The term Metaverse has become a top industry buzzword in the last two years. The metaverse is defined as a decentralized virtual space where avatars of humans interact with each other in a shared persistence space. It could eventually become a digital destination where all of us "hang out" just like Facebook today.
Metaverse becomes much more popular after the rebranding of Facebook to Meta. Mark Zuckerberg, Meta CEO, believes it is the future of the internet (mentioned it as embodied internet) and is focused on building the next generation of online interaction, the "metaverse.
Once the metaverse is executed, there will be tremendous opportunities in advertising, digital events, gaming, e-commerce, etc.
The term metaverse was first coined by the author Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel Snow Crash. He referred to it as a network of virtual worlds where we can perform activities as we do in the physical world.
The metaverse is a moment in time in which all important aspects of our lives become digital.
you can also consider Metaverse as a 3d version of the internet. If you look at the user interface side, primarily it was text-based where we transfer messages in a textual format like SMS. Slowly it evolved to media-based where we can share media content such as images, videos and audios. The next iteration of UI will be 3D where we will be able to transfer and socialize using 3D contents, that is metaverse.
The evolution of the internet can be divided into 3 phases.
- Web 1.0: Where we were transferring just messages in the textual format like SMS.
- Web 2.0: Where we can share media contents such as images, videos and audios.
- Web 3.0: Where we can experience the internet in 3d and transfer 3D contents over the network.
The above image depicts the metaverse market overview, trends, share, growth, and research. The analytics shows how much it popularized over a year. The market potential of Metaverse was just 47.69 billion USD in 2020. Within a year, it increased to over 209.77 billion USD.
The covid outbreak accelerated the adoption of the metaverse in all areas such as retail, education, banking, etc. Even though covid had a lot of negative impacts on our lives, it had an immense positive effect on the immersive tech side. It led to the adoption of AR VR technologies and the growth of the metaverse world.
In the latest Facebook connect, Facebook CEO announced to rebrand the company as Meta, and under the Meta umbrella, the company is now attempting to create a platform where users will be able to "create, learn, work, shop and socialize" across various platforms. They acquired Oculus in 2014. Now, the oculus quest is considered as one of the primary tools to build the metaverse world. This rebranding made the metaverse concept more popular across various sectors around the globe.
The metaverse journey started with writer Neal Stephenson coining the term 'metaverse' to describe a 3D virtual space in 1992. Now, the metaverse is a collection of digital worlds created using different technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (VR), cryptocurrency, and the Internet to play, work and socialize.
However, a lot has happened in the past 30 years, from the release of Second Life in 2003 to Mark Zuckerberg's 2021 announcement of Facebook rebranding to Meta. Major tech giants such as Facebook, Microsoft, Robolox, Decentraland and Amazon has made major contributions to this journey. Few of these companies have acquired Twitch, Minecraft, Oculus, and AltspaceVR which are useful in building the 'future internet'.
You can check out the following link to know more about the metaverse timeline.
The Metaverse Timeline | How Did We Get Here?
Metaverse is all about virtual worlds. It provides an immersive way to visualize, collaborate and socialize things in extended reality. Extended reality comprises of Augmented reality, Virtual reality and Mixed reality.
Let us try to understand AR, VR and MR.
- Augmented Reality (AR) - An interactive experience of the real-world environment where virtual objects are augmented over real-world objects. This can be achieved by computer-generated perceptual information, across multiple sensory modalities such as visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory and olfactory.
- Virtual Reality (VR) - Teleports users into a virtual world that simulates a physical presence in places in the real world or in the imaginary world. It can create sensory experiences which include sight, touch, hearing and smell.
- Mixed Reality (MR) - Virtual content is not only overlaid on the real environment but also users can interact with that environment.
Metaverse is a collection of virtual worlds. We may be confused that it is just a virtual reality application rather than a metaverse even though there is a huge difference between these two terms.
Let's understand the major differences between a metaverse and a virtual reality application.
Here is a breakdown of some of the features that define a metaverse.
- Boundless - As an infinite virtual space, the Metaverse removes all forms of barriers. There are no restrictions on the number of individuals who can use it at the same time, the industries that can use it, the types of activities that can take place, and so on.
- Persistent: Metaverse can be a fully online platform that allows users to have a consistent experience. It can be accessed from anywhere in the world at any time.
- Decentralized: Metaverse is decentralised, as it is not held by a single company or platform. It will be a decentralised network that employs blockchain technology to ensure that all virtual world transactions are transparent, traceable, and secure at all times.
- Immersive: A VR headset, AR glasses, and a smartphone are all need to explore the incredibly realistic, immersive metaverse universe. It can adjust to the surroundings based on user preferences for colours, lighting, and other factors.
- Virtual Economics: Cryptocurrency allows users to participate in decentralised virtual economies. It comprises digital asset marketplaces where users can buy, sell, and trade items like avatars, virtual apparel, NFTs, and event tickets.
- Social Experiences - Metaverse is all about social experience. In a virtual world, every member can interact with one another in a shared virtual space.
Metaverse is not an application built on a single technology. It is a combination of multiple elements such as social media, online shopping, digital assets, digital currency, NFTs, marketplace, and so on.
Let's understand some of the key elements of the metaverse.
Metaverse is a synthesized world that is comprised of digital assets, virtual environments, avatars, and other computer-generated elements. It allows humans (represented by avatars) to use their virtual identity through any smart device to communicate, collaborate, and socialize with each other.
- Human Society - The metaverse is capable of capturing human users along with their inner psychologies and social interactions. Humans can control their digital avatars and interact with each other in virtual environments. They can play, work, and socialize in the metaverse using smart wearable devices such as VR/AR HMD devices.
- Physical Infrastructures - It offers supporting infrastructures to the metaverse to support multi-sensory data perception, caching, processing, and transmission thereby enabling efficient interactions with both the digital and human worlds. Smart objects, sensors, and actuators creates multimodal data perception from the environment and human bodies with high-accuracy device control. Networking connectivity is provided via the communication infrastructure which includes various wired and wireless networks. Storage capacities and powerful computation capabilities are provided via the computation and storage infrastructure assisted by cloud/edge computing.
- Interconnected Virtual Worlds - The digital world can be a collection of interconnected distributed virtual worlds and each virtual world can offer certain kinds of virtual goods/services (e.g., gaming and social dating) and virtual environments (e.g., game scenes and virtual cities) to the users represented as digital avatars.
- Digital avatars - Digital representation of human users in the metaverse.
- Virtual environments - Simulated real or imaginary environments (consisting of 3D digital things and their attributes) in the metaverse.
- Virtual goods/services - Tradeable commodities (e.g., digital arts, skins and lands) produced by virtual service providers or the users in the metaverse. It includes digital market, digital currency, digital regulation, social service, etc.
- Metaverse Engine - The metaverse engine uses big data from the real world as the input to generate and update the virtual world using AI, digital twin, and blockchain technologies. AI algorithms perform personalized avatar/content creation, largescale metaverse rending, and intelligent service offering to enrich the metaverse ecology. The knowledge derived via AI-based big data analytics is beneficial to perform simulating, digitalizing, and mirroring the real world via digital twin technology. This can be used to produce vivid virtual environments for users to experience. With the assistance of XR and HCI techniques, users situated in physical environments are able to control their digital avatars in the metaverse in an immersive way. This can be achieved via their senses and bodies for diverse collective and social activities such as gaming, dating, and trading. Finally, the created digital twins can be transparently managed, uniquely tokenized, and monetized by blockchain technology to enable trust-free trading and service offerings in the metaverse.
Refer to the following paper to know more about the metaverse architecture.
A Survey on Metaverse: Fundamentals, Security, and Privacy
Nowadays, everyone is trying to come up with their own explanation of the metaverse. Yet, we haven't arrived at any conclusion. However, Jon Radoff, an entrepreneur, author and game designer came up with a systematic explanation of the metaverse. His seven-layered model is already being used in many online publications.
- Layer 1: Experience - Experience is where the user engages with games, shopping, sports, immersive virtual worlds, digital assets, and more. Gaming demonstrates many of these features such as immersion in virtual environments, avatar identities, storytelling, and real-time social interactions. Also, it includes many other everyday experiences where the physical and digital worlds collide such as Zoom meetings, gym workouts and so on.
- Layer 2: Discovery - Discovery is the advertising network whose parts are stores, rating systems and social recommendations. Discovery can be enabled by inbound / outbound information sharing systems. Inbound includes community content platforms where people can find out the likes and recommendations given by other users whereas outbound discovery includes notifications and display ads. Real-time presence is one of the key features of metaverse discovery where users can get a glimpse of what other users are engaging currently in the metaverse and will be able to join in the shared experience.
- Layer 3: Creator Economy - Creator Economy opens a way to create digital content without any programming knowledge like creating videos on YouTube. The experiences provided by the creator economy will be immersive, social, real-time and highly personalized.
- Layer 4: Spatial Computing - Spatial computing is an important feature that allows users to access and manipulate 3D spaces as a blending of physical and virtual spaces. It refers to 3D engines, programs, AR, VR, XR, and mapping which help us to break down the barriers that exist between physical and virtual spaces. It also includes the Internet of things (IoT), voice recognition and gesture recognition technology. 3D engines such as Unity and Unreal enables the users to create the experience of the physical reality. Omniverse by Nvidia is a platform where creators can collaborate in an interoperable 3D space whereas Microsoft's HoloLens is a great example of what we can do on the spatial computing layer.
- Layer 5: Decentralization - One of the key features of the metaverse is decentralization which will enable the metaverse to be decentralized, open, and distributed. It includes blockchain technology, smart contracts, open-source platforms and self-sovereign digital identity. To utilize the full potential of the metaverse, it should have a transparent and traceable way to perform transactions and interactions. It can be achieved through blockchain, crypto assets and NFTs. Decentraland is a well-known example of the decentralized metaverse which is a decentralized virtual world running on the Ethereum blockchain and controlled by a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO).
- Layer 6: Human Interface - Human interface refers to all the technology that extends the human interactions with the digital assets. It includes mobiles, VR headsets, smart glasses, gestures, voice, haptics, wearables and neural networks. Oculus Quest is a great example of the same. 3D printed wearables, biosensors and interfaces between brains and computers expand our interactions more digital and simpler.
- Layer 7: Infrastructure - Infrastructure refers to all the technologies that enables, connects and powers the digital devices. It includes data centers, cloud computing, wireless, materials and processing, and covers the development of 5G computing built with microchips that are just getting denser and faster. With the evolution of infrastructure from cloud computing to edge computing, the storage and computation of data have been brought to a closer location as and where data is produced and used.
VR headsets, smart glasses, and haptic technology enable users to transport themselves (as avatars) into the metaverse. Following are some of the selected headsets for visualizing the metaverse content.
- Microsoft HoloLens 2 - Microsoft HoloLens 2 is a mixed reality (MR) headset developed and manufactured by Microsoft. It is considered a premium solution for visualizing the metaverse. It provides better user interactions using the power of its spatial computing engine.
- Meta Quest 2 - The Meta Quest 2 is a virtual reality (VR) headset developed by Meta (formerly Facebook). It is considered a cost-friendly solution for visualizing the metaverse. It has been given a serious uplift in performance compared to the previous version with a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 SoC and 6GB of RAM.
- H*P Reverb G2* - The HP Reverb G2 VR headset is a groundbreaking creation of headsets in the virtual reality market. It is the first headset to combine eye tracking, face tracking equipped with a heart rate sensor, a face camera, industry-leading lenses, Valve speakers and 4 cameras. It comes with an intelligent engine called Omnicept which includes machine learning and a cognitive load insight engine.
- Lenovo Think Reality A3 - Weightless and cost-efficient smart glass where the users can run all android smartphone apps in the AR space.
HMD Device comparison:
Haptic technology refers to any technology that can create an experience of touch by applying forces, motions, or vibrations to the user. It also improves human interactions and makes the metaverse more authentic.
- Haptx Glove — HaptX Gloves combine industrial standard haptics and natural interaction with the VR apps. Its DK2 SDK provides a realistic touch sensation, unlike any other device. It is built with patented microfluidic technology.
- SenseGlove Nova — SenseGlove Nova has a futuristic design that is designed like a glove which can be worn in just five seconds. It can simulate the feeling of shapes, textures, stiffness, impact, and resistance using force feedback, vibrotactile feedback, and motion tracking technologies.
- VRGluv — VRgluv haptic gloves gives you full control of your hands in VR, unlocking a wide variety of new interactions, experiences and gestures with the help of Force Feedback technology.
Haptic Device comparison:
Creating a virtual world from scratch with functionalities is not an easy task. There are a couple of metaverse IDEs (Game engines such as Unity and Unreal) and low code platforms available in the market which can enable users to create a metaverse world seamlessly.
- Nvidia Omniverse — Omniverse is a development platform for 3D simulation and design collaborations. It combines graphics, AI, simulation tools and scalable computing to assist the users to create 3D assets from their machines. It is capable of interacting and combining virtual worlds into a shared virtual scene.
- Unity — Unity is one of the most popular cross-platform game engines used to build AR and VR apps. It provides a complete set of metaverse solutions to build and run interactive, real-time 3D content for various digital devices including smartphones, HMD devices, VR devices, haptics and so on.
- Unreal —Similar to Unity, Unreal Engine is a 3D game engine used to build AR and VR apps. It also provides various solutions to build and run a metaverse world on different target devices such as Oculus Quest, Hololens 2 and Smart glasses.
- OpenXR — OpenXR is an open, standard API that enables the development and deployment of portable, cross-platform AR/VR (XR) runtimes.
- Zepeto — The metaverse platform of Korea’s tech giant Naver. Hubs by mozilla — An online 3D collaboration platform that works for desktop, mobile, and VR platforms. It helps the users to meet, share and collaborate with each other in virtual spaces.
Mesh is a collaborative platform that enables users to experience shared experiences remotely from any device through mixed reality applications. Using Mesh, you can experience the feel of teleporting to a shared virtual space with other users where you can share content using different MR devices. You can meet and interact with people even when you are not physically together.
Horizon Workrooms is a flagship product that provides a collaborative experience where people come together to work in the same virtual room, regardless of physical distance.
You can experience Workrooms in Oculus Quest 2. Workrooms combine new technologies such as keyboard tracking, hand tracking, remote desktop streaming, video conferencing integration, and spatial audio to experience the metaverse world.
Software Development Kits (SDK) are useful to reduce the barriers between the user and the latest technology, metaverse. Here are a few SDKs which will be helpful to assist you in the metaverse journey.
- Moralis — The Moralis Metaverse SDK allows developers to create web3 games and metaverse experiences on various blockchains. It provides a unity package that enables publishing of the metaverse apps for web, mobile, desktop and other devices.
- Nvidia Omniverse Kit— Omniverse Kit is a powerful toolkit for developers to build their own apps, extensions, and microservices for their ecosystem. The SDK can be run as a microservice or with a UI.
- Metaverse iOS SDK — iOS targeted SDK which is used to render metaverse experiences inside of your apps. You can create, build and test the apps build on the SDK with Metaverse Studio or Metaverse Browser, and then render them on your device.
- Oculus Meta Avatar SDK — Developers can create custom Meta Avatars to increase social presence in the metaverse. Avatars are provided as modularized full-bodied torsos and the user has the freedom to customize them.
Metaverse has the potential to create use cases in different industries such as education, retail, manufacturing, and military. We can do a lot of things in the metaverse which includes virtual tourism, virtual venues for small events, selling lands, purchasing houses, gaming online, and immersive training, etc.
These are a few potential use cases of the metaverse,
- Rapid production process design - On metaverse, we can effortlessly drag and drop assets into a physics-based simulation. And without the need for extensive physical testing, easily uncover ways to improve manufacturing efficiency and safety.
- More collaborative product development - It is extremely simple for various stakeholders to create a product, share it with manufacturers in the environment, and iterate based on input, reducing the project's product life cycle.
- Reduced risk to quality control - Product design that is more detailed and augmented, as well as user interaction, will lower the margin of error in production even more.
- Increased transparency for customers - Customers are interested to see the metaverse adoption and the changes in the supply chain process with 3D representations for how products are built, sold, and distributed.
- Immersive entertainment - The metaverse's entertainment is attracting a lot of attention, especially from young people, who are likely to fuel metaverse growth even if it doesn't appear to be relevant to business.
- Improved education and training - The pandemic has hastened the adoption of augmented reality and virtual reality in education, resulting in the expansion of e-learning. It is anticipated that it would broadcast data in real-time and facilitate real-time interactions in the virtual realm, transforming and improving content delivery and learning.
- Advanced blockchain use cases - Blockchain or decentralized technology is essential for the mass adoption of the Metaverse across industries. With Metaverse, companies can build more realistic NFT marketplaces where users will be able to make smarter purchasing judgments.
- Virtual meetings - The tech companies such as Meta and Microsoft are trying to create metaverse solutions for virtual meetings as a replacement to traditional zoom meetings to enhance social interactions. In near future, the technology will be able to transport workers from one location to other work locations and let them interact with others in the shared virtual worlds.
- Virtual Tourism - VR tourism is one of the most popular metaverse use cases, with the potential for widespread adoption and recognition. Popular video streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, and others are adapting their platforms to support 3D content like 360-degree videos.
For more use cases and applications of metaverse:
What Are the Most Prominent Metaverse Use Cases and Applications?
Thanks for reading this article.
Thanks Gowri M Bhatt for reviewing the content.
To get the article in pdf format: Introduction-to-metaverse.pdf
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If you are interested in further exploring, here are some resources I found helpful along the way:
- The metaverse, explained | www.polygon.com
- An Introduction to Metaverse | 101blockchains.com
- What is the metaverse, and do I have to care? | www.theverge.com