The Metaverse, in one form or another, is coming. As with a lot of digital technology, gaming and sci-fi pioneered the experience. Many proponents think the maturity, data, and hardware are almost ready for a larger audience beyond just entertainment to include retail, medicine, training, and engineering. So, what will it take to get there? Where will the Metaverse first actually show up in our lives?
The premise of the Metaverse is that VR headsets, along with haptic gloves, immersive audio, and enormous 3D worlds are coalescing and maturing to the point where we might do actual real things: shop, meet colleagues, design complex machines, get trained on new skills, all within virtual worlds.
By definition, avatars, objects, movements, currencies, etc will all need to work across different worlds. The Metaverse must be open and free (as in speech).
Vision and Responsiveness
First things first. We’re primarily visual, so the core technology for a Metaverse to work is decent VR headsets:
1. High-resolution displays – Must pack enough pixels to make vision indistinguishable from ‘normal’ eyesight
2. Millions of polygons – Should show enough polygons to be visually believable, where complex shapes look “real” enough to be assumed as real objects
3. Low lag time – As the user moves the headset, update the movement of the virtual displays to a lag-time down below 20ms (0.02 seconds). Otherwise, people will experience motion sickness
That’s a start. But for a full metaverse, we’ll need a lot more:
4. Open Interoperability – The Metaverse will need to be meta— it cannot be a walled garden owned by a single corporation with no interactivity with other platforms. By definition, avatars, objects, movements, currencies, etc will all need to work across different worlds. The Metaverse must be open and free (as in speech). Otherwise, it would just be a metaverse (not capitalized). My avatar will need to work inside Zuckerberg’s Meta, Roblox, Discord, and whatever other platform starts to show up.
5. Worlds upon worlds – Expansively modelled worlds with kilometers and kilometers of explorable space.
6. Believable avatars – We still struggle with the Uncanny Valley when virtually modelling humans. Will the metaverse try to cross this valley for hyper-realistic human faces, or just convince people to stay low-poly (Minecraft/Roblox)?
7. Kipple/Greebles – Look around your room, and notice every pen on your desk, every book on the shelf. Look at the complexity of the ficus plant in the corner. PK Dick called this ‘Kipple’ in his pioneering book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Creators who build 3D models describe all the random details on an otherwise smooth surface as “Greebles”. (e.g. all the little details on the surface of the Star Wars Death Star). Believability comes from all those little details, but that takes a lot of polygons and effort.
Interacting with the Metaverse
Now, how to interact with these wonderfully detailed worlds?
8. Haptic gloves – We’ve seen gloves that can interact with virtual worlds (thanks again for games). But we’re only now seeing gloves that can give the tactile feedback to the wearer as she interacts with virtual objects.
9. Momentum – How to trick the entire body that it feels like movement? The US Air Force has spent billions in simulators that move entire cockpits to simulate the shifting G-forces for flight training. Some early prototypes are showing multi-directional treadmills.
10. Smart Mirrors – Will smart mirrors play a role in capturing the entire body movement (not just hand and face)?
11. Immersive audio – This is quite well-developed. Check
12. Ergonomics – Never ignore the ergonomics. Will people really want to walk around in these VR worlds? Will we actually get in a virtual car to drive to the virtual bank and then walk in and wait in a virtual line so we can deposit some virtual coinz?
That last part about ergonomics may end up being the most important. VR games have trained players that they can fly or instantly transport from one place to another. Gaming has also trained us that full-body jiu-jitsu moves are just a few finger-clicks or button smashes away (L+R AA BB AAAAA). Will a Metaverse allow such non-realistic things? Will dragons be attending the quarterly planning meeting for the accounting department?
The technology to build the Metaverse is well on its way, but how will it actually show up in our world? Keep an eye out for our next posts, where we’ll take a look at the Metaverse in terms of the following different segments: Shopping/Retail, Entertainment, Medicine/Health, Engineering, Training, and Security. Believe it or not, the Metaverse is already transforming these spaces.