The term ‘metaverse’ was coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science-fiction novel ‘Snow Crash’ where people use digital avatars of themselves to explore the online world, often as an escape from reality. He envisioned the metaverse as an immersive 3D virtual reality-based successor to the internet. That is exactly what it promises to be – a simulated digital environment that uses augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI), along with concepts from social media, to create spaces for user interaction that mimic the real world.
Possibilities in the Metaverse
The concept of the metaverse is still at a nascent stage. It is not yet a single unified entity. The building blocks of the metaverse are virtualization and 3D web technologies, that are getting embedded in our environment and becoming persistent features of our lives.
The metaverse is at a point of emergence and it needs inventors and innovators to develop new programs and products that will intelligently mesh the best elements of 2D, 3D and AI technologies.
The best examples of the technologies that are revolutionising the digital space and have the potential to influence industry across the board are in e-commerce, media & entertainment, healthcare, education, tourism and infrastructure sectors.
Retailers are digitally recreating the benefits of shopping in person. Virtual stores are enabling customers to put on a VR headset and take a walk through a digital mall, from the comfort of their homes. Virtual try-before-you-buy has become increasingly popular in apparel, cosmetics and furniture segments, and is being offered by almost all major e-commerce platforms in India. In the metaverse, e-commerce is poised to be a driving force for the future of businesses.
Media and Entertainment
The media & entertainment industry has been ahead of the game in terms of integrating VR and AR technologies to offer unique experiences. The video gaming industry has been spearheading the rise of AR and VR technologies since the early 2000s. It took the world by storm in 2016, with the launch of the game Pokémon GO. During the pandemic, we saw a fresh wave of innovation in media & entertainment. AR and VR concepts were used to create and organize augmented concerts, virtual sports events, cinema experiences, etc. The metaverse aims to consolidate all these different elements into a single platform for a unified experience in the virtual world.
Much like the gaming industry, the healthcare sector has already incorporated the building blocks of the metaverse concept in the very way it functions. Teleoperated robotics and augmented technology in minimally invasive surgical procedures have revolutionised the medical community and will continue to evolve alongside advancements in machine learning, data analytics, computer vision and other technologies. Virtual and augmented platforms are facilitating telemedicine, augmented diagnosis and augmented training for a new generation of medical professionals. The metaverse presents scope for virtually accessible medical services and opportunities for entrepreneurship in MedTech and digital healthcare.
Education and Training
Virtual and augmented simulation can deliver realistic psychological experiences through immersive simulations in a safe environment and are being extensively used in medicine, defence and aviation across the world. Global manufacturing firms use similar platforms to uptrain their technical staff. In India, integrated technology in school education is a booming sector and was heavily impacted by the need for remote learning during the pandemic. Businesses are using visual effects in creating educational content that is being consumed en masse. The technologies currently being used in education and training across sectors carry a huge potential and will give the companies moving towards visually immersive content creation an added advantage in the metaverse ecosystem.
Travel and Tourism
We have seen 360-degree views of national parks, rivers and mountains on the internet. Virtual walkthroughs of museums and heritage sites became popular during the pandemic. Travel and tourism companies now offer virtual try-before-you-fly tours to their premier customer base. Outdoor gear brands offer simulated travel experiences for popular hiking destinations as a marketing strategy. This trend is expected to pick up with more and more companies offing virtual travel experiences as a promotional strategy or as a budget version of luxury trips.
The increasing adoption of technology by major construction companies is revolutionising operations in the infrastructure industry. AR & VR technology is changing the way architects design, construction crews are trained and consumers engage with real estate and infrastructure projects. Public projects are being increasingly vetted by AI programs that can predict critical areas like safety and usage. Virtual depiction of living space has become an industry standard and is driving the growth of interior design businesses.
The potential for market opportunities in the metaverse is immense and will, not only depend on, but drive global trends, investments, customer interest, and growth. Entrepreneurs have the option to offer 3D immersive experiences of almost all kinds of products and services, from medical to cultural to technical to educational to even real estate and infrastructure development, to a wider consumer base that was previously untapped.
The recent popularity and acceptance of social platforms like Second Life as a mainstream cultural phenomenon and digital assets like digital real estate, NFTs and cryptocurrencies as legitimate investment options alludes to the course we are on and the potential it carries.