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Facebook plots out AR/VR, AI in 10-year roadmap

Posted: 14 Apr 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:VR  virtual reality  AI  artificial intelligence  F8 conference 

Facebook revealed its 10-year roadmap during the recently concluded F8 developer conference held in San Francisco, U.S. last April 12-13. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg plotted out its app ecosystem to include solar-powered satellites for delivering Internet connectivity, artificial intelligence, as well as virtual and augmented reality.

"Over the long term we're focused on three major areas connecting everyone to the Internet, artificial intelligence to make services more intuitive and natural to use, and virtual and augmented reality to help us share and augment the world," CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a keynote address.

A large part of achieving this vision relies on connecting people around the world and getting those people on Facebook or its messenger platform. More than 4 billion people worldwide do not have Internet access due to a lack of availability, affordability, or awareness, said Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg at F8

Figure 1: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg details Facebook's 10-year roadmap at F8. (Image: EE Times)

To help solve the availability issue, one-third of the world does not have broadband access, another Facebook official said. Zuckerberg said the company will soon launch a solar-powered drone to deliver Internet connectivity to sub-Saharan Africa. The Aquila aircraft is a separate effort from Facebook's semi-controversial satellite project, but will likely act as an intermediary between ground connectivity and that satellite.

Aquila prototype

Figure 2: Zuckerberg holds a carbon fiber battery compartment for the solar powered Aquila drone. Behind, a prototype of Aquila's wingspan. (Image: EE Times)

Aquila has a wider wingspan than a Boeing 757 plane but weighs less than a small car. It can circle a remote region for up to 90 days, cruising between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. In theory, a set of aircraft will connect with each other using optical laser beams that travel between gateways in a rural region and the daisy-chained Aquila craft. Facebook did not provide a specific launch date.

Aries and Terragraph

Figure 3: Zuckerberg also tipped Facebook's Aries (left) and Terragraph (right) programs, which will be detailed in F8's Wednesday keynote. The projects are connected to Aquila, but perhaps designed for urban communication.

As a solution to unaffordable Internet, Zuckerberg touched upon the Telecom Infra Project for those. The engineering project aims to bring companies together to innovate on access, backhaul, and core and management to decrease cost. "If you can make it cheaper for telcos to operate mobile infrastructure, then some of those savings will be passed along to people in the way of mobile data rates," the Facebook CEO said.

Once the rest of the world is plugged in and using Facebook, Zuckerberg said he wants to turn to artificial intelligence (AI) that will eventually "let us show more interesting content to you from across our community that we don't even know you'll be interested in today."

Facebook already uses AI for facial recognition, newsfeed and accessibility programs. The company has also open-sourced its Torch module, based on an already open development environment that focuses on deep learning, as well as its GPU models that Facebook uses to train its neural networks.

"Our goal with AI is to build systems that are better than people at perception. It's already happening in some places," Zuckerberg said.

The CEO believes that AR/VR is the next level of connectivity "Oculus Rift was recently released and all F8 attendees were sent home with a GearVR as well as the end of Facebook's 10-year roadmap. Zuckerberg said he expects to eventually have slick-looking glasses capable of AR and VR. "When we get to this world, a lot of the things that we think about as physical objects today—like a TV for displaying an image will just be dollar apps in an app store," he said. "It's going to take a long time but this is the vision and what we're trying to get to."

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