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The concept of the metaverse isn’t new — the term itself was coined a full 30 years ago — but public awareness of it has exploded over the past year following a specific announcement by the company formerly known as Facebook.
Initially, the most talked about use cases were the usual suspects. Social media, games, movies and other entertainment experiences have been the focus of the media and the public. However, considering that the metaverse remains 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 the metaverse becomes with the help of these new collaborative capabilities.
There are two ways to look at the metaverse: what it is now and what it will be in the future. If you think back to the early days of the Internet, when the term “cyberspace” was popular, no one knew exactly what cyberspace meant. Still, it made for VR headset imagery and an immersive experience, even if cyberspace doesn’t quite live up to what the 1990s movies envisioned.
Today, there isn’t a single metaverse, although various platforms and companies would have you believe otherwise. Instead, many platforms could be considered metacomplexes (or “verses” for short) in their own right, including HyperVerse, Decentraland, The Sandbox, and even the mostly kid-friendly platform Roblox.
In an ideal future, the metaverse would be a globally connected network of verses that merge the physical and virtual worlds together. It will integrate the Internet with various forms of immersive technology, such as VR and AR, to create experiences unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
This vision, of course, has many implications for public and personal interactions. Imagine watching a live class from your California kitchen, taught by a famous French pastry chef based in Paris. You can catch an up-and-coming singer perform at an intimate jazz club in New York from your couch in Dallas. And the value doesn’t have to stop at your spare time. Remote software developers could collaborate with teammates and colleagues around the world in a much more realistic and hands-on way 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” as it relates to Industry 4.0 and other IIoT strategies. In these cases, the term is used to describe a collection of properties, identifiers, and activity—both real-time and historical—that can digitally represent the physical industrial asset in a realistic manner. These industrial digital twins are used for troubleshooting, modeling, what-if analysis and more. More advanced digital twin systems are also beginning to record the processes and interactions of assets.
As metacomplexes develop, we may well see significant early adoption in industrial operations. Allowing people to interact with digital twins in an industrial metaverse presents many interesting opportunities to improve operations and safety, and to take chances that would be extremely risky in production environments. Restarting a simulation is much better than rebuilding a machine.
Bring these capabilities into everyday life and the possibilities grow exponentially. Early applications for digital twins in the consumer meta-universe have introduced some very interesting concepts for occupational training and other occupational simulation, rehabilitation solutions for the injured, and low-risk training exercises for all kinds of human-to-human, human-to-machine, and machine-to-machine interactions. human that are otherwise impractical due to cost and/or risk.
There is even a possible future where our own activity and behavior will be used to create a human digital twin — expanding the existing concept of avatars into something much more advanced. Perhaps there will be a day when we can leave our own digital twin in the metaverse to interact with others, provide services or even do digital jobs while we sleep or are offline or even after we are dead. It’s scary and exciting to think of the metaverse and human digital twins as a path 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 game software or hardware developer looking to find new applications in the metaverse, there are a few key things to keep in mind.
First, the metaverse is about the edge, the cloud, and everything in between. Understanding these concepts, the nature of distributed applications, and how they overlap with other technology trends such as decentralized applications, ledgers, and hybrid time series platforms will pay off in the long run. There will be tough “make it or adopt it” decisions everywhere in the app, and being realistic about those choices will make all the difference in a megatrend market.
Second, despite what they may believe, no vendor “owns” the metaverse. While several vendors have launched consumer-ready hardware and application platforms and even made drastic name changes, today’s vendor-specific metaverse looks more like America Online than the modern Internet. Product managers need to go where users go, and engineers need to integrate into well-adopted frameworks to do the real-world testing they require. but everyone should keep in mind that the metaverse will ideally become a loosely coupled ecosystem of hardware, software, and infrastructure providers, with commercial and open source technology providing consumers with a gateway to the next evolution of the Internet.
Brian Gilmore is director of IoT and emerging technologies at InfluxData
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