Touted by many as the ‘future’ of technology, the concept of an immersive digital metaverse is closer to becoming a reality. You may be forgiven for thinking it belongs in the latest Marvel instalment but what exactly is the metaverse?
In simple terms, it’s a virtual reality space where users can immerse themselves and interact with others in a computer-generated environment. Digital items such as land, avatars and clothing can be created, bought and sold and people can ‘visit’ virtual environments, from galleries and landmarks to outer space.
Sometimes referred to as “Web 3.0”, the metaverse is set to revolutionise the way we interact with others. No one knows exactly how it will look but it’s clear that immersive XR technology is one of the main ways that we will experience it.
How can businesses enter the metaverse?
Gaming and entertainment companies have already normalised playing and socialising in metaverse-like virtual environments. Anyone with children will be familiar with the hugely popular, interactive Roblox and Fortnite worlds. Nike has already created ‘Nikeland’, a virtual space within Roblox, allowing users to play games and buy accessories for their avatar.
Aside from entertainment industries though, how can businesses enter and benefit from the metaverse?
The idea is that businesses create their own virtual worlds, all of which are linked, enabling users to walk from one world to the next, ultimately creating a universal metaverse. The metaverse environments would be accessible through XR technology such as VR headsets or consoles.
What are the business benefits of the metaverse?
Although exactly what the metaverse will look like and how it will work is still to be seen, it undoubtedly has exciting potential for businesses. The metaverse has clear benefits for retailers, with companies already using AR apps to enable consumers to visualise furniture and undergo virtual makeovers. Ultimately, these apps could join in the universal metaverse, allowing people to try glasses, make up and clothing in a virtually furnished home.
But the metaverse isn’t just a thing of the future and there are businesses already leveraging Augmented or Virtual Reality to enable their workers to host 3D meetings or visualise 3D objects from different locations. For example, this is becoming very prevalent in healthcare, public sector and defence, and manufacturing enterprises, for whom AR and VR can create a digital world around its users – effectively entering them into the metaverse.
There is also the potential for developing how virtual meetings and events are delivered, removing the need for travel and linking business communities wherever they are. Companies have already started investing in virtual office spaces, buying into the Decentraland metaverse, the first virtual land that is owned by its users. Any experience that happens in a real-world office environment could be replicated in a unique structure designed by the company.
BBC Sport has unveiled a new VR studio for the Beijing Winter Olympics as well, enabling viewers to get up close to the mountain slopes and experience virtual ski resorts. Presenters can even report from virtual studios. As the pandemic has prevented camera crews from accessing the action, it’s the next best thing in many cases.
In one of the more innovative business moves, Hyundai are exploring ‘metamobility’, combining advanced robotics with metaverse technology. Their “PnD Modules”, single-wheeled weight-bearer devices, can be attached to objects, carrying people with disabilities, or even office furniture. This would enable people to travel to their destination, or for their objects to travel to them.
Metamobility also carries the potential for remotely controlled robots to repair objects in completely different locations or for robots to travel to remote locations (even planets) and project what they see into the metaverse.
The future of the metaverse
The metaverse will allow businesses to share concepts and ideas, no matter how complex, design prototypes, and let customers try virtual experiences, gaining valuable feedback. It’s a powerful tool that could help speed up product development and highlight potential issues before they become a reality.
There’s no doubt that the metaverse has unprecedented potential for businesses but there has to be an initial investment of course. Naturally, some businesses will be wary to invest in what’s still a largely theoretical concept, and there is still a lot of problem-solving to be done, but with the right technology for the right applications businesses could be part of the metaverse in no time at all.
With the potential to change the way people interact, play and work, it’s clear that the metaverse will be one of the greatest advances in technology.