Meta Debuts Groundbreaking Interactive AR at Sundance

Meta let me and a partner interact with the same hologram in, “The Journey to the Center of the Natural Machine.”

In the past few years, Sundance has established itself as a pioneer in showcasing virtual reality—and even dipped its toes into augmented reality…but never like this. This year, in the Claim Jumper section of the New Frontier initiative, Meta debuted, “The Journey to the Center of the Natural Machine,” a groundbreaking experience that lets multiple users interact with the same hologram. Never before have users been able to see so clearly the ways that AR tech is going to impact every facet of our lives, and VRScout was lucky to be the very first to witness it at Sundance this morning.

In the experience, two users sit together in a room, where (once settled into the Meta 2) they’re greeted with a hologram of the human brain. As a narrator walks you through the different parts of their brain (as well as their respective functions), you and your partner take turns guiding the pieces into their correct place. The Meta 2’s expansive FOV is well-documented, but what also astounded me during my time in “Journey” was how well the system maintained visual fidelity while continuing to allow for user interaction.

“This is the first time that you have an immersive augmented reality experience where multiple people can see and touch holograms together—it’s the first time we’re aware of that immersive AR has been used for storytelling,” said Ryan Pamplin, VP of sales & partnerships. “I think what this really points to is the future of how things will be presented—for entertainment of course, but also for so much more: the way we work, the way things are designed and manufactured…really every facet of life that involves a digital device will be impacted by this.”

CEO Meron Gribetz has explained at length the ways Meta is working to shift our understanding of computing to match our minds and bodies, so a piece like this is a natural extension of the company’s core ethos.

“Every time I look at that brain it still blows my mind. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s, no pun intended, thought provoking,” said Pamplin. “We’ve seen all kinds of content in holographic form and there’s nothing that’s as beautiful as looking at the human brain with the neurons firing.”

And now, by bringing Daniel Lazo and Eran May-Raz, directors of the short film “Sight” (which showcased augmented reality) from Israel to work at Meta, the company was able to express these interests in a storytelling mode.

“They’ve been thinking about these things a lot, certainly how the brain plays such a big part in this new technology,” said Pamplin. “For them to now get to make this stuff real is just really exciting and phenomenal to get to bring that vision to life.”

Meta - Education - Brain - A

Of course, this is only the tip of the holographic iceberg; an experience like this points to the incredible power of this technology.

“Our hope is that this work will inspire the tens of thousands of developers who will be creating content for Meta and for AR to create their own forms of storytelling and start to really explore this medium,” said Pamplin. “If you look back at film it took over a decade before they even figured out that audiences could deal with a cut! That was a whole new concept. And what is the equivalent of a cut in this new medium? I don’t know yet, but we’re certainly excited to inspire lots of folks on the journey to figure out all the implications that this has.”

Given Sundance’s record of showcasing cutting-edge content at the intersection of narrative and technology, Meta viewed the Park City festival as an ideal choice.

“It’s an honor for us to get to be here and to debut this here for some pretty incredible folks,” said Pamplin. “The reactions here have been humbling and inspiring.”

Journey to the Center of the Natural Machine

About the Scout

Jesse Damiani

Jesse Damiani is Editor-at-Large of VRScout and Deputy Director of Emerging Technology at Southern New Hampshire University. He's also Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing (Wesleyan University Press) and the author of @endless$pectator: The Screens Suite #loliloquy (BlazeVOX, 2017). Other writing can be found on Adweek, Billboard, Forbes, Quartz, and The Verge.

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