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The concept of a metaverse isn’t new — the term itself was coined 30 years ago — but public awareness of it has grown in the past year since a certain announcement by the company formerly known as Facebook.
Initially, the most talked-about use cases were the usual suspects. Social media, gaming, movies and other entertainment experiences were held in high esteem by the media and the public alike. However, since the metaverse is still in its infancy, the possibilities are endless. And since apps and software are already at the heart of every business and organization, developers have a unique opportunity to shape what becomes the metaverse using these new collaboration capabilities.
There are two ways to look at the metaverse: what it is now and what it will be in the future. When you think of the early days of the Internet, when the term “cyberspace” was popular, nobody knew exactly what cyberspace meant. Still, it evoked images of VR headsets and an immersive experience, even if cyberspace didn’t quite live up to what movies from the 1990s predicted.
Today there is not one metaverse, although different platforms and companies would like to have you believe otherwise. Instead, multiple platforms can be considered metaverses (or “verses” for short) in their own right, including HyperVerse, Decentraland, The Sandbox, and even the largely children’s platform Roblox.
In an ideal future, the metaverse would be a globally connected network of verses merging the physical and virtual worlds. It would integrate the internet with various forms of immersive technology such as VR and AR to create experiences unmatched by anything we’ve ever seen.
This view, of course, has many implications for public and personal interactions. Imagine taking a live class from your kitchen in California, taught by a renowned French pastry chef who is in Paris. Perhaps you’re watching an up-and-coming singer perform at an intimate New York jazz club from your couch in Dallas. And the value doesn’t have to stop at your free time. Remote software developers can collaborate with teammates and colleagues around the world in a way that is much more realistic and practical than today’s Slack and Zoom interactions.
The key to collaboration in the metaverse: digital twins
You’ve probably heard the popular phrase “digital twin” associated with Industry 4.0 and other IIoT strategies. In these cases, the term is used to describe a collection of properties, identifiers and activities – both real-time and historical – that can digitally represent the physical industrial assets in a realistic way. These industrial digital twins are used for troubleshooting, modeling, what-if analysis and more. The most advanced digital twin systems are also beginning to capture the processes and interactions of assets.
As metaverses develop, we may very well see significant early adoption in industrial operations. Allowing people to interact with digital twins in an industrial metaverse offers many exciting opportunities to improve operations and security, and to take risks that would be extremely dangerous in manufacturing environments. Restarting a simulation is much better than rebuilding a machine.
Bring these possibilities into everyday life and the possibilities grow exponentially. Early applications for digital twins in the consumer metaverse have introduced some very interesting concepts for job training and other occupational simulations, wounded rehabilitation solutions and low-risk training exercises for all kinds of human-to-human, human-to-machine and machine-to-human. interactions that are otherwise impractical due to cost and/or risk.
There’s even a possible future where our own activity and behavior are used to create human digital twins – extending the existing concept of avatars into something much more sophisticated. Perhaps there will come a day when we can leave our own digital twins in the metaverse to communicate with others, provide services, or even work digital jobs while asleep or offline, or even after we die. It’s both frightening and exciting to think about the metaverse and the human digital twin as a pathway to some measure of immortality. The implications here may never be fully understood.
What the metaverse could (and should) mean for developers
Whether you’re a developer looking to enter the metaverse market or a gaming software or hardware developer looking for new uses in the metaverse, there are a few key points to keep in mind.
First, the metaverse is about edge, cloud, and everything in between. Understanding these concepts, the nature of distributed apps and how they overlap with other technology trends such as decentralized apps, ledgers and hybrid time series platforms will pay off in the long run. There will be tough build or adopt decisions throughout the application, and being pragmatic about these choices will make all the difference in a megatrend market.
Second, despite what they may think, no vendor “owns” the metaverse. While several vendors have launched consumer-ready hardware and app platforms and even made drastic name changes, the current vendor-specific metaverse is more like America Online than the modern internet. Product managers need to go where the users go, and engineers need to build in well-applied frameworks to get the real-world testing they need; but everyone should keep in mind that ideally the metaverse becomes a loosely coupled ecosystem of hardware, software and infrastructure providers, with commercial and open source technology providing consumers with a portal to the next evolution of the internet.
Brian Gilmore is director of IoT and emerging technologies at Intake data
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