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Meta hedges bets on metaverse silicon with Qualcomm VR deal

More silicon sales for us says Qualcomm

Meta’s latest move in the effort to reinvent Second Life, or roll out the metaverse, involves building better VR chips and it's trusting Qualcomm with the job.

At the IFA conference in Berlin this week, Meta and Qualcomm penned a multi-year partnership to co-develop custom silicon for next-gen VR platforms. In an interview last month on the Joe Rogan Experience Zuckerberg promised VR headsets would be shown off in October at his biz's Connect conference, despite his earlier doubts at how hardware deadlines would work out.

“Our hope is that within the next decade, the metaverse will reach a billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators, developers, and importantly, enable better social experiences than anything that exists today,” Zuckerberg said during Qualcomm’s IFA keynote.

“Of course, it's going to require big advancements in connectivity, compute, technology, and hardware to bring all this to life, and that's where Qualcomm comes in.”

Working with Qualcomm under the deal, Zuckerberg aims to develop customized virtual reality chipsets for Meta’s Quest line of VR headsets, Qualcomm's happy because while this wonderous tech is developed it'll be selling lots more Snapdragon chips to Meta for Oculus Quest headsets.

"By partnering with Meta, we are bringing together two of the world's metaverse leaders to revolutionize the future of computing for billions of people in the coming years," said Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm

Zuckerberg said virtual reality introduces new challenges not seen previously in mobile silicon, including developing so-called spacial computing, the sheer cost, and working out a proper form factor people will actually buy and use.

“As we continue to build more advanced capabilities and experiences for virtual and augmented reality, it has become more important to build specialized technologies to power our future VR headsets and other devices,” he said.

These challenges drove Meta’s Reality Labs to develop a custom RISC-V-based VR SoC. In a paper published this spring, researchers detailed the chip, which is based on a 7nm process node and features a neural network accelerator that combines a 1024 multiply-accumulate array, 2MB of SRAM, and a 32bit RISC-V CPU.

According to the researchers, the chip was capable of delivering 30 frames-per-second of performance. Meanwhile, Meta claims the chip was able to conduct inferencing on a convolutional neural network in 16.5ms using just 22.7 milliwatts of power.

It remains to be seen whether Meta will continue to develop its own VR SoCs based on the design or incorporate lessons learning from the proof of concept under its collaboration with Qualcomm. What we do know is Qualcomm’s existing Snapdragon XR chipset will form the basis for future designs.

Meta’s partnership with Qualcomm is by no means surprising. The companies have been working in close collaboration for years, with Qualcomm’s chips powering many of Meta’s Oculus headsets to date.

"We're still in the early stages of the metaverse. This sort of deep technical integration will help VR move towards being a multifunctioned computing platform that will transform how we all connect,” Zuckerberg said. ®

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