who were not hospitalised were included in the study, meaning the impact of “severe infection on brain development in the foetus has not been conclusively determined”.
Earth’s water may have come from the Sun, new research finds
Researchers at the University of Glasgow say there is evidence that particles emitted by the Sun created water on the surface of dust grains on asteroids which hit Earth.
The origin of Earth’s water continues to be debated by scientists – whether it was here when the planet formed or if it had an extraterrestrial source.
But new research points the finger at a previously uncounted point of origin: the Sun at the centre of our solar system.
According to astronomers, solar radiation may have created water on the surface of dust grains carried on asteroids that smashed in to our planet billions of years ago.
Water covers more than 70% of our planet’s surface, but the exact source has puzzled scientists for decades if not longer.
A new study published in the journal Nature Astronomy suggests it has found a source which perfectly matches the isotopic signature of water on Earth.Advertisement
The research, led by scientists at the University of Glasgow, used a process called atom probe tomography to analyse different asteroid samples – some of which carry water and others which orbit too close to the Sun to do so.
Dr Luke Daly, from the University of Glasgow and the study’s lead author, said: “The solar winds are streams of mostly hydrogen and helium ions which flow constantly from the Sun out into space.
“When those hydrogen ions hit an airless surface like an asteroid or a space-borne dust particle, they penetrate a few tens of nanometres below the surface, where they can affect the chemical composition of the rock.
“Over time, the ‘space weathering’ effect of the hydrogen ions can eject enough oxygen atoms from materials in the rock to create H2O – water – trapped within minerals on the asteroid.
“Crucially, this solar wind-derived water produced by the early solar system is isotopically light.”
“That strongly suggests that fine-grained dust, buffeted by the solar wind and drawn into the forming Earth billions of years ago, could be the source of the missing reservoir of the planet’s water,” Dr Daly added.Thousands of people could still be killed by a completely unpredictable asteroid impact
Professor Bland at Curtin University explained that the existing theory that water was carried to Earth in the final stages of its formation by water-carrying asteroids didn’t hold up to examination.
“Previous testing of the isotopic ‘fingerprint’ of these asteroids found they, on average, didn’t match with the water found on Earth meaning there was at least one other unaccounted for source,” he said.
“Our research suggests the solar wind created water on the surface of tiny dust grains and this isotopically lighter water likely provided the remainder of the Earth’s water,” added the professor, who works at the Space Science and Technology Centre at Curtin University.
“This new solar wind theory is based on meticulous atom-by-atom analysis of miniscule fragments of an S-type near-Earth asteroid known as Itokawa, samples of which were collected by the Japanese space probe Hayabusa and returned to Earth in 2010.
“Our world-class atom probe tomography system here at Curtin University allowed us to take an incredibly detailed look inside the first 50 nanometres or so of the surface of Itokawa dust grains, which we found contained enough water that, if scaled up, would amount to about 20 litres for every cubic metre of rock,” added Professor Bland.
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