CES 2022 Metaverse: what it means and who is helping build it
I have already covered the metaverse in my CES 2022 themes post. But the metaverse proved so persuasive at CES 2022 that it deserves a post of its own.
[Note: Cover image via Seerslab]
Just what is the metaverse?
Attendees, exhibitors, and speakers used the term metaverse in many different ways. The following offers the Serious Insights metaverse categories as they stand today.
A fully immersive metaverse
For some the metaverse sucks you in, offering an alternative to our reality, one in which everything is meta, from currency to the objects purchased with that meta-currency. This is a truly virtual world that does more than mimic the real world, it replaces it with new rules.
A blended metaverse
For others, the metaverse blends our world with the future world. In the virtual reality (VR) version, the real world intrudes on the metaverse via digital twins. You can see, for instance, a simulation of your blood flow in VR via your own personal digital twin. Facilities managers might enter the metaverse to visualize everything about a high-rise, from where things need to get fixed to the energy drains, water use, and waste management. Everything in the real world gets tagged, and rather than going to a console with gauges of KPIs, the digital twin creates a virtual representation of the building and parameters—some of which can be manipulated in VR, others which need hands-on remediation in the real world.
Metaverse as overlay
And that takes us to the next version of the metaverse, the one where the metaverse overlays the real world. That generator that requires preventative maintenance in the bowls of the high-rise wears an augmented reality (AR) headset to offer instruction and guidance on the process.
The metaverse pushes into reality
Another version has the metaverse creating real-world objects that represent their metaverse equivalents. Think of this as physical twins. Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, will show up on displays large and small. People will flip through their NFT comic books, and they will display their NFT art on Samsung Frame TVs. Pets that live in the metaverse may manifest as robots will romp and purr at the feet of their owners.
Into the metaverse
The metaverse may exist in several levels between these, or across all of them. For some, a QR code or Near Field Communications (NFC) sensor will prompt a momentary enhancement to reality by placing anything from an advertisement to a hologram on a mobile device. For others the metaverse may mean a pair of glasses that display metadata about the real world as an overlay on it—ideally filtered to meet the needs and wants of the wearer. The glasses may also act as a conduit to the metaverse, with image capture, transcripts, and translations that end up as digital artifacts accessible via other metaverse entry points.
On a practical level, the metaverse may subsume the Internet as the term for describing where everything digital lives, and where all online work and play takes place. Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s various tools, Zoom and Webex—will all become metaverse tools, sometimes with little more than a rebranding swipe to start. At some point, people will start to define themselves as residents of the metaverse because they spend so much time online, regardless of the features or attributes of the technology they use.
Why the metaverse will arrive fractured
With those metaverse definitions, and combinations of them, equally representing the metaverse, early visitors to the metaverse will enter a fractured set of technologies that offer glimpses into all of the experiences mentioned above. Early adopters, however, will find it difficult to map experiences across environments. Some basic standards like QR codes may work wherever they are visible, but data models in domains without standards may find translations necessary, especially in complex areas like engineering and biology.
Companies like HTC’s Vive are already hinting at a business metaverse. They have more experience than most with great technology that doesn’t live up to the hype. Vive headsets offer some of the best VR experiences, but they remain expensive, and the content takes a really long time to get right, so they end up with business applications, where individual businesses build out a bespoke VR experience or leverage common ones like speaker training, to augment in-person development. Likewise, Vuzix’s CES 2022 announcements all included the word “enterprise.”
An ”enterprise” metaverse will likely be a very different place than Meta’s concept of a consumer metaverse. People may transport between metaverses not so much through seamless virtual teleportation as by shifting to different hardware to do different things. Perhaps one day the hardware shift will give way to entering a different virtual environment, but like game consoles and PCs, each shift will require a reorientation of sense memory and a slightly different set of skills.
After decades much of the Internet remains in silos. Silos run deeper once the general browsing landscape gives ways to apps, which don’t just employ different user experiences and business models, they tout their differences as strategic differentiation as they have been taught by good strategy consultants (like us).
Existing business strategies, the underlying constructs of competition, shareholder value, and differentiated experiences will fracture the metaverse by influence if not by design. If businesses thrive when they offer unique business value to a particular segment of customers, why wouldn’t that mindset permeate the metaverse with thousands of different apps and experiences, and entirely alternative metaverses, that serve unique groups of people?
Will antiquities collectors want to be in the same metaverse as supermodels or doctors? Won’t physicians want a metaverse focused on digital twins of patients, perhaps another one that offers hospital operations? The constructs of those two domains are so different that they will at best have ways to jump off into each other, but beyond passing a note to a nurse to administer treatment in the operations realm, the digital twin of the patient will exist beside any general healthcare metaverse, that itself may be deployed uniquely to each provider.
A fully realized human metaverse will offer enough for researchers to immerse themselves there, perhaps at the exclusion of other options. Consider a cancer researcher with a human body metaverse, all the way down to sub-cellular simulations—and the ability to reach back out to literature, and to others to share findings or conduct experiments. That human body metaverse may be all that researcher needs until they want to relax.
The technologies of the metaverse
While CES prompted untold mentions of the metaverse, the people attending CES did so to gauge just where the metaverse is on the hype cycle of technology innovation and deployment. What they saw (or more likely heard about) was mostly evolutionary technology built on the back of AR and VR. New glasses, new headsets, new controllers, new robotics, etc.
Here is a taste of the technology that will act as portals into the metaverses.
- TCL shared a video of glasses that look like Ray-Ban Wayfarers designed for video conferences, image capture, and instructions and directions. The TCL glasses employed optical holographic waveguides to efficiently direct photos to the eyes. The prototype smart glasses run on a Qualcomm 4100 processor. On a more immediate front, TCL will shift personal NXTWEAR AIR classes with a 1080p Micro OLED display that will create a virtual screen that emulates a 140-inch screen, 4 meters away.
- Vuzix won a CES Innovation Award for their new Shield product line, the next generation in enterprise smart glasses. Shield glasses include Z87.1 safety-rated glass, an 8-core CPU running Android 11, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. The temple conceals speakers and touch controls. The Vuzix Shield glasses also work with voice recognition. Unlike many other AR glasses, these come prescription-ready.
- Panasonic’s seemingly Steam Punk-inspired Shiftall MeganeX headset offers lightweight VR entry that not surprisingly, focuses on SteamVR content. The MeganeX steam 5.2K 10-bit HDR images at a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. Shiftall also showed their $270 body tracking suite HaritoraX which aims to make movement more natural in virtual spaces.
- Those who want to sense temperature changes in a virtual world should check out Shiftall’s Pebble Feel. The Pebble Fell also cools and warms when it’s actually hot or cold outside.
- For haptics across the body, look at skinetic. Ask someone in VR for a hug.
- Touchcast’s demonstrated their invitation-only business in the metaverse concept, MCity. Touchcast is positioning itself as a metaverse broker by administering .metaverse domain registration.
- Sinespace offered up another full platform called Breakroom for meeting and hanging out.
- Stagwell Inc. shared information about its location-based augmented reality platform, ARound, designed to deliver shared experiences to live events and the retail space.
- Dimenco and Acer via Concept D (along with Intel, Nidia, Microsoft, Spatiallabs, and Delta E<2) showed off 3D- displays that did not require glasses to offer an immersive experience.
- Neon.ai, a Samsung subsidiary, demonstrated the latest with their “artificial human” avatars.
- Manna showed off consumer-level motion capture to expand access for human movement-inspired animation.
- SapientX offered up voice assistants.
- Seerslab showed an AR development kit. The market will need to see more tools like this that focus on content development rather than full vertical apps. The metaverse will need it version of WordPress to take off.
In addition, several robotics technology providers, most notably Hyundai, saw a deep intersection between robotics and the metaverse.
The following videos offer a glimpse into the nascent metaverses market.
For more serious insights on the metaverse click here.