Facebook unveils chatbots for Messenger, 3D 360 degree video camera and more

Facebook has unveiled chatbots for its Messenger service, a new 3D 360-degree camera at its annual F8 developer conference. Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg laid out his company’s 10 year roadmap as part of his keynote at the F8.

In a separate Facebook post, Zuckerberg wrote, “Over the long run, we’re building planes and satellites to connect everyone to the internet; artificial intelligence to help us interact with services more easily; and virtual reality to help us experience the world in a totally new way. I’ve always believed that giving more people a voice makes the world a better place, and I’m excited about the future we’re all building together.”

The first big announcement from Facebook was Chatbots for Facebook Messenger app. The chatbots will allow businesses to connect with users and in turn, customers can make reservations, book flight tickets, talk to their bank, etc by sending them direct text messages. Essentially the kind of interaction that would happen say over SMS, will now be possible via Facebook Messenger.

Facebook Messenger’s Head David Marcus explains in this blog that the new, “Messenger Send / Receive API will support not only sending and receiving text, but also images and interactive rich bubbles containing multiple calls-to-action.”

Developers can also set a welcome screen for their threads to set context as well. Facebook is giving all developers and businesses access to documents to build bots for Messenger. However the company says it has strict policies for developers and businesses to uphold, and will have review processes in place as well.

Facebook News Feed ads will also allow users to open threads on Messenger, and a new customer matching feature will allow messages that are usually sent through SMS to be sent on Messenger. The Wit.ai’s Bot Engine will let developers to build more complex bots that are capable of learning and understanding natural language. Facebook says it has over 30 companies signed up to deploy chatbots on Messenger, including major corporations like CNN, eBay, Burger King and Bank of America. “We think you should just be able to message a business the same way that you message a friend,” Zuckerberg said, noting many people hate the experience of calling businesses on the phone. Facebook is also testing a program that charges businesses for the opportunity to send a “sponsored message,” but they’ll only be able to contact people who are existing customers or have already messaged the business, Marcus said. Individuals on Messenger will be able to block future messages from a business at any time.

“It’s a very high-quality, personal environment,” he said in an interview. “We want to keep it that way.” Facebook has also announced 3D-360 camera system called Facebook Surround 360 that produces sharp, truly spherical footage in 3D. The system includes stitching technology that marries video from 17 cameras. Facebook already supports 360 video viewing on its site. It also announced a new Profile Expressions Kit, where people can use third-party apps to create fun and personality-infused profile videos. The closed beta is for six apps: Boomerang by Instagram, Lollicam, BeautyPlus, Cinemagraph Pro by Flixel, Lollicam, MSQRD, and Vine. Interestingly during the course of his keynote Zuckerberg also took a jab that seemed directed at the likes of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and others who have called for cracking down on immigration and rebuffing refugees. “As I look around the world, I’m starting to see people and nations turning inward,” Zuckerberg said. “I hear fearful voices calling for building walls and distancing people they label as ‘others.’ I hear them calling for blocking free expression, for slowing immigration, for reducing trade, and in some cases even for cutting access to the Internet,” he added.