The Metaverse, the successor to the internet and next communications platform, comes from its origins in science fiction, and like many inventions, fantasy becomes real through its expression in science and experimentation.
The word derives from a portmanteau meaning “beyond” and “Universe,” and initially rose to prominence after Neal Stephenson published his novel ‘Snow Crash’ in 1992, which explored a unique virtual world that allowed its inhabitants to have realistic 3D experiences as digital avatars.
For the Metaverse, advancements in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality (VR/AR/MR) are leading to the rapid development of the burgeoning platform, and in the real world, its unification will materialise from the merger of persistent (always open) spatial computing and the Internet, according to experts.
A combination of VR/AR/IoT, Artificial Intelligence, and Blockchain represent the foundation for Web 3.0 or the Metaverse interface for digital human-to-machine and human-to-human communications.
Important Components of the Metaverse
VR/AR/MR head-mounted displays: used to interact in immersive virtual spaces (VR) or digital overlays superimposed on real-world objects (AR/MR), interfacing subjects with content via the senses. Devices can range from full head-mounted displays, smart glasses, or MR headsets.
Ex: Oculus Quest 2, Lenovo ThinkRealityA3, Varjo XR-3, Microsoft HoloLens 2, HTC VIVE Flow, Apple View (TBA), Google Glass
Platforms: Designed by tech firms and supported by content creators to host experiences. Platform experiences can also take place individually, simultaneously with attendees of a specific space, or en masse with a large group of people in the same virtual environment for peer-to-peer Metaverse communications. Additional platforms are used to build 3D content, generate digital twins, communicate with remote individuals, and engage in enterprise workflows.
Ex: STYLY, Meta Horizons, Microsoft Mesh, ArthurVR, Tactile Manifest, AltspaceVR, Glue, ENGAGE, Varjo Teleport, Nextech HoloX, Stageverse, Matterport, Unity, Unreal Engine, Osso VR.
5G: An important vertical, 5G allows low-latency, persistent connections while in Metaverse platforms, reducing lag and facilitating machine-to-machine (M2M) communications to cut error rates, namely for robotics and IoT connections. Solutions are designed by top telecom providers.
Ex: Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia (Big 3), Cisco Systems, Qualcomm, MediaTek, Samsung
Edge Computing: A subset of 5G and telecommunications, edge computing offloads processing power from devices to peripheral and core networks to execute high-speed, large volume connections in real-time to end-to-end (E2E) users, resulting in reduced latency and energy consumption. Edge computing can also assist in accessing servers for optimised Metaverse connections on platforms, real-time 3D experiences, and NFT marketplaces, as well as boost performance for industrial M2M infrastructure.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): An indispensable component of the Metaverse, AI is considered the lifeblood of human-to-machine interfaces. AI is used for functions such as base station optimisation, facial recognition, NFT verification and encryption, human behaviour monitoring and prediction, and much more. If data is the new oil, then AI is the rig to which it is extracted. The possibilities are endless.
Blockchain: One of the fastest-growing verticals of the Metaverse, blockchain is an encrypted set of data used to verify the identity of a real or virtual object. Commonly used for non-fungible token (NFT) sales on virtual marketplaces, they are also used at the industrial level for monitoring supply chains for endangered natural resources, digital-to-physical asset conversions (designing a pair of shoes on NIKELAND and ordering them at the Nike store) and conversely, converting a favourite collectable into a digital asset for gaming, concerts, and sports. Blockchain also allows the creation of cryptocurrencies, which even Metaverse platforms and real estate agencies are using for virtual purchases, and individual users can mint their own NFT digital assets and open sales on virtual marketplaces using the technology.
Ex: Decentraland, Vault Hill, Monkey Kingdom, VIVE Arts, Delta Reality, Superworld, NIKELAND, SANDBOX, Wave, and all cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, Litecoin, etc.
Avatars: A psychological representation of the end-user interacting with the Metaverse. Firms are allowing people to plug into platforms with bespoke features, appearances, and custom NFTs to interact with others socially, collaboratively, and with broader audiences. The virtual beings normally take shape of either mobile half-bodied images or full-body representations. Whether playing sports, delivering keynote speeches, or simply joining meditative activities, Avatars represent humanity in the machine in their idealised state, constructed for public display.
Ex: ReadyPlayerMe, Meta Horizons, Microsoft Mesh, Spatial, MeetinVR, AltspaceVR, Glue
AR Clouds: Initially coined by Onri Inbaar, Founder of the Augmented World Expo (AWE), AR clouds are the real world in digital copy, which allows multiple XR devices to share experiences.
Onri defined AR clouds as including,
- Ubiquitous spatial localisers allow users to view content from all angles and multiple devices
- Infinitely Scalable and shareable point clouds to identify the real world, including shapes and form
- Interaction between multiple users, even remotely, in real-time
AR software development kits (SDKs) also empower individual firms to develop such AR clouds, allowing their user bases and partners to develop seamless experiences.
Ex: Google ARCore, Apple ARKit, Meta SparkAR, Matterport, Niantic Lightship ARSDK, Lenovo, Snap Kit, Snapchat Lens Studio, NVIDIA CloudXR SDK, Kronos Group OpenXR, IEEE xAPI
The Metaverse is the fusion of the imagination, data, and the human senses. Headsets deliver experiences with 360 views, spatial audio, and realistic, real-time interactions with individual inputs.
Using a combination of sensors and body tracking, users can experience up to 6 degrees-of-freedom (6DoF) in movement, or backward to forward, up to down, left to right, as well as yaw, pitch, and roll.
Projecting onto the human senses also requires the capabilities to monitor human sensory function with eye, face, and hand tracking, facial recognition, natural language processing (NLP), and other biometric data fed into devices to increase immersion and realism while in virtual experiences.
This is crazy. @HaptX partnered with a UK company on these robotic hands. The user, who can be remote, has full sensory perception via sensors in the robotic fingers and a camera. One of the coolest booths at #IITSEC. And an exec confirmed they’ll soon venture beyond gloves. pic.twitter.com/KUvK8XEPq2
— Ken Storey (@KLStorey) November 30, 2021
Haptics is a growing technological vertical for the Metaverse and is already available to consumers in headset controllers. Numerous companies such as Meta are evolving the technology by developing low-cost ReSkin feedback gloves for end-users, and HapX is already deploying low-latency interfaces, allowing specialists to operate robots in dangerous environments or to perform surgeries with 5G connections guided by sensory feedback. Firms exploring this technology continue to grow by the day.
Enterprises will eventually expand into smell, as with companies such as Ketamine One, which developed water-based scented tablets for immersive psychedelic experiences.
Experiments in taste and texture emulation have been conducted by the National University of Singapore’s Nimesha Ranasinghe, the creator of a “digital lollipop” that simulated flavours to subjects.
The Metaverse could inevitably link to future emerging human-to-machine technologies, including Neuralink’s PEDOT brain-machine interface to control activity in XR, operate devices to boost mobility for paralysed individuals, and connect to large data sets translated directly to human thought.
Examples of Decentralised, Proprietary Metaverses
Players in the Metaverse have skyrocketed in the XR industry and several leading companies have begun building Metaverse platforms, which includes Meta, Niantic, NVIDIA, Epic Games, Apple, and others.
Meta’s announcement in August it would shift focus to building the Metaverse, and subsequent rebranding at the Connect event in late October, fuelled a massive surge in investments, R&D, and use cases across the sector and its industry verticals to outline the best applications for the technologies.
Mark Zuckerberg’s massive Metaverse gamble has led to the creation of several key solutions, including the company’s Horizon suite of apps (Home, Workrooms, and Worlds), XLS-R speech processing tool, ReSkin haptics technologies, and other inventions from the Menlo Park-based firm.
Huawei Technologies also unveiled a vision of the Metaverse, named the ‘Cyberverse’ at its Developers Conference in 2019. The platform combined input, spatial computing and mapping, deep learning, big data, and 5G technologies to allow participants to experience a customised Metaverse environment.
Magic Leap has also conceptualised its ‘Magicverse’, modelled on Walt Disney’s ‘Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, which includes critical components for spatial computing defined as presence, persistence, scale, awareness, respect, interactivity, and sentience.
The Florida-based firm’s Magicverse will remain open-source, device-agnostic (or used on any device), and compatible with the Internet of Things (IoT)—a crucial means for driving interoperability across devices functioning in vast physical environments with complete synchronicity.
However, disagreements have surfaced over whether the Metaverse will follow an open-source, universal standardisation approach, or a proprietary approach with selective interoperability, designed by large multinational firms controlling platform access, technologies, and traffic in the Metaverse.
Come help us define interoperable scripting for user generated content in the newly established OMI Web Assembly Group! We’re looking to schedule our first meeting in January. Jump into our GitHub Discussion and tell us what you’re most excited about! https://t.co/VvLbbP2DcS
— Open Metaverse Interoperability Group (@open_metaverse) December 22, 2021
The US tech giant also aims to develop future solutions with specific Western-backed values with partner organisations such as the Organisation of American States (OAS), No Filter Africa, and others in a massive initiative launched in September and valued at $50 million USD.
At the government level, countries such as South Korea, Barbados, and Croatia have also shown huge interest in the Metaverse for government and political affairs, sparked by Seoul’s $33.1 million USD Metaverse investment, Croatia’s pledge to facilitate such technologies for tech firms, and Barbados’ launch of sovereign digital real estate to build the world’s first Metaverse-based embassy.
Views on the Metaverse
At the Immerse Global Summit: Metaverse summit in December, a panel discussion explored crucial topics on the Metaverse, which offered careful observations of how the platform would develop and function as a real system for the benefit of humanity.
- Chris Pfaff, VRARA Co-Chairman and Storytelling Committee Member
- Marcin Klimeck, Chief Executive and Co-Founder for ExplodedView
- Cindy Mallory, Emerging Tech Strategist for Worldwide TechServices
- Luis Bravo Martins, Chief Marketing Officer for KIT-AR
- Aaron Pulkka, Programme Director for Amber Labs
At the event, Pulkka explained that it was “critical” for companies outside of infrastructure providers to leverage the Metaverse by demanding interoperability and openness in its creation.
He discussed how the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) ARPANET project in the 1970s involved universities and researchers guided by the United States government, rather than individual companies.
Explaining further, he said,
“Now, we have companies [with] platforms that they’re trying to protect [their] market share that we’re trying to own, and that’s not necessarily in the best interest of the Oracle’s and other companies just looking to leverage that technology in order to get work done”
Additional organisations similar to the Kronos Group, who have developed a collection of firms dedicated to open-source 3D content, as well as the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a global standards institution, would allow greater interoperability for the Metaverse and promote “seamless transitions between these worlds and reality.”
Speaking further on the subject, Mallory stated that the Metaverse was to evolve in phases, starting with Web 2.0 and 3.0, adding: “It is driven by user-generated content, but it’s centrally-owned [by tech].”
The Metaverse would also require use cases built on secure and stable cybersecurity frameworks as the rapid adoption of such technologies raised concerns such as “Cybersecurity Maturity Model Compliance (CMMC), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) frameworks,” and other “security continencies.”
She continued, stating companies building custom software for devices with many sensors, variables, cameras, and other technologies became “almost a risk factor” and obstacle to adoption, adding,
“I think overcoming security hurdles and creating enterprise workflows that work for these larger companies, where they are given the guarantee of security and privacy, privacy and integrity of their data needed for enterprise data, will help us evolve and have more mainstream adoption [of Metaverse technologies]”
Adding to talks on interoperability, Martins stated that despite markets offering multiple proposals and possibilities, large volumes and layers of data created challenges to cross-platform functionality.
He added that, despite WebXR allowing link standardisation and travel “between several worlds,” obstacles to AR clouds remained as companies such as Niantic, Microsoft, and Google had created their own proprietary platforms, which required interoperability to function for all users.
Organisations such as the Spatial Web Foundation and Gabriel René, SWF Executive Director, along with his colleagues had created spatial web proposals on their website and in a book to tackle the issues, Martins explained, adding,
“That’s key if we’re talking about augmented reality, right? We need to know where assets are, where resources are, where and what the website are right now, to actually have continuously available and multiplayer AR experiences published so that everyone can access. So yeah, clearly, I think that there are several added layers on top of WebEx are for us to have to drop mobility and well have like, an open Metaverse was all”
Klimeck explained further, where he urged companies to enable mobile users by promoting interoperability and to “enjoy augmented and virtual reality seamlessly.”
Many firms were not “up to base” with doing so and were focused on digitisation or having decentralised systems, and despite companies showing interest in building Metaverses, such preoccupations could limit the development and implementation of the Metaverse as an interoperable platform.
“I think that it’s more of an issue of a mindset, transformative mindset that is right now missing, and that will for sure start happening inside organisations”
Like all revolutionary and innovative scientific discoveries, the Metaverse has its starting points, where many firms are extrapolating new approaches and hope to build a centralised, ubiquitous platform as well as closed industrial environments across sectors.
The Metaverse will most likely materialise as a series of infinite multiverses rather than a single Universe, and the technologies behind them have yet to reach their full potential without serious consideration of developing universal standards, growing use cases, or properly addressing cybersecurity concerns. The Metaverse is at its Big Bang phase, but for life to exist, the dust must settle.
Such Herculean efforts will require industrial unity, cooperation, and serious deliberation of differences in opinion in an effort not seen since the formation of the United Nations in 1945. The conditions leading to the Internet are exceedingly different from those leading to the rise of the Metaverse, which will call on the world’s best and brightest to tackle challenges as they arise, which is within reach.