Metaverse Technology: Overview, Use Cases, And Future Potential
Virtual Reality (VR) has been one of the most fascinating contributions of the technological boom in the past decade. The metaverse, the most significant emerging tech trend of modern times, is set to elevate this experience to the next level. How about an immersive 3D digital experience that combines multiple virtual and physical worlds? Well, this is exactly what the metaverse promises. The concept is being considered the future iteration of the internet and will enable users to meet, socialize, play games, and work with other users within 3D spaces.
The term “metaverse” was conceptualized by Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel Snow Crash, written in 1992. The novel envisaged that individuals could escape from the real world into a virtual world called “Metaverse” with the help of digital avatars and explore this virtual world to the fullest. Decades later, with the advent of innovative technologies like Augmented Reality (AR), VR, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, blockchain, etc. it has become possible to convert this fascinating concept into reality. Several brands like Facebook, Microsoft, Nvidia, and Decentraland have started to explore this area over the past couple of years.
The metaverse technology grabbed the spotlight and became a topic of keen interest recently, when Facebook changed its brand name to Meta in October 2021 and planned to focus on exploring the metaverse in full. This article speaks about the metaverse technology in detail and provides glimpses of its future prospects.
How Does A Metaverse Work?
A metaverse is a virtual, digital 3D universe formed by merging various kinds of virtual spaces. Users can enter this digital universe using their virtual identity in the form of digital avatars and can move across various metaverse spaces for shopping, hanging out, or meeting friends, just as they would in the real world. The only difference is users can enjoy immersive experiences from the comfort of their own homes. Simply put, activities that happen within isolated environments in the real world will now happen virtually, within the metaverse.
For example, if a user taking a virtual tour within a metaverse spots a store and shops there via immersive commerce, the order that they place will be delivered to the address provided. Other instances of metaverse experiences include participation in virtual social events, purchasing digital land and building virtual houses, joining fellow viewers of a virtual rock band concert, paying visits to virtual museums to view the latest works of art, and participating in immersive learning through virtual classrooms, etc. Businesses can leverage this technology by carrying out interactions with digital humans for business purposes, like employee onboarding, sales, providing customer services, and many others. Users can also utilize a metaverse for creating, sharing, and trading assets or experiences.
Unique Traits Of The Metaverse
The metaverse is unique in its own way. It is an interoperable network comprising 3D virtual worlds rendered in real time. An unlimited number of users can experience these virtual ecosystems persistently and synchronously. During this experience, a user’s individuality is maintained. Moreover, a metaverse is massively scaled and ensures the continuity of data, like objects, identities, entitlements, interactions, payments, history, etc.
Who Owns The Metaverse?
The virtual space offered by the metaverse is device-independent and collective, so no single vendor owns the space. The transactions within a metaverse are made using non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and digital currencies.
Technologies That Empower The Metaverse
The functioning of a metaverse requires a combination of several cutting-edge technologies like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, an AR cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), spatial technologies, head-mounted displays (HMDs), and 3D reconstruction. Apart from these avant-garde technologies, the metaverse will also need the support of software tools, apps, platforms, hardware, and content generated by users.
Blockchain will validate value transfer, credibility, and data storage within a metaverse; AR will enable 3D visualization of objects, interaction in real time, and the merging of the virtual and real worlds; while VR will provide users with a sensory experience like that of physical reality. However, while AR implementation needs only a camera-enabled device, VR requires more expensive equipment like multi-modal screens and HMDs. Metaverse technology is more likely to employ a combination of AR and VR, popularly called Extended Reality (XR). Integration of AI, machine learning, and IoT will facilitate crucial functions like limitless interactions and seamless integrations of data.
3D reconstruction helps in creating virtual spaces that are realistic and look natural, leading to the formation of a digital ecosystem that is almost like the real world. With the help of special 3D cameras, one can render accurate models of objects, buildings, and physical locations. These models are 3D photorealistic. Computers then process the 4K HD photos captured and the 3D spatial data for generating a virtual duplicate or digital twin of the real physical world that can be experienced by the users.
The Current State Of Metaverse Implementation: Use Cases
Today, there exist several individual metaverses that have limited features. Presently, the gaming sector provides the experience closest to the metaverse experience, as compared to other industrial domains. Decentraland, a start-up, created a unique virtual world for its website users in the year 2017. This virtual world has its own economy as well as currency. It integrates social elements with NFTs (representing cosmetic collectibles), cryptocurrencies, and virtual real estate. The players of this blockchain game participate in active governance on the platform.
Microsoft launched Mixed Reality smart glasses named HoloLens in 2016. The video game Roblox also provides nongaming services like virtual meetups and concerts. Facebook is in the process of creating a social platform powered by Virtual Reality. Furioos, created by Unity, streams entirely interactive 3D environments in real time. Here, the environments are rendered by Unity’s GPU server infrastructure that automatically scales itself. SecondLive offers a virtual 3D ecosystem that is being utilized for learning, socializing, and business. This metaverse also provides an NFT marketplace where collectibles can be swapped.
What Does The Future Of The Metaverse Look Like?
In the near future, the metaverse is expected to consolidate all isolated immersive virtual ecosystems and merge them into a unified whole. The outcome will be a single huge-sized all-inclusive metaverse that can be accessed using a single browser (just like the internet offering various websites). For instance, a user working in a virtual office can conduct a Mixed Reality meeting using an Oculus VR headset and can indulge in a blockchain-powered game after finishing work. The user can then manage their finances and portfolio inside the same metaverse.
The metaverse will transcend social media platforms and virtual gaming. The metaverses are expected to become more multidimensional in the near future owing to the usage of VR glasses and headsets. Using these VR gadgets, users can stroll around physical spaces in reality for exploring 3D spaces. Metaverses have the potential to facilitate decentralized governance, establishing the digital identity of an individual, remote employee workstations, etc.
Challenges Likely To Arise While Implementing A Metaverse
Tech experts have predicted certain challenges that are likely to be encountered by a metaverse. The major challenges include controlling the privacy of users and businesses and authenticating the identity of individuals who are moving around the virtual world disguised as digital avatars. As a result, unscrupulous persons or even bots can explore the metaverse under the disguise of an individual, and scam other users or damage the reputation of business brands. Also, the usage of AR and VR with the camera on can lead to data breaches of personal information.
The metaverse is a collective, virtual, open space developed by integrating virtually enhanced digital, as well as physical, reality, known for offering immersive experiences to users. Although this concept is in its infancy and has a long way to go before reaching stability, it possesses an immense potential to disrupt the AR/VR experience altogether. Several big players including Facebook are investing heavily and working relentlessly to make this concept a success in the coming years. The metaverse is expected to offer decentralized, persistent, interoperable, and collaborative business opportunities and models that will help companies to elevate digital business to unprecedented heights.