Facebook’s new skunkworks photo team wants to bring virtual reality to the masses, by Kurt Wagner

From the sunny rooftop patio at Facebook’s satellite office in Seattle, research scientist Matt Uyttendaele showed off just how easy it has become to masquerade as a professional photographer.

Arm outstretched, holding a smartphone-sized 360-degree camera he bought on Amazon, Uyttendaele smiled in the general direction of the camera’s tiny lens.

“It really doesn’t matter where I point because it’s going to capture everything,” he said. “Cheese!”

With the click of a button, the camera did capture everything, from the blue waters of Lake Union to the tippy top of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. “That’s it. Just one shot,” Uyttendaele added. “If I posted this photo to Facebook, you’d be able to pan around with your phone so that you can experience this spot that we’re standing in.”

The photo turned out great. It also relied on a camera that retails for $350

When Facebook paid $2 billion for Oculus back in 2014, it did so under the assumption that virtual reality would be the next big platform — the mobile phone after the mobile phone. That’s probably not going to happen if capturing the perfect 360-degree photo or video requires hundreds of dollars in camera equipment.

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