What is the metaverse? Three years ago, most people considered it science fiction — a cool concept, but not much else. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, triggering a drastic shift in the role of technology. There was a newfound need for virtual connection, and the metaverse seized the opportunity.
While still in development, the metaverse aims to revolutionize how we connect by creating a set of spaces (similar to webpages on the internet) for users to interact and engage in real-time. Imagine online shopping with augmented reality (AR). Instead of scrolling through a page, you can virtually try on clothes. The technology would quickly be able to fit the sweater to your body, and the image on your phone would react instantaneously to your movements, so you’d know how the clothing moves as you move. Perhaps you enter virtual reality (VR) and are in a virtual store where you can do the same thing but also interact with the avatar forms of shopping assistants. This is what the metaverse can become with the advancement of its foundational technology.
At this stage, we know which technologies need to be developed; however, how they will come together and integrate into our lives remains an open question. Currently, VR and AR, supported by 3D modeling software, allow us to view and interact with the metaverse. VR refers to a fully immersive digital environment, accessible through specialized headsets. In contrast, AR experiences augment reality by adding sensory elements accessible via phones, smart displays, and smart glasses, using the same technology that creates filters on social media to overlay fun make-up looks or dog ears on your face. Despite the promise of these technologies, current VR headsets are bulky and often headache-inducing, and fairly low-res- if they’re not prohibitively expensive. And AR is mainly regarded as a fun gimmick rather than a useful tool due to its prevalence in photo filters.
To get to the point of actually shopping in the metaverse, the foundational technologies beyond AR and VR need to be advanced enough to support and quickly update the images you see in real time. In VR, the technology needs to produce high-speed responses to data you share, such as moving your finger a few centimeters to the right or darting your pupil to the left. A slight lag is not just annoying, as it is when our email inboxes don’t refresh quickly enough; it can be uncomfortable in the metaverse. Building the foundational technologies to speed up data processing and interactivity, including edge computing, 5G, AI, and CPUs, are essential to making the metaverse accessible.
Yet, while faster CPUs and more advanced AR technologies will drive the metaverse forward, its success will hinge on how we thoughtfully and creatively use the technologies of the metaverse to problem-solve for meaningful change. Learn more about NJI’s take on leveraging creativity and storytelling in the metaverse in our next piece with our Director of Media, Ryan Raybould