Oculus VR is moving closer to realistic representations of human beings in virtual reality, and the company today announced a new milestone in that quest: so-called Expressive Avatars. These new avatars will be even more lifelike, using “simulated eye and mouth movement and micro-expressions,” says product manager Lucy Chen, that will help make it look and feel like you’re interacting with a human being in the real world. The news was announced at the Oculus Connect developer conference this morning in San Jose, California alongside the company’s new standalone Quest headset.
Oculus first announced its Rift avatars back in 2016. At the time, they existed as ghostly and translucent-looking figures with a colored hue — in other words, a far cry from a realistic representation of one’s self in VR. Over the last two years, Facebook and Oculus and have worked to make avatars more lifelike, using software to simulate eye and mouth movements and small, almost imperceptible expression changes that help virtual representations of human beings overcome the eerie, sterile creepiness common of creations stuck in the uncanny valley.
Oculus’ new expressive avatars look like a mix of the original, more high-fidelity avatar design with Facebook’s own cartoony take on avatars it uses for its Spaces VR hangout app. The avatars can be used in Oculus Home, the virtual living room you launch into when you put on a Rift headset, as well as in social apps that let you communicate with friends. As part of today’s announcements, Oculus says you’ll be able to have up to eight friends hanging out simultaneously in VR using Home as the hub. Oculus says developers will have access to its new Avatars SDK later this year.
In addition to expressive avatars, Oculus is also updating Home with a suite of new features arriving as Core 2, the underlying operating system powering the Rift, exits beta. With Core 2, users can now customize their Home space with hundreds of new items and themes. Oculus has also boosted the performance of Home, so lighting and graphics will look noticeably better.
You’ll also be able to import custom 3D renders, as well as animations. The company is partnering with select developers to bring custom developer items into Home as well, starting with titles like Lone Echo and Superhot VR. All of this is arriving with Core 2, which is entering the public test channel today and for every Rift user starting next month.