Microsoft, Meta (aka Facebook), and NVIDIA have recently launched high-profile vision pieces showcasing their individual takes on virtual reality systems – what the tech press is currently labeling the “metaverse” – a variant of the broader internet focused on data-enriched 3D experiences.
We are living through a long, slow process of fusing the virtual and physical worlds. In every experiential design situation, there will be a balance between the primacy of the physical experience versus the virtual experience. For example, the experience of a remote group project review might be primarily virtual (meaning most of the experience will be in a virtual world scene) but connected to key physical props or control interfaces. On the other end of the spectrum, a place-based hospitality experience might be primarily physical (like a hotel lounge), but augmented with virtual connections dabbled throughout the physical location (like a holographic entertainer or virtual party games).
Microsoft, Meta and NVIDIA’s concepts of the metaverse spread along the spectrum from primarily virtual to primarily physical experience. And much like any good sci-fi content, they are showing lavishly rendered versions of each concept. Buyer beware (you might want to checkout this previous post I wrote where I explore how DVLED screens might actually provide more lucid “reality” experiences than AR or VR headsets).
I’ve collected some interesting videos from each company’s press launch (and some screen caps for posterity):
Microsoft is focusing on mixed-reality augmented reality applications, where digital models and data streams are added onto the physical world.
Microsoft provides a deep dive into their concept including lots of technical details and realistic use examples from their project leader in this video:
And if you’re curious about the AR hardware itself, here’s a good review of Microsoft’s HoloLens 2:
Graphics technology powerhouse NVIDIA is driving its own vision of the metaverse, emphasizing content production workflows and the power of sharing/repurposing content across many uses. See their recent keynote:
An overview of NVIDIA’s Omniverse software suite, including Omniverse Create, Machinima, Audio2Face, various connectors to other software like Unreal Engine, Blender, etc.:
And if you want a bit more depth:
NVIDIA’s diagrammatic concept for how the metaverse works is fascinating, putting the virtual twin concept as the primary glue tying together the physical world and internet (think IoT sensing/actuating) along with various design, simulation, interface and visualization tools for interacting “live” with that digital twin.
Facebook is betting its future on the metaverse, to the point where it changed its corporate name to Meta. Here is Meta’s full keynote announcement, which covers a wide range of social and office-style work:
If you don’t want to watch the whole video, here’s the cheater version:
Don’t you just love how all these tech companies always use architects as the prototypical cool customers? These two must be staring up at the lighting…
Some closing thoughts
The media pundits are having visceral negative reactions to these concepts of the metaverse, especially with Facebook’s tainted issues around the negatives of social media. But the reality is that people will not suddenly put on full VR-googles and disappear Matrix-style into some dystopian virtual world. The applications of the metaverse will slowly seep into our lives and businesses, augmenting our real-world experiences in many small ways.
As for architecture, architectural places are becoming portals to the virtual world. The Unreal Engine is acting as a key catalyst for the AEC community to adopt live rendering, which is a foundational technology to professionally move towards a “metaverse” in design and construction.
The metaverse will happen in a variety of ways in end applications such as hospitality, healthcare, entertainment, etc., blurring the physical/virtual or virtual/physical balance of the experience. And there are endless creative techniques to add rich data streams and interactivity to both our physical or virtual places, ultimately helping us break free of the current screen-based interaction paradigms.
Even monsters love VR!