Facebook buy virtual reality company Oculus VR for $2bn

Social media giant Facebook is set to purchase virtual reality device maker Oculus VR – the makers of the Oculus Rift – for $2bn.

The purchase could see Facebook users dipped into the world of virtual reality when browsing through the social site, this could include virtual meetings with friends, and being able to play FarmVille in 3D.

Facebook say it wants to extend Oculus’ work, which is currently focused around gaming, to include media and entertainment education and probably everything you can think of.

The deal includes £400m in cash and the makers of the VR product will also get in on 23.1m shares of Facebook’s common stock. This is valued at $1.6bn – or $69.35 per share.

The agreement also provides for an additional $300 million earn-out in cash and stock depending on performance related targets – although it hasn’t been revealed what these are. It follows Facebook’s recent purchase of messaging service WhatsApp for $19bn.

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Writing on the Oculus website the owners, including founder Palmer Luckey (above), said: “At first glance, it might not seem obvious why Oculus is partnering with Facebook, a company focused on connecting people, investing in internet access for the world and pushing an open computing platform.

“But when you consider it more carefully, we’re culturally aligned with a focus on innovating and hiring the best and brightest; we believe communication drives new platforms; we want to contribute to a more open, connected world; and we both see virtual reality as the next step.”

The Oculus Rift headset has so far received more than 75,000 orders for its development kits and only recently announced that its second Dev kit would go on sale.

When the Rift was funded on Kickstarter it raised more than $2m dollars from almost 10,000 backers.

As with all of the purchases Facebook seems to make, including WhatsApp, and previously Instagram, Luckey said not a lot will change with the company.

“Very little changes day-to-day at Oculus, although we’ll have substantially more resources to build the right team,” he said on the company’s website.

However unlike the previous high-profile purchases, which were well established at the point of sale, Oculus is yet to ship to consumers or be available publicly.

In many ways this must increase the scope for influence from its new owners and indicates Facebook’s desire to move the technology forward.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow.”

He continued: “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”

In the last 18 months the Oculus Rift has gone from a foam product to being tested and built for by developers and the website still says it is hiring more staff – positions which will be highly chased after the recent news.

CEO of Oculus VR Brendan Iribe said: “We are excited to work with Mark and the Facebook team to deliver the very best virtual reality platform in the world.”

He continued: “We believe virtual reality will be heavily defined by social experiences that connect people in magical, new ways. It is a transformative and disruptive technology, that enables the world to experience the impossible, and it’s only just the beginning.”

The purchase is expected to close in the second quarter of 2014.

Update: This post has been updated since first publication to include further information on the deal. 


Images courtesy of Oculus VR 


Augmented ‘Olympics’: Championship for Robot-Assisted Parathletes Coming in 2016

A championship sports event for parathletes using high-tech prostheses, exoskeletons and other robotic and assistive devices will be held in two years time.

The championship, named Cybathlon, will be the first Olympic-esque event for augmented humans, where unlike in the Olympics and Paralympics, the use of performance-enhancing devices will be actively encouraged.

The competitors, known as racing pilots or parathletes, will wear the most modern robotics and technologies to counteract their disabilities and enable them to perform in a way that, in some cases, is beyond the abilities of a typical human.

Because of the focus on robotic devices, there will be winning medals not only for the parathletes but also for the manufacturers of the devices.

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Cybathlon, which will be held in Zurich, Switzerland, on 8 October 2016, addresses a growing question for athletic events such as the Olympics and Paralympics where athletes wear prosthetics.

As prosthetic technology has improved it has become evident that prosthetics could soon give their wearers an advantage over able-bodied athletes, leading to some comparisons between advanced prosthetics and performance-enhancing drugs.

Because of this, the Olympic rules place very tight restrictions on prosthetics, which nearly resulted in Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius from being banned from the main games for having an unfair advantage.

However, there has been a growing call for an athletic event that encourages the advancement of prosthetics and augmentations, which Cybathlon is now fulfilling.

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The event, which is being organised by NCCR Robotics, should help to promote the development of more advanced robotic assistance systems for people with disabilities, as well as increasing public awareness about these technologies and what is currently possible.

Most importantly, the event will provide a unique opportunity for people with disabilities using such systems to compete, as no other event of this type exists anywhere in the world.

Cybathlon 2016 will offer six disciplines for pilots to compete in, all of which have strict entry rules which are viewable on the championship’s website.

The powered leg prosthetics race will involve an obstacle course featuring slopes, steps, uneven surfaces and straight sprints. Athletes will be able to compete in prosthesis that has its own power source, potentially resulting in devices more advanced that those worn by Paralympians.

There will also be a powered wheelchair race on a similar obstacle course, which again will feature a variety of surfaces and environments. The powered arm prosthetics competition will also allow the use of devices with their own power source, but will involve competing in tasks that measure dexterity.

For athletes with spinal cord injuries, the powered exoskeleton race will be undertaken over an obstacle course. This should be particularly interesting to follow as exoskeletons do not typically feature in athletic events, and the level of advancement in this field is not widely known to the general public.

There will also be a functional electrical stimulation bike race for competitors with spinal cord injuries. This will involve the athletes cycling with the aid of electrical stimulation despite being paralysed, typically from the waist down.

Equally remarkable will be the brain-computer interface race, which is a competition for pilots with complete paralysis below the neck. In this event, the pilots will compete in a computer-based horse or car race, with their own avatar controlled completely by their own thought.

The event will serve as a demonstration of the remarkable technologies that are being developed for people with disabilities, but also will serve as a true athletic event where the pilot’s commitment, training and attitude is essential to success. For this reason it eventually could produce parathlete megastars, as public interest in this event is likely to be significant.

If the event were to occur on a regular basis, it could also serve a demonstration of the growth of this field. Every Olympics we expect records to be broken, but in the Cybathlon this would almost be a certainty.


Images courtesy of Cybathlon.