Posted on

Facebook changes name of its annual VR event and its overall AR/VR organization

Facebook is moving further away from the Oculus brand.

The company says it is changing the name of their augmented reality and virtual reality division to “Facebook Reality Labs,” a division which will encompass the company’s AR/VR products under the Oculus, Spark and Portal brands.

The company’s AR/VR research division had its title changed from Oculus Research to Facebook Reality Labs back in 2018. That division will now be known as FRL Research.

Facebook has also announced that Oculus Connect, its annual virtual reality developer conference, will be renamed Facebook Connect and will be occurring entirely virtually on September 16.

Oculus has held a very different existence inside Facebook than other high-profile acquisitions like Instagram or WhatsApp . The org has been folded deeper into the core of the company, both in terms of leadership and organizational structure. The entire AR/VR org is run by Andrew Bosworth, a long-time executive at the company who is a close confidant of CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Bosworth

In some sense, the name change is just an indication that the product ambitions of Facebook in the AR/VR world have grown larger since its 2014 Oculus acquisition.

Facebook is now no longer just building headsets, they’re also building augmented reality glasses, they’re adding AR software integrations into their core app and Instagram through Spark AR and, yes, they’re still doing some stuff with Facebook Portal.

In another sense, adding the term “Labs” to the end of a division that’s several years old with several products you’ve spent billions of dollars to realize, seems to be Facebook doubling down on the idea that everything contained therein is (1) pretty experimental and (2) not contributing all that much to the Facebook bottom line. This seems like the likely home for future Facebook moonshots.

The change will likely upset some Oculus users. Facebook’s reputation problems anecdotally seem to have a particularly strong hold among PC gamers leaving some Oculus fans generally unhappy with any news that showcases the Oculus brand coming further beneath the core Facebook org. Last week, the company shared that new Oculus headset users will need to sign into the platform with their Facebook account and that they would be phasing out Oculus accounts over time, a change that was met with hostility from insiders who believed that Facebook would keep more distance between the core social app and its virtual reality platform.

At this point, Oculus is still the brand name of the VR headsets Facebook sells and the company maintains that the brand isn’t going anywhere, but directionally it seems that Facebook is aiming to bring the brand closer beneath its wing.

Read More

Posted on

Fitbit’s Chinese rival Amazfit mulls a transparent, self-disinfecting mask

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a wave of Chinese companies with manufacturing operations to produce virus-fighting equipment: Shenzhen-based electric vehicle giant BYD quickly moved to launch what it claims to be the world’s largest mask plant; Hangzhou-based voice intelligence startup Rokid is making thermal imaging glasses targeted at the US market; and many more.

The latest of such efforts comes from Huami, the NASDAQ-listed wearables startup that makes Xiaomi’s Mi Bands and sells its own fitness tracking watches under the Amazfit brand in more than 70 countries. In a phone interview with TechCrunch, the firm said it is developing a see-through plastic mask with built-in ultraviolet lights that can disinfect filters within 10 minutes when connected to a power supply through a USB port. The caveat is that the lights only sanitize the inside of the mask and users still have to clean the outer surface themselves.

The Aeri concept comes with built-in ultraviolet lights that can disinfect filters within 10 minutes when connected to a power supply through a USB port.

Called Aeri, the mask uses removable filters that are on par with N95 filtration capacity. If the concept materializes, each filter could last up to a month and a half, significantly longer than the average life of surgical masks and N95 respirators. The modular design allows for customized accessories such as a fan for breathable comfort, hence the mask’s name Aeri, a homophone of “airy”.

Aeri started from the premise that wearing masks could thwart the increasingly common adoption of facial recognition. That said, imaging companies have been working on biometric upgrades to allow analyses of other facial features such as irises or the tip of noses.

Aeri might still have a market appeal though, argued Pengtao Yu, vice president of industrial design at Huami. “Whether people need to unlock their phones or not, they want to see each other’s faces at social occasions,” said Yu, the California-based Chinese designer who had served clients including Nest Labs, Roku, GoPro and Huawei prior to joining Huami.

Huami’s U.S. operation, which focuses on research and development, opened in 2014 and now counts a dozen of employees.

Many companies turning to pandemic-fighting manufacturing have taken a hit from their core business, but Huami has managed to stay afloat. Its Q1 revenue was up 36% year-over-year to hit $154 million, although net income decreased to $2.7 million from $10.6 million. Its stocks have been declining, however, sliding from a high point of $16 in January to around $10 in mid-May.

Huami is in the process of prototyping the Aeri masks. In Shenzhen, which houses the wearables company’s headquarters, the development cycle for hardware products — from ideation to market rollout — takes as short as 6-12 months thanks to the city’s rich supply chain resources, said Yu.

Huami hasn’t priced Aeri at this early stage, but Yu admitted that the masks are targeting the “mass consumer market” around the world, not only for protection against viruses but also everyday air pollution, rather than appealing to medical workers. Given Huami’s history of making wearables at thin margins, it won’t be surprising that Aeri will be competitively priced.

The Aeri project is part of Huami’s pivot to enter the general health sector beyond pure fitness monitoring. The company has recently teamed up with a laboratory led by Dr. Zhong Nanshan, the public face of China’s fight against COVID-19, to track respiratory diseases using wearables. It’s also in talks with the German public health authority to collaborate on a smartwatch-powered virus monitoring app, the company told TechCrunch.

Read More

Posted on

Estimote launches wearables for workplace-level contact tracing for COVID-19

Bluetooth location beacon startup Estimote has adapted its technological expertise to develop a new product designed specifically for curbing the spread of COVID-19. The company created a new range of wearable devices that co-founder Steve Cheney believes can enhance workplace safety for those who have to be co-located at a …

Read More