What is the metaverse? Even experts disagree. Bedrija Hamza, Senior InnoTech Lead at Viseca explains it as follows: “The Metaverse is current like the Internet was in its early days. Today we associate the Internet with the ‘World Wide Web’, but at the beginning it was still unclear that the ‘www’ would prevail. Alternatives were still in the air, the concept was fuzzy, and certain people bet on the wrong horse.” Just as with the Internet, it remains to be seen what version of the metaverse will ultimately prevail.
Nevertheless, some are already trying to define it. “The Metaverse is an open, freely accessible platform where people can network and deposit content. It is a mapping of the physical world in virtual space,” says Prof. Dr. Fabian Schär, Professor for DLT (Blockchain) and Fintech at the University of Basel. In this definition, the element of interaction is emphasized. Seen in this light, the metaverse phenomenon is older than expected, and games such as Fortnite, Minecraft or World of Warcraft can be seen as simple versions of it.
With the Metaverse, something big is very likely to come our way that is not yet tangible. “Currently, there is a big discrepancy between what is advertised and what is possible at the moment,” says Florian Müller, CEO & Co-Founder, Software Brewery, a digital transformation agency. “There’s a lot of reporting, writing and speculation on the topic, but when you look at what’s effectively already out there, you often end up on pixelated sites with a few 200 participants,” he adds. All of this makes it difficult to understand the phenomenon. Insight into individual elements associated with the metaverse can help:
The 3D Virtual Reality Glasses
If you Google “metaverse,” you’ll quickly find images of people wearing big clunky 3D glasses. These glasses offer different possibilities. On the one hand, they can be used to immerse people in entirely new virtual worlds, such as a dream world with forests and mythical creatures – so-called virtual reality. A second possibility is that the glasses show the effective environment and add virtual elements to it, e.g. I see the room I am in and a virtual table or figure appears in it, which is projected through the glasses into the real environment. In this case we are at what we call augmented reality. The third and last possibility, is very similar to Augmented Reality, only that here it is possible to interact with the virtual elements, so for example, if there is the possibility to write something into the virtually appeared table, then we are in Mixed Reality.
It is exciting to note that the history of these glasses is relatively old and goes back to the 70s. In addition, it is also possible to immerse oneself in augmented and mixed reality without glasses. A well-known example of this are the Snapchat filters, which allow users to decorate their own photos and videos with virtual elements such as rabbit ears and cat noses – or to disfigure them, depending on their taste.
One very concrete application that shows that these glasses are not just gimmicks is holographically navigated operations. Here, augmented reality is used to perform operations faster, more efficiently and more safely. And that’s how it works: Helpful 3D representations, are displayed directly in the surgical field during the operation. If the operation begins with an incision of 12 centimetres, then the optimal line of the incision is displayed on the patient’s abdomen via the 3D glasses, so that the doctor only must follow it. This is an impressive application that is already being used and shows how much potential there is in these technologies.
But are these examples already the metaverse? Is one in the metaverse with virtual reality glasses? Or is it just a compartmentalized app that uses virtual reality glasses? According to Prof. Dr. Fabian Schär, the element of networking is missing in these cases, which is essential in the definition of the metaverse.
Virtual worlds as a marketplace
Clearly, we are in the realm of the metaverse when we look at virtual worlds, such as Decentraland, The Sandbox, NFT World, or Crypto Voxels (to name a few). These are 3D virtual platforms that represent a world. People can move around in it as avatars and for example buy land and real estate. The same applies to companies, which also can rent or buy land there. In the end, there are no limits to the possibilities: parties may be organized, conversations can be held, and trading can take place.
Now, what can companies do in these virtual worlds? First, it must be emphasized once again that nothing that currently has to do with the metaverse is safe. All expenditures in such projects are associated with risks. “Even though there are currently a lot of investors, all metaverse projects could die. If the products are not bought and they run out of money, they will collapse”,” Hamza says.
Companies interested in the topic and willing to take the risk can do the following: pick a metaverse of their choice and buy or rent a sales space there to offer their own products or services. This also requires a bit of creativity. “Don’t apply the business model you use in the real world 1 to 1 in the metaverse but think about how it might work differently and better in the virtual world,” says Müller. Afterwards you can communicate your step into the Metaverse. With a bit of luck, a media release with the title: “Company XY has opened a store in the Metaverse” will be happily received.
If you want, you can already start experimenting with the metaverse. But it should not be a constraint and you must always consider that it is a bet: If the metaverse, in which a company buys or rents its land, goes under, then all investments are lost. But if this world prevails, then the owner can later sell the parcel at a profit. “Who dares wins” is thus the motto, for all those who have the courage to take the step into the metaverse.
CAS VR Refresher Event: Metaverse – Fiction or Opportunity for Innovative SMEs?
The information in this article is mainly taken from the “CAS VR Refresher Event: Metaverse – Fiction or Opportunity for Innovative SMEs?”. An event aimed solely at alumni/-ae of our CAS Board of Directors. They form an exclusive network called “VR Circle”, which provides a common platform, regular events, and continuous development. The speakers at this event were: Bedrija Hamza, Florian Müller and Prof. Dr. Fabian Schär.