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I have been involved with VR and AR since those technologies first emerged, so with the growing interest in metavers, I am frequently asked for explanations and definitions. People especially want to know about the capabilities and potential dangers of Metavers. Since similar questions come up frequently, I wanted to put together some more useful definitions. So here it goes:
In the world of immersive media, Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented Reality There are two columns in the (AR) field. With VR in the late 1980s and AR in the early 1990s, both terms have been around for almost 30 years.
Where is the key difference The user feels present. In virtual reality, the user experiences being present in a simulated environment, while in augmented reality the user feels present in a combined world of real and virtual content.
This leads to the following definitions:
Virtual Reality (VR) An immersive and interactive simulated environment that is felt in the first person and gives the user a strong sense of presence.
Augmented Reality (AR) An immersive and interactive environment in which virtual content is spatially recorded in the real world and experienced in the first person, provides a strong sense of presence in the combined real / virtual space.
To achieve the true VR or AR experience, the user must be able to interact with virtual content in a natural and immersive way. This distinguishes VR from 3D movies and 3D simulations. It also distinguishes AR from a “head-up display” (HUDS) that presents non-immersive content in the user’s line of sight, such as text, data, and flat images.
For decades, virtual reality and augmented reality have been the primary phrases used in pedagogy and industry, but additional words have become popular in recent years. For example, Augmented reality (XR) has emerged to describe the full spectrum of VR and AR capabilities and has become a convenient catch-all for many forms of immersive media.
Word Mixed reality (MR) has also become popular but it causes some confusion as it is primarily synonymous with augmented reality. The popularity began in the mid-2010s when Microsoft launched its flagship HoloLens headset and used the term “mixed reality” in its marketing language. Since then, people often look for ways to differentiate between AR and MR, but that is largely a matter of choice.
Additional confusion has arisen as some companies have marketed smart glasses using inaccurate language, describing certain products as AR / MR when they are actually head-up displays that present non-immersive content in the user’s eyes. Such devices can be very useful compared to true augmented reality eyewear like Microsoft’s HoloLens and Snap’s latest spectacles but confuse the market.
To add to the confusion, the term “metavars” has recently become hugely popular. The term originated in the 90’s science fiction but was not widely used until Facebook (now Meta) put its marketing muscle behind it. It can be defined as:
a metaverse There is a continuous and immersive simulated world that is first experienced in the first person by large groups of users who have a strong sense of mutual presence. It can be entirely virtual (i.e. virtual metavers), or it can exist as layers of virtual content Covered in the real world (I.e. cultured metavars).
Some believe that metavars should also include formal rules of conduct and a fully functioning economy. While many worlds will have these symptoms, it seems too limited to push that position into definition. Similarly, some believe that all virtual and augmented worlds will be connected to the same interpersonal Metavers, with elements shared between sub-worlds. While it is highly likely that many worlds will share features and content, some will stand alone and still complete the definition of metavars.
And, of course, Metavers is not a new technology. The first dedicated metavers I ever experienced was There.com, which went into beta in 2001. It was also impressive by today’s standards. Soon after this Second Life started, which was also impressive and it got a large number of followers. The other early metavers were ActiveWorlds, which may be the pre-dates of the above two, although I did not experience it until 2006.
Of course, the Metavers platform of the past decades does not include the latest concepts. Web 3.0 Or NFTs Which is now part of the conversation. These new words confuse many people, so it is worthwhile to provide some context and explanation for them as well.
The reason why Web 3.0 and NFTs are discussed in terms of metavars has little to do with any immersive capabilities. Instead they relate to whether metavers data is stored centrally by platform providers (such as user data on Facebook) or stored on distributed networks (such as cryptocurrencies on blockchain). There are both viable ways to create metavars, but distributed networks simplify interoperability and strengthen data privacy. However, it is up to the platform providers to decide which way to go.
Before moving on, NFTs are worth discussing because many people mistakenly believe that they are defined as “digital collectibles”. Yes, they are currently very popular for that use, but NFT is a more comprehensive concept for the purpose of handing over ownership of digital assets.
I like to think of NFTs as a VIN number in a car. In the physical world, you and I can each own a white Tesla, fresh from the factory so they are essentially the same. We can walk up to our car in the large parking lot and be confused about who owns it. Ownership can be easily settled by looking at the VIN number on each car, which is linked to your title and is tracked in various databases.
In Metavers, the same thing can happen – you and I can each make our own Virtual Tesla which looks identical and parked the same Virtual Parking space. We may be confused as to who owns it. Instead of resolving this with VIN numbers, many Metavers platforms will track such ownership using NFTs attached to each virtual car (and every other virtual object that may be owned).
I point this out because NFT defines ownership regardless of aggregation. In the future, we are currently laughing back at the wild betting markets for NFTs. Instead, we appreciate that the primary value of NFT is much more physical – to specify which car is yours in the virtual parking lot. It also lets you move that virtual car from one platform to another because NFT is decentralized.
Finally, there is one last concept that is new to some – heptics.
Word “Heptics” Refers to adding a sense of touch to computing. Touch has two components: tactile sensations (i.e. formation and vibration) are felt through the skin, and force sensations (i.e. weight and resistance) are perceived by your muscles. Most consumer devices today that provide haptic feedback focus on tactile sensations (due to cost). But the hardware that also provides the force sensation makes VR and AR significantly more immersive and engaging by giving the virtual object a physical reality.
Overall, immersive media is a fast growing field with many overlapping words and phrases. The following graphic language will help clarify:
Consumers should be aware that many people in the industry currently use these terms inaccurately. Not every virtual environment is metavars; Not every pair of smart glasses provides an AR / MR experience, and there is no guarantee that all virtual worlds will be able to work with each other, even if it has a noble purpose. On the other hand, as the market matures and the consumer becomes more sophisticated, our language will definitely become more specific. Until then, the above definitions can help reduce confusion.
Louis Rosenberg is a leader in VR, AR and AI. In 1992, he developed the first interactive AR system (virtual fixer platform) for the US Air Force. He then founded the early VR company Emerson Corporation (1993) and launched it in 1999. He then founded the early AR company Outland Research (2004). Rosenberg received his PhD from Stanford, worked as a professor at California State University and was awarded more than 300 patents for his work in VR, AR and AI. He is currently the CEO of Unimus AI, a company that expands group intelligence in a shared environment.
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