By incorporating blockchain technology into conventional applications, DApps are expanding the functionality of the Web. In the future, decentralized applications may bring even more innovative use cases to the market. Continuously increasing user interest has been reported, with almost 2.4 million daily active users recorded by DappRadar in Q1 2022. However, there are current limitations that DApp developers and the blockchain networks they build on are yet to address before achieving mass adoption.
The concept of the metaverse involves a 3D digital world that consists of virtual spaces which can be explored using an avatar. Various activities can be carried out in the metaverse, including gaming, shopping, socializing, and working. Cryptocurrency projects such as Decentraland and The Sandbox have already implemented certain metaverse elements, although most functionalities are still under development. Companies such as Microsoft, Meta, and Nvidia are also creating their versions of the metaverse.
Tech companies are leveraging advanced technologies like blockchain, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), 3D reconstruction, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) to create an immersive metaverse experience.
Back in 1992, Neal Stephenson introduced the idea of the metaverse in his science fiction novel Snow Crash, where people could explore a virtual world using digital avatars. Today, several large tech companies are developing their versions of the metaverse. But what exactly is the metaverse, and how are these companies tackling it from a technological standpoint?
What Is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is a virtual 3D world where people can experience different activities without leaving their homes. It includes virtual land, objects, and activities such as work, concerts, and museum visits. While companies like Axie Infinity, The Sandbox, and Decentraland have incorporated some metaverse features, it is still in development, and it is unclear whether it will be one large metaverse or several smaller ones.
The metaverse is expected to expand beyond gaming and social media, with potential features such as remote work, decentralized governance, and digital identity. It may also become more immersive with the use of connected VR headsets and glasses, allowing users to physically explore the 3D spaces.
The Latest Development of the Metaverse
The renaming of Facebook to Meta in October 2021 sparked the popularity of the metaverse. Meta established a new division called Reality Labs, with a budget of 10 billion dollars in 2021, to develop metaverse content, software, AR, and VR headsets. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, believes that the metaverse will be as widespread as smartphones in the future.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the interest in developing metaverses, as more people have started working remotely. Virtual 3D spaces that allow coworkers to join meetings, catch up, and collaborate are on the rise. In November 2021, Microsoft introduced the Mesh, which offers immersive spaces for users to mingle and collaborate using their avatars, making remote team meetings more engaging and enjoyable.
The concept of the metaverse has been embraced by some online games. Pokémon Go, the AR mobile game, was one of the first games to tap into the metaverse by enabling players to hunt virtual Pokémons in the real world using a smartphone app. Fortnite, another popular game, has expanded its product to include brand events and concerts in its digital world.
Apart from social media and gaming platforms, tech companies like Nvidia have opened new opportunities in virtual worlds. Nvidia Omniverse is an open platform designed to connect 3D spaces into a shared universe to facilitate virtual collaboration between engineers, designers, and creators. The BMW Group is using the Omniverse to reduce production time and improve product quality through smart manufacturing. The platform is currently being used across different industries.
Key Technologies That Power the Metaverse
Advanced technologies such as blockchain, augmented reality and virtual reality, 3D reconstruction, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things are being employed by companies to enhance the metaverse experience and drive the 3D world.
Blockchain and Cryptocurrency
The Metaverse can utilize blockchain technology to provide decentralized, transparent digital proof of ownership, transfer of value, governance, accessibility, and interoperability. In-game cryptocurrency allows users to transfer value while working and socializing within the 3D digital world.
For instance, Decentraland lets players use the game's cryptocurrency, MANA, to purchase virtual lands in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). These lands are 16x16 meter parcels whose ownership can be established and secured through blockchain technology.
In the future, crypto may incentivize people to work in the metaverse. As more companies embrace remote work, metaverse-related jobs could be offered.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
The virtual world can be experienced through AR and VR. Both offer an immersive 3D experience, but what distinguishes one from the other?
AR is used to create digital characters and elements that are superimposed on the real world. It’s more accessible and can be used on any smartphone or digital device equipped with a camera. AR applications enable users to interact with digital elements in their environment, as seen in the popular game Pokémon GO, where players can see virtual creatures in their real-world surroundings through their phone camera.
In contrast, VR creates a fully computer-generated environment that users can explore using special headsets, gloves, and sensors. This technology is already creating a digital world with fictional content, which can be expanded to include physical simulations with VR equipment.
As VR technology continues to evolve, the metaverse experience will become more interactive and involve physical interactions with people from around the world. With the increasing interest in the metaverse, we can expect more companies to invest in the development of AR and VR equipment.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The study of the potential use of AI in creating immersive metaverses has gained the attention of AI experts. In recent years, AI has been widely applied to many aspects of our lives, such as business strategy planning, decision-making, and facial recognition. AI has also contributed to faster computing, among other things.
By utilizing machine learning techniques, AI algorithms have the potential to process a vast amount of data at high speeds, drawing on historical data to generate unique insights. In the context of the metaverse, AI can be applied to non-player characters (NPCs) found in different scenarios. These NPCs are present in almost every game, serving as elements of the gaming environment that can react and respond to player actions. By placing NPCs throughout 3D spaces, AI can facilitate lifelike conversations with users or perform specific tasks. Unlike human users, AI NPCs can operate independently and cater to millions of players simultaneously while also being able to work in multiple languages.
AI could be utilized in creating more lifelike and accurate avatars for the metaverse. It can analyze 2D images or 3D scans to generate more realistic-looking avatars. To add dynamism to the process, AI can also be applied to create different facial expressions, hairstyles, clothing, and features to enhance digital humans.
Amid the pandemic, the use of 3D reconstruction technology in real estate has become increasingly popular. Lockdowns have limited potential buyers' ability to visit properties, leading to the adoption of virtual property tours by some agencies. This technology can also contribute to the creation of a realistic digital environment for the metaverse.
By using special 3D cameras, we can take our world online by creating accurate 3D models of buildings, physical locations, and objects. These models are generated through the processing of 3D spatial data and 4K HD photography by computers. They can then be used to create virtual replicas of physical objects, known as digital twins, for users to experience. The goal is to create a digital environment that appears as realistic as possible.
Internet of Things (IoT)
In 1999, the Internet of Things IoT concept was first introduced. It is a system that connects everything in the physical world to the Internet using sensors and devices. These connected devices have unique identifiers and can automatically send or receive information. Today, IoT is connecting various devices, such as thermostats, medical devices, and voice-activated speakers, to a wide range of data.
One application of IoT in the metaverse is to collect and provide data from the physical world to increase the accuracy of digital representations. IoT data feeds can be used to change the behavior of certain metaverse objects based on the weather or other conditions. Connecting the 3D world to real-life devices with IoT can enable the creation of real-time simulations in the metaverse. To optimize the metaverse environment, IoT can also use AI and machine learning to manage the data collected.
Challenges of the Metaverse
Ensuring identity authentication and privacy control are some of the major challenges in the early stages of developing the metaverse. While it's relatively easy to identify someone in the physical world, it's much harder to do so in the digital world, where people interact through avatars. This presents the risk of malicious actors or bots impersonating someone else, which could lead to reputation damage or fraudulent activities.
Privacy is another major concern when it comes to the metaverse. The use of AR and VR devices, which often have camera capabilities and unique identifiers, could lead to unwanted personal information leaks. Protecting user data is crucial to ensure a secure and safe metaverse experience.
Numerous companies are currently exploring the potential of the metaverse, despite it being in its early stages of development. Decentraland and The Sandbox are notable projects in the crypto space, while established big companies such as Microsoft, Nvidia, and Facebook, now known as Meta, are also jumping on board. As advancements in AR, VR, and AI technologies are made, it is expected that new and exciting features will be introduced to these virtual, borderless worlds.