Metaverse: the Lego bricks

co-written with Michael Papadopoulos

Some of the technologies behind the Metaverse, as we defined it in our previous article, aren’t particularly new. However, from the Facebook (now Meta) ads in September 2021, one can get an ambivalent feeling: either the Metaverse is something completely new, or the Metaverse is simply the repackaging of a set of technologies that have been in development for several decades.

What exactly is it? What are the bricks that make up the Metaverse? What are the technologies in each of these bricks? How mature are each of these bricks? When will they be ripe? When can we hope (or fear) the advent of the Metaverse?

To start answering these questions, this article introduces the structure which we developed at Arthur D. Little. This structure aims to represent the architecture of the Metaverse in six layers. Six layers covering the Metaverse “value chain”. Six levels with the higher level corresponding to new experiences e business models and the lower tier of which corresponds to the required hardware and software infrastructure.

Figure 1 – The six architectural layers of the Metaverse, according to Arthur D. Little

Level n. 1: Experience Continuum: Uses and Business

Level n. 1, which we called Continuous experienceit is the layer that brings together all new and new uses business models, existing and future. These new uses e business model blurring the boundaries between reality and virtuality, as we defined it in our previous article (think in particular of augmented reality and creative economy). Like the internet today, use cases can be segmented into three categories: individuals (socializing, having fun, playing, etc.), companies (exchanging, collaborating, etc.), and industry (shaping a production chain or distribution network. ).

Level n. 2: Human-machine interfaces: the gateway

Level # 2, which we called Human-machine interfaces (Human-Machine Interfaces, or HMI), as the name suggests, is the layer that allows humans to perceive and interact with layer # 3. HMIs are the gateway to the Metaverse. HMIs include a mix of hardware and software that allows users to send inputs to the machine and to the machine to be sent exits users, and thus form a coherent interaction cycle. Some of the underlying technologies, such as the keyboard and mouse on the inputs or the screens next to the exits, they are very mature. Other technologies, such as brain-machine interfaces, are much less mature. Between the two, there is a whole series of more or less mature HMIs such as virtual and / or augmented reality viewers, holography, haptic interfaces. The more these technologies advance, the more immersion and interaction with the Metaverse will engage our five senses.

Level # 3: Extended Reality – the visible side

Level # 3, which we called Extended reality (Extended Reality, or XR), corresponds to the immersive representation that augments or replaces reality. It is a spectrum ranging from 100% real to 100% virtual. Extended reality combines the real world and objects with one or more layers of computer-generated virtual data, information, or presentations. Thus, extended reality is in a sense the visible face of the Metaverse. Extended reality includes virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), as well as a spectrum of possibilities in between. The technologies that compose it are also at various degrees of maturity. For example, virtual reality today is much more mature than augmented reality. The more these technologies develop, the more they will converge and the more the Metaverse will be synonymous with continuity between real and virtual.

Level # 4: World Engine: the engine

Level # 4, which we called World enginecorresponds to all software that allows the development of virtual worlds, virtual objects and their process (digital twins) and virtual people (avatars or digital humans). the World engine it included in particular four essential building blocks. i) The graphic engine, responsible for creating and rendering the visual layer of the virtual world. ii) The logic engine, responsible for example for the interactions between the various virtual entities. iii) The physics engine, which allows you to create, for example, realistic multiphysics models and simulations (for example related to fluid dynamics or gravity). iv) The presence engine, which allows users to feel present in any place as if they were physically there (for example, early presence technologies exist in 4Dx cinemas that integrate on-screen images with seats with synchronized movement and real effects such as water, wind, fog, perfume or snow). Again, the underlying technologies have quite variable levels of maturity.

Level n. 5: Infrastructure – piping

Level # 5, which we called Infrastructure, corresponds, as the name suggests, to the physical infrastructure (network, computing power and storage) that guarantees the collection and processing of data in real time, communication, representation and reaction. The infrastructure is the piping that makes it possible to guarantee the three essential properties of the Metaverse: immersion (which increasingly allows users to be “in” the Internet), interaction (which allows users to interact in real time, such as if they were in the same room) and persistence (which causes the Metaverse to continue to exist even when the user is not logged in). The infrastructure is probably the minimum sexy and which hardly anyone talks about, yet it is the most critical: the necessary infrastructure for the Metaverse does not yet exist.

Level n. 6: key enabling factors: oil in the wheels

Level # 6, which we called Critical Enablers, brings together a set of technologies, mainly software, essential for the correct functioning of the other levels. This sixth and final layer is some oil in the wheels. In particular, it brings together IoT (Internet of Things), blockchain and NFT, cyber security and artificial intelligence (AI). The latter, for example, is necessary for the automatic generation of digital twins (Digital Twins) or for the creation of realistic avatars with realistic attitudes.

***

the structure the architecture presented above is obviously a simplified view of reality, if we can really talk about reality when we talk about Metaverse. In this it is quite debatable. And we encourage you to tell us what you think, even to challenge it structure. This simplified view, however, helps to analyze the complexity behind the Metaverse. In particular, in the next articles we will delve into each of the layers to understand the details, as well as the maturity of each of the technological bricks that compose it. This approach will allow us to answer the question: Should I be interested in the Metaverse as part of my business? What are the present and future opportunities?

(Layers of the Metaverse – illustrated by Samuel Babinet)

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