While there have been a few years of hype surround the metaverse — a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users — a new Metaverse Standards Forum was established this past June and now features over 2200 companies that are working towards the future of what the metaverse will be, how it will work, and what people will be able to do there.
A CES 2023 panel titled “The Road to the Open Metaverse” featured leaders in the field, including Neil Trevett, VP developer ecosystems at NVIDIA, president of Khronos, and head of the Metaverse Standards Forum; Edwina Fitzmaurice, chief customer success officer at EY; Patrick Cozzi, CEO of Cesium; and Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap.
The panel discussion was lead by Brian Markwalter, SVP research & standards at Consumer Technology Association and featured three main themes: how is the metaverse working today, what are the hurdles to adoption, and where will it go in the future.
Johnson commented that companies are still trying to figure out how this technology will fit into their business model, and how they can show real ROI.
Fitzmaurice noted that shopping experiences, games, concerts, and events are all activities being consumerized in the metaverse space, with companies experimenting on how they can monetize this space. At the enterprise level, the metaverse is being used to interview, train, and onboard new employees all in the virtual environment.
Cozzi said there are three areas he’s excited about: real time 3D, simulation, and VR. Some large construction projects feature all of these aspects, where they are capturing digital twins of an actual construction site with drones in real time, simulating going forward with what the construction project will look like, and then using VR to simulate what the final project will look like as well as envisioning different stages of the construction.
Fitzmaurice stated that one of the current hurdles is the lack of proper equipment, like the headsets which are currently clunky and expensive. Johnson added that the current state of technology doesn’t still allow you to be immersed all day long, with gear that is hot and heavy, and requiring carrying battery pack. “But over time we’ll have silicon integration and reduction of components and the hardware will get there,” she predicted.
Also, while there are games available like Fortnite or Roblox that are interesting, it is currently missing the “killer app.” “We need something radically different,” she said, “something that can’t be done in the real world.”
Trevett added that after polling the more than 2000 companies of the Metaverse Standards Forum on their hot topics, the number main issues that rose above all technical topics were safety, privacy, and ethics. Fitzmaurice echoed these words saying, “Safety, security, privacy, and danger for children; these all need to be sorted. We need to decide: What kind of world do we want to build?”
And as Johnson added, with cameras looking at you and out into the world, these metaverse devices will be gathering much more data than mobile phones. “We don’t want to suppress information,” she noted, “but we need to understand the power of what these devices can do.”
Trevett noted that the metaverse is bringing together all these technologies that haven’t had to work together before, and to get them to work, there needs to be interoperability standards, which is one of the key focuses of the Metaverse Standards Forum.
In a similar vein, Fitzmaurice noted you wouldn’t buy a car that could only drive down certain roads. For the metaverse to be successful, it needs to allow full access from a variety of devices, making interoperability critical. “Otherwise, we’ll have lots of games and lots of worlds that will never catch on and really take off.”
Looking to the future, Johnson mentioned a device for operating rooms that is currently going through FDA approval for catheterization of hearts. Using AR with a 3D image in front of them, doctors will have an easier and more accurate time in the operating room, and she predicts we’ll see more use cases in operating rooms going forward.
Fitzmaurice predicts 2023 will be the year of glasses, with AR glasses coming out with lots of upgrades from different companies and also a lot of app development. She feels that work, school, hospitals, and government services will be the pathway many people gradually come into metaverse.
Cozzi sees the most value in enterprise and industrial world with digital twins, where you can collaborate with someone virtually or in AR.
Trevett said trying to predict what the metaverse will be is a bit like asking someone with a Netscape browser 30 years ago what the Internet would be like today. “It will gradually creep into our lives and create new business opportunities as we discover how we can use it,” he noted. “When you put all of these interesting technologies together, it is difficult to predict what will happen.”
If you are envisioning a scene from the movie Ready Player One, Trevett says not to worry, “Don’t get too dispirited by a dystopian future that we’ll all be plugged in all the time. Be pragmatic and try to stay abreast of the benefits and the potential disruptive threats to your business.”