The idea of the Metaverse that postulates as a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal, and immersive virtual world is facilitated by Virtual & Augmented Reality (VR/AR). Even though it has long since moved beyond the realm of science fiction and established itself as a reality, with all the main tech players in the world betting heavily on it. Facebook has even renamed itself “Meta” to ride the wave of this emerging technological landscape.
In informal language, Metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connections. The Metaverse is an open, shared, and persistent virtual space where users can exist as digital avatars. The premise of the Metaverse is that users can do everything in the virtual world that they can do in the real world.
Although the Metaverse is still in its nascent stages, B2C companies are striving hard to build a presence in it, we are still a few stoplights away from a fully functioning virtual world. Before we delve deeper into how Metaverse technologies are evolving, let’s take a quick look at what is Metaverse.
What is the Metaverse?
The Metaverse combines two concepts that have been around for several years: Virtual Reality (VR) and Digital Second Life.
The Metaverse is a collection of every virtual world built using Blockchain technology. These can be gaming planets, Non-Fungible Token (NFT) galleries, curated lands, or digital streets. The Metaverse is not one place; it’s a collection of new digital spaces that people are calling the next iteration of the Internet.
What makes the Metaverse different from online social platforms like Second Life and Minecraft lies in the space between centralization and decentralization.
Pervious iterations of digital spaces were strictly controlled by a single company from its servers. Each time you left their world and went to a different one, you needed to sign up with a new identity.
The Metaverse allows you to use a single identity to travel across and through the growing network of virtual landscapes. This makes it more like a mirror of the real world. When you travel to new towns, cities, and countries, you don’t need a new passport every time you arrive at a new destination [1,2].
How Does the Metaverse Work?
Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and many other big names in the tech world have been talking a lot about the Metaverse lately. There is a growing curiosity about how the Metaverse works and how it can revolutionize the future. Yet, the Metaverse is a completely new concept and many people have struggled to find its actual meaning.
On the one hand, you have a description of the Metaverse as a shared virtual world, while on the other, big companies are coming up with their own Metaverse platforms. How will the Metaverse shape up in the future? You can only find the answer through an in-depth understanding of how the Metaverse works.
5 Technologies That Are Powering the Metaverse
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial Intelligence is working hard behind the scenes to make the Metaverse a more immersive experience for its users. AI technology helps improve algorithms that help with certain tasks such as avatar creation, Natural Language Processing (NLP), translation, and world generation. It also improves the ways that we interact in VR, as AI pays special attention to sensors that measure our bioelectrical and muscular patterns.
When most people hear the term Artificial Intelligence, the first thing they usually think of is robots. That's because big-budget movies and novels weave stories about human-like machines wreaking havoc on Earth, but nothing could be further from the truth.
AI is based on the principle that human intelligence can be defined in such a way that the machine can easily mimic it and execute simple to complex tasks.
Chatbots are one of the greatest applications of AI that streamlines many business processes and enable users to solve their problems much faster. This form of communication is also applied to the Metaverse.
In addition to their current functions, such as customer service, marketing, and sales, Chatbots can assist users in the Metaverse by providing them with instructions and information about various products and services, answering their questions, completing transactions on their behalf, taking orders, etc. For instance, if a customer cannot find a specific good, the Chatbot could easily solve this problem by directing the customer to the correct location within the Metaverse.
Moreover, AI creates inclusive interfaces that will make the users’ journeys convenient for everyone, including people with disabilities. Thus, AI makes the Metaverse a user-friendly and easy-to-use platform. Technologies such as NLP, Speech Recognition, Computer Vision, Translation, and Augmented Reality (AR) enable users to interact with the Metaverse in their native language as well as through images and videos, and enhance the user-metaverse interactions [3,4].
2. Virtual & Augmented Reality (VR/AR)
Virtual & Augmented Reality (VR/AR) form the backbone of the Metaverse. In the future, the Metaverse could expand beyond VR and encompass more futuristic technologies. While VR/AR provides customers with an immersing shopping experience when shopping online, the Metaverse can improve on this technology by fully immersing you in a virtual representation of the store in VR.
The combined market for VR/AR is projected to reach US$31.12 billion in 2023. The revenue shows an annual growth rate (CAGR 2023-2027) of 13.72%, resulting in a projected market volume of US$52.05 billion by 2027. The market's largest segment is AR software with a market volume of US$11.58 billion in 2023 with a projected market volume of US$8,568.00 million in 2023, most of the revenue is generated in the United States and the number of users is expected to amount to 2,593.00 million users by 2027. The average revenue per user (ARPU) is expected to amount to US $14.08 .
AR enables embedding virtual objects into the real physical world. For instance, the Facebook Metaverse may be accessible through AR glasses, VR headsets, and in certain restricted ways through desktop and mobile applications.
Meta has already disclosed that it is developing a high-end VR/AR headset under the working title of “Project Cambria”. According to Meta, the gadget will support Mixed Reality (MR) and has new sensors that enable the virtual avatar to maintain eye contact and replicate the facial emotions of actual people. With the aid of more advanced technology, avatars will be able to better express human emotions and employ body language, giving the impression of real dialogue in virtual environments.
AR provides users a real-time view of the physical environment and extends it with digital sensory input such as text, audio, graphics, and video. AR apps enable users to see the real environment and make virtual changes to it using their smartphones and smart glasses. Proponents of Metaverse AR solutions claim that the Metaverse will be a synthesis of the physical and digital worlds. No wonder companies like Niantic, the AR platform behind Pokemon Go, are valued at $9 billion by investors.
VR involves the use of 3D computer modeling, one of the most interesting types of graphic design, to immerse you in a 3D virtual environment. While the Metaverse does not necessarily require you to wear a VR headset or other accessories, experts are confident that VR technology will become an integral component of the new ecosystem [5,6].
3. Edge Computing
Edge Computing enables faster data transfer with fewer delays, which is necessary for high-quality immersive experiences in virtual spaces. With millions of users projected to use Metaverse, the Cloud is no longer a feasible option. This is where Edge Computing comes into focus. By bringing distributed computing and processing closer to the user, Edge Computing can make the Metaverse experience much smoother for the user.
Edge Computing is a distributed computing concept that integrates intelligence into edge devices, also called edge nodes, enabling real-time processing and analysis of data close to the source of data accumulation. In Edge Computing, data does not need to be uploaded directly to the Cloud or centralized data processing system.
Edge Computing processes data close to the data accumulation source, so there is no need to transfer data to the Cloud or on-premises data center for processing and analysis. This approach reduces the load on both network and servers.
Edge Computing's ability to process data in real-time with faster response times is applicable to the Internet of Things, especially the Industrial IoT (IIoT). In addition to accelerating the digital transformation of industrial and manufacturing enterprises, Edge Computing technology enables more innovations such as Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning (AI/ML).
Edge Computing improves response time and saves bandwidth, making it ideal for Metaverse use cases. For example, consider time-critical video games like first-person shooters. These games require instant feedback on your actions, and latencies above 30ms can result in poor hit registration when shooting at other players. In other words, high latency affects your ability to play the game as intended. But when these games are hosted in data centers across the world, higher latency is inevitable. Even the fastest connections have a latency of 5μs (0.005ms) per 1km of cable traveled by the data. Edge Computing solves this problem.
Beyond video games, latency has a massive impact on our decision-making and the enjoyment of immersive experiences. For example, a mere two-second delay in load time during a transaction can result to an 87% cart abandonment rate.
Essentially, Edge Computing reduces latency in virtual worlds and empower developers to create better virtual experiences that support millions of concurrent users in an immersive shared 3D space [7,8].
4. 5G Technology
The Metaverse is all about connecting virtual experiences, but networking with VR can use enormous amounts of data. 5G Technology has improved in recent years, providing the increased bandwidth and power needed for real-time data transfers. More importantly, 5G will enable people to connect to these VR/AR experiences from anywhere, not just at home.
While a person can have a great VR/AR experience alone, the Metaverse is not just about one person. It is a digital reality that offers enormous amounts of information. As of now, a person needs a fast Wi-Fi or a wired connection to enter the Metaverse because 4G does not have the bandwidth to connect directly to the rich experience. Therefore, to download most of the experience locally before entering it, we need a super-fast connection. To connect directly to the Metaverse, users need a speed of at least 100 Mbps, which is only possible via 5G.
With 5G, one of the biggest takeaways would be remote rendering. By taking care of all the heavy-duty tasks, the experience becomes as smooth as streaming a movie. As of now, users need high-end gaming PCs to run VR games, and with 4G networks, fast access to VR/AR experiences is a hurdle. Besides, 5G also reduces latency, the time it takes for data to transfer between the source and its destination. Latency directly affects the frames per second (FPS) that can be streamed to a headset. The higher the frame rate, the better the experience; 60 FPS to 90 FPS is considered a comfortable standard in the Metaverse. 4G provides around 50 ms of latency and frame rates around 20 FPS. It’s too slow for a smooth Metaverse experience. With 5G, the latency is reduced to just 10 ms and the frame rate reaches 90 FPS, enabling remote rendering.
With a 5G connection, users can connect and stream experiences to their headset. This reduces the need for heat-generating components in current-generation headsets and eliminates cooling and power requirements [9,10].
Advances in Blockchain technology will ensure that Metaverse focuses more on decentralization. According to the Web3 proponents, distributed ledgers and Blockchain technology rise to a new internet outside of the control of global corporations, which will no longer hold the power to censor opinions.
Buying ownership rights gives individuals a say in the governance of the organization building the virtual domain, which will eventually lead to the establishment of virtual democracies and user-owned communities.
What is the relationship between Blockchain and Metaverse? As you may be aware, Blockchain's NFTs and cryptocurrencies create an ecosystem for the creation, ownership, and monetization of decentralized digital assets. Furthermore, due to the numerous limitations of centralized data storage, a Metaverse world without Blockchain will be incomplete. The Blockchain's potential to operate as a global digital source based on the principle of decentralization distinguishes the Metaverse from the traditional Internet's capabilities, which take the form of websites and applications. The Blockchain-based Metaverse offers access to any digital location without the involvement of a centralized entity.
Considering that Blockchain is a modern technology, projections regarding its potential are divided. In a survey by TechRepublic Research, 70% of professionals indicated they had never used Blockchain. Although 64% expect Blockchain to have an impact on the sector, with the majority expecting a good outcome.
The use of NFTs in these decentralized spaces enables users to create and own their digital assets such as paintings, video clips, sound bites, etc. Additionally, the power of Blockchain technology enables us to monetize digital assets and receive all the credit fairly and transparently.
Metaverse simulates the real world. It includes political, social, economic, and financial systems like the real world, which generates a lot of data. Blockchain is the key technology that enables data management in the Metaverse. It enables transparency, ownership, authentication, and security of data tracking and management [11,12].
Challenges of the Metaverse
The Metaverse is still in its initial stages of development. Some challenges include identity authentication and privacy controls. In the real world, identifying someone is not difficult. But as people traverse the digital world in their avatars, it is difficult to prove their identity. For example, malicious actors or even bots could enter the Metaverse pretending to be someone else to scam other users.
Another challenge is privacy. The Metaverse relies on VR/AR devices to offer an immersive experience. These technologies with camera capabilities and unique identifiers could eventually lead to undesirable leaks of personal information.
The Metaverse can usher in the next major technological innovation. The Metaverse has already caught the interest of some of the world's technological giants by highlighting its multidimensional aspects. It enhances their user experiences (UX) while connecting individuals. There is great scope for the Metaverse to become the next "Reality" . A version of the Internet where most aspects of human life are virtualized. Be it entertainment, economy, or education.
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