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Facebook Debuts Its First Social Virtual Reality App

April 18, 2017, 7:56 PM UTC

Facebook has finally unveiled its first virtual reality app.

The new app, Facebook Spaces, lets current Facebook users interact with each other in virtual reality environments, as long as they have an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Facebook bought Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion as a way to get into the VR market.

Facebook’s head of social VR Rachel Franklin introduced the new app on Tuesday during the company’s annual F8 developer conference in San Jose.

Although Facebook (FB) currently sells its Oculus Rift VR headset, the company had yet to unveil its own VR app, instead relying on third-party developers to build VR apps for its headset.

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Franklin said that VR is able to give people “a magical feeling of presence,” and that the new Facebook Spaces app is the “first Facebook product we built to bring the vision to life.”

People using Facebook Spaces will have their primary Facebook accounts automatically linked to the app, and they can view photos of their friends or talk to 3D-rendered VR versions of their friends in real time if they also have an Oculus Rift.

Franklin touted the app’s machine learning technology for facial recognition, and then producing a silly-looking avatar loosely resembling the person. Although creating a digital caricature of a person may seem easy, Franklin said it “has been a challenge for us to build” and showed demonstrations of how the of VR avatars can smile, move their mouths, and act more lifelike.

She also said that Facebook’s Messenger service is connected to the new VR app, so people can receive calls from friends in their virtual environments.

Franklin added people “can have their entire library of photos and videos” available to them within the VR app and play with virtual drawing tools that let them scribble graphics in their digital environment.

It’s unclear how Facebook Spaces’ overall interface works as Franklin only demonstrated people playing games or acting goofy in their virtual worlds. The app is available in a testing period, and is not ready for the general public. Franklin stressed that the app is “a very early version,” and that “this journey is 1% finished.”