Facebook creates new unit of time to help make VR more immersive

24 Jan 2018

Image: Alla_vector/Shutterstock

Facebook has entered into the time-making business, with news of a new unit of measurement that could be helpful for VR.

When it comes to experiencing virtual reality (VR) in all its immersive glory, the smallest fraction of a second could be the difference between a comfortable experience and a nauseating one.

So, to that end, a Facebook engineer working on the technology has invented a new unit of time called a ‘flick’ – derived from ‘frame-tick’ – created specifically to help other VR developers keep videos in sync.

As explained on the code-sharing site GitHub, the flick is a very small unit of time measuring just 1/705,600,000 of a second, making it the next unit of measurement after a nanosecond.

In explaining the motivation for the creation of a new unit of time, creator Christopher Horvath said: “When working creating visual effects for film, television and other media, it is common to run simulations or other time-integrating processes which subdivide a single frame of time into a fixed, integer number of subdivisions.

“It is handy to be able to accumulate these subdivisions to create exact one-frame and one-second intervals, for a variety of reasons.”

Speaking with the BBC, an Oxford University researcher said that the advent of flicks for VR developers could be instrumental in helping users to feel more immersed in an online world, rather than viewing it as a tool to interact with.

“Immersion is the engagement you feel with a computer game. Presence is the notion of your brain feeling that you are there,” the researcher said.

“Presence is very, very easy to break. I think, perhaps, a very fixed way of describing these time steps allows for developers to have a bit more flexibility in dealing with latency issues and making sure videos stay in sync.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic