The metaverse is a 3D digital world concept. It consists of virtual spaces that you can explore with your own avatar. You can play games, go shopping, meet up with friends at a virtual coffee shop, collaborate with colleagues in a virtual office, and much more in the metaverse. Certain metaverse elements have already been incorporated into the ecosystems of some video games and workplace socialization tools.
Cryptocurrency projects such as Decentraland and The Sandbox have already launched their digital worlds. However, because the metaverse concept is still in its early stages, most of its functionalities are still in the works. Companies such as Facebook (now Meta), Microsoft, and Nvidia have begun to develop their own versions of the metaverse.
Tech companies are incorporating cutting-edge technologies to power the development of the 3D world to provide an immersive metaverse virtual experience. Blockchain, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), 3D reconstruction, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of things (IoT) are examples of such technologies.
What is the metaverse?
The concept of the metaverse is an online 3D digital world with virtual land and objects. Imagine working remotely, visiting virtual museums to see the latest artworks, or attending a virtual concert with your fellow rock band fans, all from the comfort of your own home.
Axie Infinity, The Sandbox, and Decentraland have already incorporated metaverse elements to bring various aspects of our lives into online worlds. The metaverse, on the other hand, is still in the works. Nobody knows whether there will be a single all-encompassing metaverse or multiple metaverses through which you can travel.
The concept is expected to grow beyond video games and social media platforms as it evolves. Remote working, decentralized governance, and digital identity are just a few of the potential features supported by the metaverse. It can also become more multidimensional with connected VR headsets and glasses, allowing users to physically walk around and explore 3D spaces.
The latest development of the metaverse
The metaverse became the new favorite buzzword after Facebook changed its name to Meta in October 2021. To prepare for its rebranding, the social media behemoth invested $10 billion in a new division called Reality Labs by 2021. The plan is to create metaverse content, software, and AR and VR headsets, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes will be as common in the future as smartphones.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also heightened interest in creating metaverses. As more people work remotely, there is a greater demand for more interactive ways to connect with others. Virtual 3D spaces that allow coworkers to join meetings, catch up, and collaborate are becoming more popular. One example is the Microsoft Mesh, which will be unveiled in November 2021. It includes immersive spaces where users can mingle and collaborate using their avatars, making remote team meetings more engaging and enjoyable.
Some online games are also embracing the metaverse. Pokémon Go, an augmented reality mobile game, was among the first to capitalize on the concept, allowing players to hunt virtual Pokémons in the real world using a smartphone app. Another popular game, Fortnite, has expanded its product to include various activities within its digital world, such as hosting brand events and concerts.
In addition to social media and gaming platforms, technology companies such as Nvidia have created new opportunities in virtual worlds. Nvidia Omniverse is an open platform that connects 3D spaces into a shared universe to allow engineers, designers, and creators to collaborate virtually. It is currently used in a variety of industries. The BMW Group, for example, is utilizing the Omniverse to reduce production time and improve product quality through smart manufacturing.
Key technologies that power the metaverse
Companies are powering the 3D world with cutting-edge technologies such as blockchain, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), 3D reconstruction, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of things (IoT) to make the metaverse experience more immersive.
Blockchain and cryptocurrency
Blockchain technology enables decentralized and transparent digital proof of ownership, digital collectibility, value transfer, governance, accessibility, and interoperability. Cryptocurrencies allow users to exchange value while working and socializing in the 3D digital world.
For example, crypto can be used to buy virtual lands in Decentraland. Players can use the game's cryptocurrency MANA to buy 16x16 meter land parcels in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The ownership of these virtual lands can be established and secured with the help of blockchain technology.
In the future, crypto may be used to incentivize people to work in the metaverse. As more businesses move their offices online for remote working, we may see metaverse-related jobs advertised.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can provide us with a 3D experience that is immersive and engaging. These are our portals into the virtual world. But what is the distinction between AR and VR?
AR transforms the real world by incorporating digital visual elements and characters. It's less intimidating than VR and can be used on almost any smartphone or digital device with a camera. AR applications allow users to view their surroundings with interactive digital visuals, similar to the mobile game Pokémon GO. When players open their phones' cameras, they can see Pokémon in the real world.
VR functions differently. It creates an entirely computer-generated virtual environment, similar to the metaverse concept. Users can then explore it with virtual reality headsets, gloves, and sensors.
The way AR and VR work demonstrates an early metaverse model. VR is already transforming the digital world by incorporating fictional visual content. VR, as its technology matures, has the potential to expand the metaverse experience to include physical simulations using VR equipment. Users will be able to sense, hear, and interact with people from all over the world. Given the hype surrounding the metaverse, we can expect more metaverse companies to invest in the development of AR and VR equipment in the near future.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has been widely used in our daily lives, including business strategy planning, decision making, facial recognition, faster computing, and more. Recently, AI experts have been researching the possibilities of using AI to create immersive metaverses.
AI has the potential to process massive amounts of data at breakneck speed. AI algorithms, when combined with machine learning techniques, can learn from previous iterations, taking into account historical data to produce unique outputs and insights.
AI can be applied to non-player characters (NPCs) in various scenarios within the metaverse. NPCs appear in almost every game; they are a component of the gaming environment that reacts and responds to player actions. NPCs can be placed across 3D spaces to facilitate lifelike conversations with users or perform other specific tasks using AI's processing abilities. An AI NPC, unlike a human user, can run on its own and be used by millions of players at the same time. It can also work in a variety of languages.
The creation of metaverse avatars is another potential application for AI. AI engines can be used to analyze 2D images or 3D scans to create more realistic and accurate avatars. AI can also be used to create different facial expressions, hairstyles, clothes, and features to enhance the digital humans we create to make the process more dynamic.
While this is not a new technology, its use has increased during the pandemic, particularly in the real estate industry, where lockdowns prevented potential buyers from visiting properties in person. As a result, some agencies have turned to 3D reconstruction technology to create virtual property tours. Buyers could look around potential new homes from anywhere and make purchases without even stepping foot inside, similar to the metaverse we imagined.
One of the metaverse's challenges is to create a digital environment that appears as real as possible. It is possible to create realistic and natural-looking spaces using 3D reconstruction. We can bring our world online by rendering accurate 3D photorealistic models of buildings, physical locations, and objects using special 3D cameras. The 3D spatial data and 4K HD photography are then fed into computers, which process them and create a virtual replica in the metaverse for users to experience. These virtual replicas of real-world objects are also known as digital twins.
Internet of things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) concept was first introduced in 1999. Simply put, IoT is a system that connects everything in our physical world to the Internet via sensors and devices. After connecting to the Internet, these devices will have a unique identifier and the ability to automatically send and receive data. Today, IoT connects thermostats, voice-activated speakers, medical devices, and other devices to a variety of data sources.
One application of IoT on the metaverse is data collection and distribution from the physical world. This would improve the precision of the digital representations. For example, IoT data feeds could alter the behavior of certain metaverse objects based on current weather or other conditions.
IoT implementation can connect the 3D world to a large number of real-world devices. This enables the creation of real-time metaverse simulations. IoT could use AI and machine learning to manage the data it collects to further optimize the metaverse environment.
Challenges of the metaverse
The metaverse is still in its formative stages. Identity authentication and privacy control are two examples of challenges. In the real world, it is not always difficult to recognize someone. However, as people move around the virtual world in their avatars, it will be difficult to tell or prove who the other person is. Malicious actors or even bots, for example, could enter the metaverse as someone else. They could then exploit this to harm their reputation or to defraud other users.
Another issue is privacy. To provide an immersive experience, the metaverse relies on AR and VR devices. These camera-equipped technologies with unique identifiers may eventually result in unwanted leaks of personal information.
While the metaverse is still in its early stages, many businesses are already exploring its possibilities. Decentraland and The Sandbox are notable projects in the crypto space, but big companies like Microsoft, Nvidia, and Facebook are also getting involved. As AR, VR, and AI technologies advance, we can expect to see exciting new features in these borderless virtual worlds.