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The Building Blocks of the Metaverse
As described in our previous blog, the metaverse can be best understood as the next generation of the internet: It will build upon and iteratively transform it. The metaverse requires extraordinary technical advancements (producing shared, persistent simulations that millions of users synchronize in real-time) and will involve a robust regulatory framework, business policies and change in consumer behavior.
The metaverse stack can be broadly viewed from a category or layer perspective, which can help us better grasp how the pieces will fit together and what the “flow” of the metaverse could look like, both from a user and a developer perspective.
Consider the metaverse as a virtual environment blending physical and digital, facilitated by the convergence between internet and web technologies, and extended reality (XR).
In the metaverse, all individual users own their respective avatars, an analogy to the user’s physical self, to experience an alternate life in a virtuality that is a metaphor of the user’s real world. To achieve such duality, the development of the metaverse has to go through three sequential stages: 1) digital twins, 2) digital natives and, eventually, 3) the co-existence of physical-virtual reality or surreality.
Remarkably, the metaverse can afford interoperability between platforms representing different virtual worlds, i.e., enabling users to create content and widely distribute the content across virtual worlds. For instance, a user could create content in a game like Minecraft and transfer such content into another platform or game, like Roblox, with a continued identity and experience.
By leveraging key technologies (blockchain, computer vision, distributed networks, pervasive computing, scene understanding, ubiquitous interfaces), connecting the physical world with its digital twins through real-time data will further drive the shift toward the metaverse.
To realize the metaverse, technologies other than the internet, social networks, gaming and virtual environments should be taken into consideration. The advent of AR and VR, high-speed networks and edge computing, AI and hyperledgers (or blockchain) serve as the building blocks of the metaverse. Edge computing and network slicing aim to improve the performance of applications that are delay-sensitive and bandwidth-hungry by managing the local data source as pre-processing data available in edge devices. Cloud computing is well recognized for its highly scalable computational power and storage capacity. Leveraging both cloud-based and edge-based services can achieve a synergy, such as maximizing the application performance and therefore user experiences. Edge devices and cloud services with advanced mobile networks can support the computer vision, AI, robots and IoT, on top of appropriate hardware infrastructure.
To build the metaverse, businesses will need to produce and invest in more virtual assets…and more elaborate versions of them, too. And this is expensive.
Consider Microsoft Flight Simulator, which is the most realistic and expansive consumer simulation in history. It includes over two trillion individually rendered trees, 1.5 billion buildings and nearly every road, mountain, city and airport globally. All in, it holds more than 2.5 petabytes of data, or 2,500,000 gigabytes. This enormous virtual world is only possible because it’s based on real world scans. Building all this data from scratch, or a fictional world with comparable detail and diversity, would cost billions.
Today, companies offer their metaverse experiences primarily through closed architecture systems, which means that their software and/or hardware is not compatible with other platforms. And different platforms are often designed for different primary use cases, such as gaming, working, shopping or socializing. Eventually, however, we expect the most successful metaverse platforms to evolve toward a more open architecture that allows all (or at least many) parties—users, developers, and companies—to participate on equal terms.
A truly open metaverse can be a decentralized VR platform powered by blockchain technology. This concept already exists today with Decentraland, which is built on the Ethereum blockchain, giving community members the chance to create, experience and monetize content and applications. Unlike other virtual worlds and social networks, no single agent has the power to modify the rules of Decentraland’s software, land or the economics of its currency. Community members can buy, develop and sell land, which, like in the real world, is finite, making it more valuable.
One of the most powerful things you can do is interact with the digital model overlaid onto the physical environment in mixed reality. You can get rich metadata and insights into anything you’re doing in the physical world from this digital copy. You can also interact in a purely virtual space, even over distances, with colleagues and experts anywhere in the world.
Most cloud solutions include services for each capability required for this new class of application. Digital twins can model any asset, system or entire environment and keep the digital twins live and up to date with IoT. Analytics capabilities track the history of digital twins and find insights to predict future states. AI and machine learning platforms let you build autonomous systems that continually learn and improve. This allows you to share experiences from anywhere, on any device and integrate the best of mixed reality devices. Each layer of this technology stack is incredibly powerful on its own, but used together, it fuels one of the most transformative waves of computing we’ve ever seen.
Today, companies offer their metaverse experiences primarily through closed architecture systems, which means that their software and/or hardware is not compatible with other platforms. Eventually, however, we expect the most successful metaverse platforms to evolve toward a more open architecture leaning on these key building blocks that allows all (or at least many) parties—users, developers, and companies—to participate on equal terms.