On the way to new worlds How to Build the Metaverse with AR, VR, and Blockchain
A guest post by Gopikrishnan Konnanath*
From cloud computing and 5G to blockchain and from virtual and augmented reality to artificial intelligence: the metaverse is currently in full swing – and the vision of the direction in which things are moving is becoming increasingly clear. How will the convergence of these technologies change the world?
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Currently, discussions of the Metaverse are focused on immersive virtual reality (VR) – but augmented reality (AR) also plays an important role. Augmented reality brings digital objects into the real world, these become visible through end devices such as smartphones and smart glasses.
According to experts, augmented reality has greater potential than virtual reality, because people will probably get tired of a fully virtual environment sooner or later and prefer to be in a real environment. AR apps have also been around for quite some time, for example in games like Pokémon Go or real-time navigation like Google Maps. However, widespread acceptance is only slowly emerging.
This is due to concerns about privacy, the cost of required technology, and the lack of viable apps. This is expected to change quickly as recent developments in the blockchain ecosystem are driving AR applications – which in turn can be complemented by AR clouds, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and the creation decentralized content via open source software.
AR clouds drive many applications
AR clouds are 3D digital twins of the real environment and are complemented by virtual objects and information. They use data streaming and geolocation capabilities to remotely stream AR content in real environments around the world. In this way, augmented reality can provide users with a better experience.
Information can be delivered in an immersive way instead of users having to search for it in an app or web browser. The AR startup Arround, for example, helps companies build blockchain-based social networks (such as communication platforms, metaverses, and educational portals) for their community. Unlike centralized social networks, companies retain full control over the content of their networks and can also monetize it through advertising.
NFTs could help grow the AR economy
Blockchain-based NFTs have already gained prominence in the metaverse. Leading brands like Nike, Adidas, Walmart and Walmart are experimenting with them and developing new digital business models. Until now, NFTs have been primarily geared towards VR worlds, but they are already gaining traction in the AR environment and work in that environment just as they would in a VR environment.
Geographically located virtualized assets from real-world environments, including land and real estate, billboards, and other objects, can be purchased, used, rented, and traded in AR clouds. Creating assets as NFTs on the blockchain allows each object to have unique and identifiable properties and ownership is undeniable.
With NFTs in AR worlds, users can monetize their assets using smart contracts. For example, purchased advertising space in an augmented reality application can be rented to interested advertisers at a predefined price and duration as well as other conditions. In games like Pokémon Go, users have the opportunity to acquire unique characters and exchange them for real money in the virtual economy. NFTs allow users to exercise control over their activities in VR or AR environments.
However, there are some concerns about NFTs and the crypto ecosystem. First, some blockchains consume large amounts of power. For example, Marathon, a bitcoin mining company, bought and restarted a coal-fired power plant in Montana that emitted 187,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the second quarter of 2021. Companies can consider using Proof-of blockchains -Stake instead of Proof-of-Work blockchains, as the former are faster and consume less energy.
Second, the NFT and crypto spaces are unregulated, which in turn raises questions about the extent to which tokens and digital assets are actually suitable for consumer use. It’s only a matter of time before regulators scrutinize new tools further, and as a result, the current ecosystem will undergo a transformation – companies should plan for this now.
Open source content creation expands the ecosystem
Decentralization is a fundamental premise of the metaverse. There are already platforms that offer software development kits (SDKs) for creating AR content. Additionally, low-code/no-code platforms are becoming increasingly popular. This allows users to create digital assets for VR and AR worlds. This, in turn, fuels the growth of the Metaverse ecosystem, creating a virtual economy that may soon be bigger than the real thing as there will be multiple VR and AR worlds.
However, adding open source software to any system presents challenges. Allowing the public to develop content on proprietary platforms can – intentionally or unintentionally – lead to security vulnerabilities: for example, free software may depend on third parties to maintain their code and libraries. Any software developed using third-party code should be regularly reviewed for possible security vulnerabilities. This is an area where Zero Trust security frameworks can help contain potential issues.
But creating open source content could also open up a number of new revenue streams for people and organizations. Companies like OVR create open-source AR worlds by superimposing billions of hexagonal faces on the surface of the planet. Each of these can be purchased and used by owners to create more digital content. For example, users can create their own virtual properties with digital art, furniture, and other objects, and license their designs for use in virtual reality, augmented reality, or the real world.
With growing concerns that people are spending too much time with and on their devices, companies also need to be aware of the risk of negative reviews. Although there is little convincing evidence of actual mental disorders, the perception that spending too much time online can be detrimental to well-being and the potential for harm – and therefore risk to a company’s reputation – becomes of “metaverse experiences” is only increasing.
In conclusion, the current hype around NFTs selling for thousands or even millions of dollars should not deter companies from real problem-solving applications. Many of the current experiences in the virtual reality and augmented reality economy have yet to be validated for wider adoption by consumers and businesses. However, major technological upheavals have already taken place and will continue to take place in the future. Those who are able to find and deliver real value to their creations will thrive, while others might simply disappear – much like real-world businesses.
* Gopikrishnan Konnanath is SVP & Global Head, Engineering Services and Blockchain, at Infosys.