10 Dec Metaverse – the next frontier?
Throughout history, various technological advances have changed the way we socialize. Almost 600 years ago the invention of the printing press gave people access to culture, reading and writing; the invention of the internet, just 50 years ago, changed the way we interact with information. Mobile phones and social networks have brought immediacy, and after touch devices, the new way we can use to interact with information is through Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technologies. Nowadays we have gone from flat 2-dimensional access to information to 3-dimensional access one. This evolution of the Internet, a new 3D Internet, is a persistent replica or extension of our real world towards a new virtual world, in which, as if it were a video game, we will be able to connect and disconnect as we please with thousands or even millions of people at the same time. We will participate concurrently in activities that we could not achieve before, such as travelling to new places, socializing, shopping, working, learning or simply strolling and observing a new world just as we do in our streets, where we will have virtual experiences that are very close to our own reality. This is what we call Metaverse.
Metaverse is based on immersive technologies, and this is where augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality come in, technologies that are mature enough to provide services and solutions in areas such as industry, health, and education.
Currently there are different definitions for this new paradigm, whether it is the evolution of the internet towards a 3D internet, whether it is the next generation of interaction between people, or whether it is a virtual space where people will interact with each other through their avatars… The main characteristics of the metaverse are a) presence, which is the feeling of actually being in a virtual space with other people and sharing it in the same condition, b) interoperability, which should allow us to travel between different virtual spaces, with all our virtual assets, such as avatars or the digital elements we have with us, and c) standardization, which is what should allow interoperability between the different platforms and services of the metaverse. Something like what we already do when we browse the internet, where it is transparent to users how we jump from page to page, regardless of the technology, system, or location through which the information is travelling. It must be said that metaverse should be decentralized, which means that no one is the sole owner of the metaverse and that we do not depend on a single company to control it completely. It may not look possible at first, but we may first navigate centralized metaverses (owned by one company) where data should be decentralized, so that there is a secure way to access and verify the information of our own data. It is using technologies such as blockchain which will help us meet these objectives.
There is no day without hearing in any media, event or publication related to metaverse, something that as such does not yet exist. It doesn’t exist yet, but the reality is that, for the first time, technology players worldwide have put an immense investment on the table with the intention of making it real. Big companies like Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Google or Apple are already investing and working on developments and hardware in a race forwards. And although the metaverse, as such, is a new concept, it was existing for many years and video games are its basis, in particular MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games). Through educational platforms such as Fortnite, Roblox or Minecraft we can already get into it and socialize, and in worlds such as Decentraland or SandBox we can even buy and own our own plot of land in these virtual worlds.
To interact with this metaverse, we have various devices at our fingertips, starting with mobile devices, which we all carry in our pockets, to virtual reality glasses (such as Quest 2 or the more recent Quest Pro) or augmented reality glasses (such as Hololens 2). These examples are the result of the progress that immersive technologies have developed over the years, making their use accessible for any purpose, from teaching in the classroom, improving industrial processes or creating digital twins.
Metaverse allows companies, and therefore the economy, to reach new users and customers that were not accessible before because they were ‘not there’. It is no longer just web marketing campaigns or promoted ‘stories’ guided by an algorithm, but we ourselves will access new services as we will decide which spaces and places, we want to visit in the metaverse, just as we now discover new spaces simply by walking through a city. This means new business opportunities, and even the possibility of creating new businesses and services that do not yet exist and that are sure to be very profitable. A new virtual economy, new positioning strategies, new professions and regulations are yet to be defined.
Immersive technologies, such as augmented reality and virtual reality are already being used successfully in sectors such as training and education. From industrial training to the primary school classrooms, being able to access more immersive training through virtual reality or being able to recreate and interact around us with augmented reality accelerates the learning process and generates motivation, both for students, when recreating experiences, and for teachers, empowering them with new tools… Attracting new generations to a new way of learning never seen before.
Experiential spaces such as the GameLabsNet laboratories enable contact, training, and prototyping with these new technologies. For example, through the solutions that CreativiTIC has developed with the MetAClass Studio platform (http://metaclass.studio), where anyone, without any technical knowledge and regardless of their age and qualifications, can generate and share augmented reality experiences for the educational metaverse and interact with other users in just two clicks.
Article written by: Jorge R. López Benito, Founder and CEO of CreativiTIC and several initiatives in the field of immersive technologies (XR), metaverse and video games such as MetAClass Studio, Gate8.Games or Accelera Skills. He is an associate professor at the University of Deusto in ‘Virtual and Augmented Reality Application Development’ and ‘Interactive Multimedia and Video Games’ and an expert evaluator of the EIC Accelerator Programme of the European Innovation Council of the European Commission.