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Nation & World

Facebook banks on augmented reality

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Looking to blend digital and physical worlds, Facebook is betting big on augmented reality as it focuses on building community.

“We’re going to make the camera the first augmented reality platform,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday during the tech firm’s developer conference in San Jose.

Augmented reality allows users to overlay computer-generated images in the real world. People can add 3-D effects to their photos, leave a digital note for their spouse or create a work of art.

They can add swimming sharks to a bowl of cereal, fill an office with digital Skittles or add a second coffee mug on a table so they don’t look like they’re eating breakfast alone.

“As silly as effects like this may seem, they’re actually really important and meaningful because they give us the ability to share what matters to us on a daily basis,” Zuckerberg said.

Taking on rival Snapchat and building off the popularity of augmented reality game Pokemon Go, Facebook recently launched a camera app within the social media site so users can add filters and effects to their photos and videos. Now they’re turning to developers to help them build more augmented reality features within Facebook’s camera.

“Cameras can do so much more. They can bring you the world in ways that we haven’t really tapped into yet so I think it’s appropriate to think about cameras as a second set of eyes,” said Gartner analyst Brian Blau.

Facebook’s efforts in augmented reality are logical but also risky because the tech firm makes most of its money from business advertising, some analysts said.

“I think they see (AR) as an opportunity to make things stickier. To keep you in the experiences for longer,” said IDC analyst John Jackson. “What you saw today was a lot of stuff being thrown up against the wall as well.”

But with 1.9 billion users, Facebook has a much larger audience than Snapchat. It owns Instagram, WhatsApp and virtual reality company Oculus. Evolving beyond a social network, it’s also making big bets on messaging, virtual reality, chatbots and even internet-beaming drones

When Facebook first launched in 2004, the company’s focus was connecting family and friends. Today, at a time when society is divided, the tech firm is working more on building community, Zuckerberg said.

Facebook has grappled with a number of challenges within the last year from the spread of fake news during the presidential election to violence streamed on live video.

The tech firm’s developer conference came a day after Facebook said it was reviewing how users report videos that run afoul of its rules after an Ohio man posted a video of himself shooting and killing Robert Godwin Sr. The shooter then confessed to the crime on live video, but it took a while before the video was reported and more than two hours passed before Facebook disabled the suspect’s social media account.

While most of Zuckerberg’s speech was lighthearted and focused on AR, the tech mogul did address the Cleveland shooting at the beginning of his keynote.

“We have a lot more to do here and we’re reminded of this this week by the tragedy in Cleveland,” he said, “And our hearts go out to the family and friends of Robert Godwin Sr. and we have a lot of work … we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening.”

The suspect in the shooting killed himself Tuesday after a brief police chase, officers said.

Some analysts said that Zuckerberg struck the right tone by addressing the shooting but not lingering on the tech firm’s challenges.

“It’s an unfortunate reality and consequence of having a platform like this out there. This is the communications medium we use today for good and bad,” Jackson said.

Even augmented reality has raised concerns about privacy and security because of the geolocation data users are sharing when they blend the digital and real worlds.

More than 4,000 developers from around the world were expected to attend the company’s conference, which ends today.

For Facebook, augmented reality and virtual reality go hand in hand. But Zuckerberg also acknowledged that it will take time before the technology becomes more popular.

The tech firm is also launching a new tool called Facebook Spaces that lets people share photos, videos and other content in virtual reality with their friends and family.

“Overtime, I do think this is really going to be a really important technology that changes how we use our phones,” Zuckerberg said.

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