Facebook CEO sees telemedicine opportunity with $2B Oculus acquisition

By Brian Dolan
08:11 am

Oculus RiftThe multibillion dollar tech news this week is that Facebook is set to acquire virtual reality gaming company Oculus for more than $2 billion. During a call with reporters and analysts following the announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that while Oculus will continue to focus on gaming in the short term, the deal was more about placing a bet on the next big computing platform shift.

"We still have a lot of work to do on mobile," Zuckerberg said, "but at this point, we feel strong enough in our position that strategically we also want to start focusing on the next major computing platform that will come after mobile. The history of our industry is that every 10 or 15 years there is a new major computing platform, whether it is the PC, the web, or now mobile. History suggests that there will be more platforms to come. To me, by far one of the most exciting future platforms is around vision -- by modifying what you see to create augmented or immersive experiences. Today's acquisition is a longterm bet on the future of computing. I believe Oculus can be one of the platforms of the future."

Zuckerberg said that Oculus' Rift headset makes you feel like you are in another place with other people.

"Gaming is just the start," he said. "After games, we are going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers from all over the world, consulting with a doctor face-to-face, or going shopping in a virtual store where you can touch and explore the product you are interested in just by putting on goggles in your own home." 

Prior to the acquisition Oculus managed to raise tens of millions of dollars, and some of the company's investors told Fortune's Dan Primack that Oculus has always been considered much more than a gaming peripheral -- "such a characterization would have never made it past their investment committees," Primack wrote. "Instead, they view Oculus as a software platform that happens to work on top of proprietary hardware. The Facebook partnership, they argue, reflects how many people view virtual reality as the next major paradigm shift after mobile."

Wired picked up on Zuckerberg's telemedicine reference too, and Gartner analyst Brian Blau -- a longtime virtual reality watcher told the publication: “I didn’t hear anything that Zuckerberg said that hasn’t been talked about before in the VR community for a very long time. It has always been billed as a next-gen communication technology — something that can provide a more immersive and deeper connection to somebody else,” but do date it has mostly been a solitary experience.

Still, some researchers are already using Oculus technology for medical reasons. The Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at University of Southern California has used the Oculus Rift for post traumatic stress disorder treatment, which Oculus CEO Palmer Luckey has said (during a student interview after his Games for Health keynote last year) has proven to be an effective therapy that doesn't involve drug use.

Back to Facebook -- Zuckerberg isn't the only billionaire who believes virtual reality gaming technology might have a role to play in the future of healthcare. Back in 2011 Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, CEO of digital health rollup NantHealth, invested $200 million into virtual reality gaming company Fourth Wall Studios. At the time of the announcement, he stated:

"The best ideas often occur when different industries intersect. As I work with new technologies for healthcare and medicine, I see more and more parallels with what's happening in entertainment; for example, the rapidly accelerating use of mobile devices and social media platforms, and the use of novel algorithms to create machine vision. As pioneers in the field, Fourth Wall Studios is the ideal team to help take advantage of these synergies through the development of augmented reality."


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