James Morris-Manuel, EMEA Managing Director of Matterport explores the future of the metaverse and its potential to offer a new virtual reality.
It is safe to say that there is a lot of buzz around the metaverse, and for good reason. By tapping into emerging technologies, the metaverse will provide a new reality. Users will be connected in a comprehensive world created using a mixture of digital twin technology, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and many other technologies.
As part of this continuing evolution, discussion on the metaverse centres around an advancing frontier that – much like the Internet – will bring many new opportunities for businesses and consumers alike. Digital twins – virtual replicas of the built world – will be a critical component of the metaverse, providing dimensionally-accurate real-life location and buildings in a ‘mirror world’ of our physical environment.
There is plenty of value in this too; EY recently estimated that digital twins will have a projected market size of $48bn by 2026, showing the technology’s wider economic potential. According to Matterport research, there are over four billion buildings comprising 20 billion spaces in the world – but only 1 per cent of this is digitised. This represents an enormous opportunity to generate tangible business value in a metaverse context.
Defining the metaverse
What is the metaverse? Much is still being defined and built by various companies around the world. Social media companies emphasise interconnected aspects, where people can socialise and discover new experiences. Others point to a new virtual world overlaid on the real one, where contextual information can flow into the real world and outline the future. Others still see it as the stage beyond the Internet, which opens new job opportunities where companies can provide new services.
However, the metaverse is likely to draw from all of these viewpoints, and be founded on several core attributes: real-time activity in a fully-functioning economy that offers some level of interoperability between digital spaces. While the emphasis on these attributes may shift, any version of the metaverse is likely to require them.
Discussions about the Metaverse have been ongoing since science fiction in the 1980s; in 2021, tangible business cases and conversations about the metaverse hit a new level. A variety of different viewpoints and discussions on what the metaverse could look like emerged. However digital twins of real-life spaces from the built world are a critical component underpinning the future of any metaverse.
The business potential of the metaverse
Digital twin technology creates an immersive 3D virtual model of any building or space. The potential is immense; made up of billions of digital twins, the metaverse could fundamentally change the way businesses and consumers experience, interact with, and analyse the physical environment. Digital twins bring online a mass of analog data that can be searched, modelled, and ultimately used to derive value from physical spaces. There is immense value in accruing this data and applying the insights generated from it to improve both businesses and society at large. This data and the ability to source it, search it and utilise it will open a vast array of future opportunities and evolve infinite applications.
Successful businesses will be those who ensure digital twins are included in their strategic planning both to offer new experiences to consumers as the metaverse grows and to optimise their own productivity and operations. From the evolving worlds of property ownership or virtual gaming experiences through to the AI technology that will underpin it all, digital twins are helping to build the mirror world, a digital version of everything we see around us, autonomously.
The opportunity across industries
Using digital twins, businesses can create dimensionally accurate replicas of physical locations, which can operate as a separate entity – a virtual layer. Initially, demand for digital twin technology boomed in the property sector, particularly during the pandemic, when lockdowns prevented potential buyers from viewing properties in person. Using digital twins of properties, estate agents could generate virtual tours, which enabled buyers to view properties virtually, driving the trend to purchasing properties without even having stepped foot inside. Similarly, commercial real estate firms are using digital twins to help organisations plan and optimise return-to-work initiatives, as more businesses return to the office.
Demand for digital twin technology is now spreading exponentially across multiple industries, driven by the increased need for convenient, engaging and digital-first experiences. The benefits are widely recognised in a range of sectors from engineering, construction, architecture, travel and hospitality, through to insurance and facilities.
For industries such as retail, even before the onset of the pandemic, traditional brick-and-mortar stores were under pressure to stay competitive in a market increasingly dominated by eCommerce. Using digital twin technology, retail businesses can now remodel and reshape hundreds of stores remotely. The technology also enables retailers to provide more immersive experiences. This unifies the experience of in-person and online shopping, improving consumer engagement and conversion. Consumers can use digital twin technology for everything from trying on clothes virtually or checking out a new shop before it opens, through to visualising and confirming whether new furniture would fit before making a purchase for the home, all from the comfort of their couch.
In the construction industry, engineers can virtually visit locations to plan challenging or potentially invasive construction work remotely, accelerating construction schedules through more streamlined project management and decision making. Engineers can also tap into the rich data in digital twins to identify building features and preserve their original character during renovation works. In the travel and arts industries, virtual replicas have been created of museums and historical sites such as Egypt’s heritage sites. These enable visitors to explore them through VR anytime, from anywhere, and at their own pace. Visitors can see sites as if they were there, without bringing physical foot traffic into spaces which could be thousands of years old.
The road to the metaverse
Building the metaverse requires understanding of the foundational technologies that will underpin it. This includes its technological requirements: not only in the compute power to run it but also its structural integrity and realistic representation. Today, a number of technologies already provide these realistic imagery and capabilities. 3D spatial data technology cameras can capture and reconstruct a physical space into an accurate and immersive digital replica, powered by fully automated advanced computer vision technologies and AI. This enables businesses to scale with great precision, capturing all sorts of objects. Best of all, the technology is widely accessible via iPhone, 360 cameras and LIDAR cameras.
Digital twin technology will play a key role in the metaverse. It brings tangible business value to numerous industries, driving ROI across every part of the building lifecycle. Whether during the design or build phases, the marketing of a building, or managing its operation, right through to insuring and restoring assets, digital twin technology enables professionals to make faster and more informed decisions and drive growth opportunities.
The potential of the metaverse could be endless. Propelled by new innovations and the sheer size of spatial data that can be accrued from the physical built environment, businesses can use detailed, accurate and data-rich digital twins to tap into what could be the biggest opportunity of the next decade.