The amount of hype around the metaverse is overwhelming

It has been 30 years since author Neal Stephenson’s sci-fi novel Snow Crash appeared and the term metaverse was coined. During that timeframe, we have seen the launch of online networks that embody many of the metaverse’s most important concepts, without ever using the term.

The rebranding of Facebook to Meta in October 2021 significantly increased metaverse conversation, and the hype has been driven by a variety of technology players preemptively claiming to be metaverse companies or to be creating a metaverse.

Metaverse is one of the latest technology buzzwords to hit the headlines. What is it and will it revolutionize everything? The answer is yes, no, and maybe. Is it simply the latest phase in the evolution of business transformation? Certainly, the metaverse expands the traditional notion of an ecosystem into a 21st-century virtual business, social, and collaborative interaction space.

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I hope to shed a bit of light and stimulate conversation about this latest evolution of the internet.

What is the metaverse?

According to Matthew Ball—venture capitalist and author—the metaverse is a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.1

We see it as a set of technologies that allow for persistent digital representation, connected to aspects of the real world. Meta means, “beyond,” and verse means “universe.” Together, the metaverse refers to a virtual world parallel to the real world that can be experienced more completely with technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). These virtual worlds will connect to a social system and fully functioning economy in which data, digital goods, content, and intellectual property (IP) can pass, and individual users, organizations, and companies can create content and goods to ensure that the metaverse continues to expand and evolve.

In 2014, Microsoft acquired Mojang Studios, which launched Minecraft, for $2.5 billion (about $8 per person in the United States) and over time, made virtual reality versions available on Oculus Rift, PlayStation, and Microsoft HoloLens.

The beauty of Minecraft is that like Lego blocks, it offers infinite possibilities within an infinite digital space to allow anyone to create their own metaverse. With over 130 million monthly users, Minecraft is but one early example of the metaverse impacting our daily lives.

The metaverse: An evolution of the internet

The metaverse will not fundamentally replace the internet, but instead, build upon and iteratively transform it. It is a logical evolution of the internet. Just like fixed-line internet ushered in the age of personal computing and mobile internet increased the proliferation of content and access to the internet, the metaverse will place everyone inside a “virtual” version of the internet on a continuous basis. It will enable us to constantly be “within” the internet, creating more immediate experiences.

Technology is extending the imagination boundary

From a technical standpoint, the building blocks of the metaverse, VR, AR, AI, and blockchain are rapidly evolving. VR enables the use of computer simulation to generate a three-dimensional space of the virtual world, and a way to provide the user the visual and other sensory stimulation to feel as if they are in the real world.

Identity and the economic system will leverage blockchain technology to establish credibility. As a distributed database or ledger shared among computer network nodes, blockchain guarantees the accuracy and security of a record of data without the need for a trusted third party.

To ensure the plurality of the metaverse, edge computing technology is needed to ensure a consistent experience for all users.

Metaverse use cases

A quick web search for metaverse shows increased mentions across the entire mobility sector. Microsoft is also active in this space by supporting both the consumer and industrial metaverse. A recent announcement mentioned how Microsoft and Meta are partnering to deliver immersive experiences for the future of work and play. And, at the Microsoft Ignite conference in September, examples of current industrial metaverse applications were shared, like Kawasaki Heavy Industries demonstrating metaverse enabling collaborative spaces for engineers, service technicians, and frontline workers utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT), digital twins, and mixed reality.

Metaverse in automotive

We see the convergence of digital and physical worlds evolving in the automotive industry in areas including virtual vehicle design and physical production, led by real-time collaboration on engineering design and materials.

In manufacturing and supply chain operations, the metaverse and digital twin models are enabling rapid production processes that require significantly less physical testing, improving efficiency. This results in reduced risk and improved quality control with detailed, physics-based designs to shrink the margin of error for production. A metaverse-based digital twin can also be used to streamline and optimize supply chain management, from product design through procurement, manufacturing, and inventory.

With vehicle sales, the metaverse is bridging the gap between the dealership and customers opting for online purchasing. 2D and 3D solutions in this space are offering virtual viewing of vehicles, test drives, and explanations of complex technology features to create a more fluid customer journey and buying experience for consumers.

Opportunities to enhance the in-car customer experience are also being explored. Entertainment, gaming, and productivity are all potential opportunities that can engage vehicle occupants where appropriate. When it comes to service, the metaverse is accelerating the upskill of existing technicians and enabling remote virtual diagnostics and repair of vehicles. This touchless, frictionless approach will result in greater customer satisfaction to improved customer retention.

Metaverse in transportation

While some argue that the metaverse will enable more satisfying virtual social interaction and therefore less need for physical mobility, others look towards a more efficient multi-modal mobility future.

The metaverse will enable intelligently networked, constantly evolving, and integrated multi-modal transportation networks. By leveraging digital twins of physical infrastructure like airports and major roadway systems, all the way down to transit infrastructure, the coordination of transporting people and goods will improve dramatically. With AI automation dynamically creating less friction between origins, stops, and destinations, travelers will plan and execute journeys across multiple transportation modes in an increasingly more cost-effective and efficient manner as these services become part of the larger metaverse network.

Metaverse in travel and hospitality

While the metaverse cannot replace travel, it can enable the travel industry to provide enhanced experiences and the opportunity to engage with the customer more deeply with new and unexpected adventures.

The metaverse will help the hospitality business meet evolving guest expectations. In the area of pre-travel planning, a virtual concierge can enable travelers to take virtual, three-dimensional walkthroughs of hotel room options, airport terminals, destinations, and attractions. The objective will be to provide travelers with options and a clear idea of what they might expect when they visit their destination. This will enhance the booking experience, improve guest satisfaction, and increase booking volume.

Status—where are we now?

As I have shared, there are several examples of actual metaverse scenarios impacting the industry today. There are also many opportunities yet to be explored as the technology is still in its initial stages. As these examples continue to develop, we see metaverse experiences classified as industrial or consumer metaverse, further defining the intended applications. In either application, removing walled gardens is important to ensure continued growth and adoption. This means that the metaverse will require a mutually agreed-upon set of underlying standards that make it possible for people to live, work, and play in the metaverse together and to move between different instances with persistent digital identities and profiles.

Other key elements will include the creator economy, universally accepted rules of behavior, recognition of digital currencies and a means of converting them into real-world currencies, digital object ownership rights, security standards and processes, and Web 3.0.

Web 3.0 and the metaverse

In Web 1.0, internet browsers connected everyone online. Web 2.0 extended this connectivity and has revolutionized the availability, speed, and access to information and transformed the way we connect and interact with people and the world around us.

Web 3.0 is known as the next generation of the internet. It will introduce new capabilities such as blockchain with aspirations to become more equitable, transparent, and decentralized, concentrating the power (and data) in the hands of users, instead of entities. It will analyze, understand, intelligently integrate, and interpret information to provide users with an enhanced, hyper-personalized, and interactive experience.

While Web 3.0 is focused on who will own and control tomorrow’s decentralized internet, the metaverse is focused on new ways in which users will experience the internet of the future. Web 3.0 and the metaverse complement each other, with Web 3.0 serving as the basis for connectivity in the metaverse, and the creator economy in the metaverse supplementing the vision of Web 3.0.

What’s next

We have only begun to scratch the surface of possibilities with the metaverse. It will continue to be an evolving platform that will dramatically change the way we interact with the world around us. From an industrial metaverse or consumer metaverse point of view, we see growing interest, application, and exploration of metaverse capabilities in the broader mobility industry, and with adjacent industries like retail, banking and insurance, and energy as well. The future may well be shaped by the visions created within the metaverse today.

Accelerate the future of mobility

Microsoft accelerates the transformation of automotive, mobility, and transportation by improving productivity, operations, innovation, and customer experience.

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1Framework for the Metaverse, The Metaverse Primer, MatthewBall.vc.