The main technologies of the metaverse – augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), extended reality (XR) for both – are nothing new. In 1990, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) showcased the Virtual Interface Environment Workstation (VIEW). The agency created VIEW in partnership with VPL Research, the 1980s VR company founded by Jaron Lanier.
The system featured a headset very similar to today’s VR headsets and sensor-equipped clothes and gloves – DataSuit and DataGlove. For AR, the Fraunhofer Society provided an early example in 2004. The game NetAttack used Wi-Fi networks and semi-transparent personal displays in headgear to overlay three-dimensional objects on top of real-world settings.
Players had to find virtual target items in real-world environments, wearing a backpack full of equipment. The game had features that resemble Niantic’s Pokémon Go AR game that became successful in 2016 and was discussed in depth in the Computer Weekly article The beneficial (and frightening) implications of virtualising reality.
So, the idea of leveraging virtual elements and environments for productive and entertainment applications is not new. What is new, though, is that required technologies have become substantially more powerful, drastically smaller, and much less expensive over past decades. Gone are the days of backpacks with equipment; welcome sensor-equipped lightweight smart glasses with advanced display technologies.
Also, supporting infrastructure and communications technologies such as the internet, wireless connectivity, location positioning and navigation systems, virtual payment applications and datacentres have come a long way. Scores of companies have worked feverishly on metaverse-related applications for many years.
But an announcement by Mark Zuckerberg at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in March forced them to put their cards on the table and prove to investors that they are on top of AR and VR technologies and applications. Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Meta, also participated remotely at SXSW to present his vision at the session Into the metaverse: creators, commerce and connection.
Related technologies have caught the attention of businesses and consumers, and the metaverse has become commercially viable. SXSW highlighted the breadth of use cases, from fashion and music to art and gaming. Business-related considerations included branding and workspaces, but also sustainability and communication, And, naturally, the sessions covered a range of technological topics, such as standards, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), non-fungible intelligence and the concept of Web 3.0.