One shock for virtual reality enthusiasts in one week wasn’t enough.
Oculus VR announced Friday it was adding Michael Abrash as its chief scientist, three days after the Irvine company said it would be purchased by Facebook for $2 billion. Abrash, a key researcher at gaming company Valve Software in Bellevue, Wash., is the latest big-name technology exec to join Oculus.
Abrash is formerly of Microsoft and Id, where he worked with Oculus Chief Technology Officer John Carmack on the company’s breakthrough 3D games in the 1990s.
The unexpected addition strengthens Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of using Oculus’ virtual reality, or VR, goggles as a communications platform where people in different places could feel like they are together — in each other’s living rooms, at a concert, the movies, or even on Mars.
“Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus means that VR is going to happen in all its glory,” Abrash wrote in a posting on the Oculus website. “I now fully expect to spend the rest of my career pushing VR as far ahead as I can.”
Abrash and Atman Binstock, whom Oculus hired as “chief architect” earlier this month, developed a VR experience that was shown to a small group of software developers in January. The Valve experience was the only one that created close to the same buzz in the gaming community as that of Oculus.
In Abrash’s view, though, the place to create a VR experience like the ones from science fiction is at Oculus, now that it has Facebook’s deep-pocketed backing.
“A lot of what it will take to make VR great is well understood at this point, so it’s engineering, not research; hard engineering, to be sure, but clearly within reach,” Abrash wrote. “For example, there are half a dozen things that could be done to display panels that would make them better for VR, none of them pie in the sky.
“However, it’s expensive engineering. And, of course, there’s also a huge amount of research to do once we reach the limits of current technology, and that’s not only expensive, it also requires time and patience — fully tapping the potential of VR will take decades.”
Sony is developing VR gear, too, for its Playstation 4 console. Microsoft is rumored to be considering VR. No word yet on anything similar from Apple, but Google has Glass, which augments reality with a tiny screen in the corner of your vision.
Oculus executives have declined most interviews since the Facebook deal was announced. But the company confirmed to the Register it is relocating its headquarters in Irvine to nearly 34,000 square feet of space across two floors in a building next door. That’s more than double the size of its current offices in Irvine, where it sits among big tech companies like Western Digital and Broadcom.
Oculus currently has more than 100 people, full timers and contractors, with offices in Texas, Washington and California.
Abrash’s hiring seemed to pump some air back into the Oculus community of early adopters and developers and quell the concerns of some supporters who worried the company’s vision of making Star Trek’s holodeck a reality might languish under Facebook.
An online forum of early Rift adopters, which had practically disowned Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey since news of the sale, was singing a different tune Friday.
“It kinda makes you feel a bit better about the acquisition when the first hire is the best one available,” a top-rated comment said.