Ahead of Facebook’s Oculus Connect 4 VR conference, which starts tomorrow, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been showing off the company’s Spaces app by transporting his virtual self to the moon, his home, and, bizarrely, devastated areas of Puerto Rico.
Along with Facebook’s head of social VR, Rachel Franklin, Zuckerberg’s avatar was imposed over a 360-degree video from NPR that showed the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The livestream presentation took place at the company’s Menlo Park, California headquarters, with the pair wearing Oculus headsets.
Zuckerberg explained how his firm has donated $1.5 million to the country’s relief effort, activated the social network’s Safety Check feature, and sent employees to the island to help with its connectivity problems so residents and the emergency services can get back online. Facebook is also working with the Red Cross to build population maps with satellite imagery to help highlight areas where aid is most needed.
But the livestream often felt awkward at best. "One of the things that's really magical about VR is you can get the feeling you're really in a place. Rachel and I aren't even in the same building in the physical world, but it feels like we're in the same place and can make eye contact," said Zuckerberg, before sharing what must be one of the most inappropriate high-fives of all time with Franklin, as their avatars stood in front of a flooded home.
The moment Zuckerberg points out that “this street is completely flooded” while in front of an image of a flooded street is also a highlight. “It’s crazy to feel like you’re in the middle of it,” Franklin responded.
Despite the assistance it has offered in the wake of the hurricane, Facebook is now facing criticism for seemingly using the disaster to promote one of its products.
Zuckerberg said he plans to “announce some stuff I am not going to announce now" at the upcoming VR conference. Don't expect him to do it while virtually touring a disaster site again.