I really wanted to dip my toes in the metaverse, but there were always long lines at the booth of South Korean company SK Telecom, which offered a “4D Metaverse” ride at the Mobile World Congress Barcelona (MWC22), one of the world’s biggest connectivity events. The lucky visitors were sitting on the ride wearing virtual reality headsets. It looked like fun.
Metaverse was one of the most discussed topics at this year’s MWC. Since it is still in an early stage, there are a lot of experiments and a lot of guessing going on. The metaverse is certainly not going to happen overnight. Several big tech companies, such as Meta, Nvidia, Apple and Google, and even more small firms have already been working on projects to tap into the metaverse, which is expected to change fundamentally how we meet, work, learn, shop, create and entertain. In the next ten years, Meta (formerly Facebook) aims to bring in a billion people to the metaverse and drive hundreds of billions of dollars to the ecosystem that is supporting it.
As I couldn't get on that cool ride, I attended a session titled 'What's Meta?' instead.
How did some of the ‘Metaverse Titans’ describe metaverse?
“Metaverse is the new generation of the internet, based on immersive virtual spaces where you can be, create and explore with other people who are not in the same physical space,” said Chris Weasler, head of special initiatives at Meta Connectivity at the session. “The feeling of presence is important, the feeling that you are with another person, even when they are far away. This is not about replacing in-person experiences.”
He stressed that as no one owns today’s internet, not one company will own and operate the metaverse. It has to be built on the foundation of openness and interoperability and be accessible to as many people as possible.
How did Cathy Hackl, also known as the ‘godmother’ of the metaverse, define it? “Metaverse is a successor state to today’s mobile internet. It is about virtual shared experiences that happen both in virtual places and also in the physical world. It is enabled by many different technologies and many companies are building it,” according to Hackl, who is the CEO of metaverse consultancy Futures Intelligence Group.
The metaverse will allow the creation of new jobs and new revenue streams, she said. It will connect the physical and the virtual world. It is expected to unlock creativity and allow creators to share in the proceeds of their creations, such as NFTs. It will make the world machine-readable and will enable autonomous vehicles and robots to engage with us in new ways. The metaverse will enable new commerce models, namely the virtual-to-physical and physical-to-virtual models, besides the existing physical-to-physical, digital and virtual-to-virtual ones. This will unlock brand new customer journeys and touchpoints.
Telco companies have a key role in building the metaverse as these new commerce models need devices and 5G. Building the metaverse will require higher data rates, reduced latency, higher system capacity, numerous device connectivity and more bandwidth.
Nvidia has been working on the Omniverse platform, an immersive 3D shared virtual world that is based on the laws of physics, for quite a few years now. Even though this world is photorealistic, it is much more than gaming, said Ronnie Vasishta, Senior VP for telecom at Nvidia at the session. Omniverse is an open platform built for virtual collaboration and real-time physically accurate simulation.
Omniverse will create and trigger an explosion of new opportunities across industries when it comes to innovation, Vasishta said. The growth and creation of virtual worlds are connecting millions of artists from around the world. In the industrial sector, AI and digital twin representation of supply chains, as well as scenario planning, could be used to improve the efficiencies of supply chains. Think putting distribution centers and warehouses into the virtual world and doing scenario planning there before you deploy it in the physical world!
Nvidia has been working with both virtual worlds and AI frameworks for quite a long time now. When you are driving an autonomous car, for instance, it is based on Nvidia's training done for millions of miles of high traffic, low traffic, different weather systems, all in the Omniverse. So when that car is eventually deployed, it is done so with a high degree of certainty and safety. Carmaker BMW, for instance, is using Omniverse to design, plan and operate its future factories virtually before anything is built in the physical world. Ericsson is also using Omniverse to build digital twins of cities to help it understand how a 5G wireless signal propagates. Moreover, languages and language understanding were all being trained in the virtual world first.
The era of digital twins is upon us already, according to Vashista. Nvidia is creating a digital twin of the Earth in the Omniverse, which will be probably able to predict climate change in a few years. The Twin Earth allows scientists to interactively analyze weather and climate data in 3D.
“With web 3.0 we can create a bridge between virtual and physical worlds,” said Vasishta. “We can put on a pair of glasses, a headset, an augmented reality overlay on a smartphone and all of a sudden we are in that virtual world. With haptics, we will have the ability to feel in virtual worlds. We are enabling some of these capabilities with the convergence of telecommunication and 5G, where you have bandwidth and latency challenges to overcome. These are going to be game-changers for the virtual world.”