Since the original "Star Trek" series aired in 1966, the near-magical transporter, and the non-canonical phrase "Beam me up, Scotty," have gained a permanent spot in our culture. The transporter is the technology everyone wants when they're stuck sitting in traffic, or on an airplane. How awesome would it be to just go directly where you needed to be?
So, our ears tend to perk up whenever any company starts talking about teleportation. Earlier this year, for example, a company came up with a scheme to teleport objects using a laser scanner and a 3-D printer. Of course, these teleporters are never quite what we hope they are (the actual physics of a Star Trek-style transporter make it practically impossible). Still, when Facebook says it's working on a teleporter, you have to wonder what it's planning.
In this case, Facebook isn't actually planning to move matter around. Instead it's working on something that falls more into the area of "telepresence," or completely immersive virtual reality. In other words, instead of transporting to a place physically, you'll slip on a virtual-reality headset and think you're actually there.
Speaking at a press event, Mike Schroepfer, Facebook's chief technical officer, explained, "Facebook wants to build a device that allows you to be anywhere you want, with anyone, regardless of geographic boundaries." He figures a fully working system will be ready by 2025.
Facebook actually has the basic technology thanks to its Oculus virtual-reality division, a recently purchased company called Surreal Vision, and its massive reserves of money and processing power. It just has to overcome three hurdles.
The first hurdle Facebook identifies is getting people into the virtual world. Sure, you can replace people with avatars, similar to any multiplayer video game, but for realism, you actually want to identify people.
Oculus is working on a combined pressure-and-camera-based system for its VR headsets that will scan the user's face so it, and real-time expressions, can show up in a virtual world. The other trick is to get your body in the virtual world, so when you look down at your hands you'll see them. Oculus is already working on this with its new controllers.
The second obstacle is bringing real-world locations into virtual reality. Right now a team of computer programmers and modelers needs weeks or months to faithfully create real-world scenes. However, the reason Facebook and Oculus recently acquired company Surreal Vision is because it has a system in the works that can model a real-world location for virtual reality in real time.
The last obstacle is letting people create their own virtual worlds without any training. Oculus already has a program called Medium that works with its controllers to let users easily model 3-D objects. The eventual goal is to let anyone create their own worlds however they like.
What do you think of Facebook's plan? Are you interested in this kind of "teleporting" or would you rather physically go places? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.