You’ve probably heard the term metaverse a lot lately. It’s the latest buzzword that’s become a runaway train in the gaming and VR worlds. But though it’s been ambiguated by overuse, the term does represent legitimate principles. And some of those apply to local commerce.
Stepping back, the term metaverse broadly refers to digital domains that host synchronous interaction between placeshifted participants. In other words, time is synced for real-time digital interactions between far-flung individuals. You could argue that’s what the internet is, and you’d be right.
The difference with the metaverses is that it’s “embodied” as Mark Zuckerberg says. That’s a fancy way of saying it happens in 3D. So today’s metaverse-like fiefdoms we can point to as examples include MMOs like Fornite, Roblox, and Minecraft. There are also more immersive VR experiences like Altspace.
But though discussions of the metaverse — and the above examples — focus on wholly digital domains like a networked video game, the metaverse will also apply to the real world. In other words, digital twins will overlay the physical world to enable AR devices to evoke relevant and geo-anchored content.
Use cases will include local search, navigation, and discovery. Rather than typing local search terms into Google Search, the idea is to hold up your phone with Google Lens or Snap Scan to see geo-anchored annotations. That could include, education, entertainment, or business details floating above storefronts.
This was the topic of a panel we hosted at Localogy 2021 last month in L.A.. Foursquare showed us how its location database can enable some of these geo-relevant AR experiences, while Epic Games wants its Unreal Engine to be the go-to platform for metaverse creation… starting with its hit game Fortnite.
Now Epic has reinforced its commitment to a real-world metaverse with the launch of Project Anywhere. In partnership with Nvidia, Microsoft, and Cesium, it offers a real-time 3D creation engine. This includes a simulator for producing geospatial mapping and digital twins of real-world locations.
Proof of Concept
Going deeper under the hood, the platform is equipped with Cesium’s signature 3D Tiles and geolocal data from Microsoft Bing and OpenStreetMap. These all work in tandem with Unreal Engine’s Pixel Streaming feature to stream meaningful experiences across devices including mobile devices.
Speaking of devices, Microsoft’s role goes beyond the aforementioned mapping data. Project Anywhere will integrate with Microsoft’s flagship AR headset, the HoloLens 2. This means that the geo-local AR experiences outlined above can take place with line-of-sight (versus upheld smartphone) orientation.
Of course, AR glasses are still years from viability as a mainstream consumer device. The underlying technology isn’t there yet to create graphically meaningful experiences in a regular pair of glasses that consumers will wear in public. But a proof of concept can be seen in this Hololens 2 integration.
Meanwhile, developers can download Project Anywhere for free as a sample from Unreal Engine, which will also include Microsoft Mixed Reality Toolkit for Unreal. This will let them teleport to places of interest and travel across numerous terrains, buildings, and landmarks (see video above).
Of course, Project Anywhere is early and its outcomes hinge on developer activity and adoption as noted. We’ll keep a close eye on it as that unfolds.