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Facebook Is Betting Big On Virtual Reality

Above: Googly eyes do not come standard on Oculus Rift developer kits.

It's been hyped as the future of videogaming. It can transport you to the land of the Seven Kingdoms, as seen on HBO's Game of Thrones. And men and women have used it to "swap" bodies. But will any of us actually use virtual reality in our daily lives?

In an unexpected move, Facebook is betting yes. They just acquired the Irvine, CA-based company Oculus VR for $2 billion. They're behind the Oculus Rift, a headset that uses two curved screens and motion-tracking technology to make wearers feel physically present inside a virtual world.

So far, the Rift has appealed mainly to hardcore gamers and virtual reality enthusiasts. It's not even available to consumers yet. But in a note about today's buy-out, Mark Zuckerberg explains why he thinks virtual reality has something to offer mainstream users:

We're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

I reported on the Oculus Rift for KPBS last year. The videogame developers and researchers I interviewed were excited to see costs coming down and technological advancements producing more immersive experiences. UC San Diego's Dr. Erik Viirre has used virtual reality to treat patients with inner ear disorders that make them feel unbalanced and dizzy. Here's how he explained his interest in virtual reality:

The beauty of virtual reality is I create the world, and I can make it move the way I want.

What kind of world is Facebook trying to create?

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