What exactly is the Metaverse? What are the differences between virtual, augmented, and extended reality and the Metaverse? Learn more about these topics in this Metaverse 101 article.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality (VR) is the use of computer modeling and simulation to allow a person to engage with a three-dimensional visual or another sensory world that is artificial. These settings can be built to realistically imitate real-world environments and events, allowing our brains to process VR experiences in the same way they do real-world ones. For example, pilots have spent years training on flight simulators, which are one form of VR.
Reality Augmented (AR)
Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that uses video or picture displays to combine or “augment” our vision of the actual world with digital images. According to Forbes, “virtual information and objects are overlaid on the real world in augmented reality, and this experience enhances the real world with digital details such as images, text, and animation.” Examples of AR include the Pokemon Go game and interior decorating apps that allow you to see what furniture would look like in your home.
Reality Extensified (XR)
Extended Reality (XR) is a catch-all term for any immersive technologies that expand our perception of reality by combining the virtual and “real” worlds or by producing a fully immersive experience. VR and AR can be considered as subcategories of XR, or as technologies that exist on the XR technology spectrum. The word XR is frequently used to refer to the full group of VR and AR technology.
What exactly are the metaverse, VR and AR?
Virtual reality (VR) uses a VR headset to immerse the user in a virtual environment, whereas augmented reality (AR) adds digital assets such as graphics and movies to the user’s perspective of the actual world using an AR headset or a mobile device such as a smartphone.
Extended reality, or spatial computing technologies, are also referred to as immersive technology. These phrases can be used interchangeably to refer to the VR, AR, and XR technology range. The term “immersive” refers to the engaging nature of the experiences created by these technologies, as well as their ability to provide a new level of focus and realism in comparison to other digital experiences such as consuming video content, viewing 2D images, or participating in a video conference call.
These technologies enable the Metaverse to exist. Companies are beginning to use VR conference calls, which allow you to interact in real-time with a colleague on the other side of the world. Even if you live in another country, you will be able to attend an open house. Alternatively, you can try on clothes in the Metaverse without ever leaving your house. These experiences will take place in the Metaverse, made possible by technology such as VR, AR, and XR.
So, what exactly is the metaverse? The word “metaverse” was coined by author Neal Stephenson in 1992 in his science-fiction novel “Snow Crash,” which discussed a virtual reality-based successor to the Internet. According to Investopedia, the metaverse is “a shared virtual environment that individuals access over the Internet, where technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are merged to create a sense of ‘virtual presence.'”
In other words, the metaverse is the concept that the aforementioned virtual and augmented reality experiences will eventually be linked, allowing people to move from one environment to another within a much larger and interconnected virtual environment, similar to how people move from one building to another within the same city in the real world.
In contrast to an individual or siloed virtual reality simulations, the metaverse connects these simulations and allows people to have co-presence in VR – one user can be having a virtual experience, and another user from a completely different location can join the same virtual environment to share the experience, opening up possibilities for the Metaverse to host virtual events ranging from group learning sessions to concerts and art exhibits.
How to get into the metaverse today
The metaverse’s virtual surroundings can mirror any real-world setting or build artificial environments. In the past, many technology companies believed that their competitive advantage came from their platform and product ecosystems, and they worked to get customers into their environment, and their environment alone. Apple and Microsoft, for example, made it difficult for consumers to leverage iOS software on Microsoft hardware, or the Microsoft Office suite on Apple devices.
The current state of Metaverse technology development and adoption follows suit and has not yet enabled a single overarching Metaverse that everyone has access to, as the aforementioned definitions of the term suggest. Instead, numerous separate Metaverses, or ‘Microverses,’ have been developed, which are their environments or proprietary platforms, created by companies such as Meta, Microsoft, Roblox, Epic Games, and others.
As these immersive environments evolve, companies may keep them distinct and siloed – or opt for interconnectivity between them, depending on consumer demands. In many ways, it could mirror the social media platform landscape: where there is connectivity among different platforms, but distinct content and influencers exist on each.
Specific contexts defined the early Metaverse days, but we expect that this will change as Metaverse users want a decentralized and interoperable framework that allows them to move effortlessly across platforms and virtual environments.
Avatars of virtual humans
Virtual human avatars have become the standard for how individuals take on a presence and communicate in VR and AR experiences, and users can build an avatar for themselves and access immersive settings via a VR headset, such as Oculus, as well as laptop computers and mobile devices.
Virtual human characters can be controlled by users or included in immersive experiences as non-playable characters (NPCs) for users to interact with. No-code authoring tools enable organizations and individuals to pre-determine the speech and physical movements of NPCs in virtual experiences.
Metaverse platforms can be accessed using both XR hardware such as virtual reality headsets and traditional 2D devices such as desktop computers, laptops, and mobile devices. For example, platforms for virtual conferencing allow users to call into the same conference call using either VR or 2D devices and provide varying levels of immersion depending on which hardware they use.
Users that join into a multi-user experience in the Metaverse using a VR headset, for example, may be able to move their heads to dictate their point of view, or they may be able to walk around in their actual environment to determine where their avatar goes inside the virtual environment.
This is also true for simulated experiences in the Metaverse, as immersive learning simulations can be consumed using a VR headset or streamed in a web browser. The VR experience provides a deeper level of immersion because the user’s entire point of view is within the virtual space, and their head movements allow them to “look around” the virtual environment, whereas a desktop user would use their mouse to navigate the experience, and will still see their real environment in the virtual environment.
Accessing the Metaverse via multiple types of devices is critical for its growth and adoption, as the majority of the population will first encounter metaverse technology using devices they already own, such as their computer or smartphone. As VR and AR hardware becomes more affordable, and our current devices gain new XR capabilities, accessing the Metaverse will only become easier and more engaging.
The Metaverse of the Future
It is predicted that the Metaverse economy could be worth up to $13 trillion by 2030, with promising use cases spanning consumer and enterprise Metaverse applications such as education, entertainment, and e-commerce. As society seeks answers to the question “what is the metaverse?” the answer is revealing itself across a variety of use cases and experiences.
Businesses are turning to virtual reality and the Metaverse to enhance connectedness and collaboration with remote workers. Work is one of the new ways people are experiencing the Metaverse. In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about the hybrid workplace: working from home or at the office. We may add a third environment to this: the Metaverse, where workers can interact in real-time with life-like conditions without having to meet in a physical office location.
The use cases for virtual workplaces range from immersive conference calls to company events, employee onboarding, and design thinking sessions, and they provide a higher level of connectivity for employees by allowing them to do things like hand each other virtual objects, brainstorm on virtual whiteboards and enjoy the feeling of co-presence that is often lacking in a remote work setting.
Immersive learning is a popular Metaverse use case that allows businesses to replicate realistic learning settings. The metaverse has the potential to alter education, both traditional and workplace training. Education in the metaverse is more learner-centric, as it is on-demand, more efficient and streamlined, and suited to an individual’s needs. Immersive learning is proving to be more effective than in-person learning and traditional e-learning: PwC discovered that learners trained with VR were 275 per cent more confident to act on what they learned after training, a 40% improvement over the traditional classroom and a 35% improvement over e-learning.
Companies are already reaping the benefits of metaverse learning by deploying VR training for use cases such as leadership development, employee onboarding, and VR soft skills training. Currently, these training experiences take place in Microverses, or siloed environments analogous to a virtual office space or classroom, where employees can practice skills through individual role play, coaching, and mentoring.
If today’s immersive learning experiences are at the classroom level, the immersive learning experiences of the future will represent entire virtual schools and academies, offering the scale and level of co-presence promised by the Metaverse, as organizations enable thousands of learners to learn in shared virtual environments and develop new skills.
Learning has established itself as a major component inside the Metaverse, and many organizations and learning and development specialists are seeing the unique impact it is already having and will continue to have, on shaping the workforce and workplace.
Real estate, arts, and entertainment
Consumer experiences are also gaining pace, with entertainment emerging as one of the most potential consumer use cases for the metaverse, allowing individuals to have interesting shared experiences no matter where they are in the world.
“Imagine your best friend is at a concert on the other side of the planet. What if you could accompany her? ” It may sound like a far-fetched idea, yet renowned artists such as Ariana Grande, Travis Scott, and The Chainsmokers have already made concerts or performances available to millions of people via the Metaverse.
The music industry isn’t the only one striving to extend their experiences to the Metaverse; in November, Walt Disney announced plans to bring their theme parks to the digital realm via wearables and VR.
Some of today’s most popular metaverses already fall into the gaming and entertainment category, including environments from various platforms such as Sandbox, Mirandus, Decentraland, and Traverse, where users can do everything from buying digital real estate to shopping for real or virtual products.
Meanwhile, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have sparked a digital gold rush as customers want to invest in digital artwork. NFTs are defined as “digital asset that reflects real-world assets such as art, music, in-game items, and films,” according to Forbes. They are bought and sold online, frequently with cryptocurrency, and they are generally encoded with the same underlying software as many cryptos.” Adidas, for example, launched an original partnership, Into the Metaverse, working with artists to create and sell NFTs – they already sold out of the collection, netting more than $22 million.
Some of these digital assets are worth significant amounts of cryptocurrency: according to The Verge, a Beeple video sold for $69 million last March. However, the value of the Metaverse lies in the ability for artists to put together virtual exhibits and connect with physically distant buyers, collectors, curators, or other artists who would otherwise be unable to view their work.
A more immersive online experience
As more commercial and consumer use cases for the Metaverse demonstrate their value, the idea of more immersive internet experiences will become the norm, rather than a novelty, as we are already seeing today. While the Metaverse is still in its infancy, its growth is only limited by the number of virtual experiences and environments that people create: just about anything you can do in the real world, you’ll be able to do in the Me.
Many may find it far-fetched, yet some of the same things claimed about the Metaverse – about how the digital world would never be able to compete with the actual world – were said about the Internet just a few decades ago.
The Metaverse is a new destination for individuals and organizations to explore; it’s a place where artists, musicians, gamers, colleagues, learners, and others may connect in unprecedented ways; it’s a place of endless possibility, and we’re well on our way there.
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