THE METAVERSE may be hype today, but with Facebook, er, Meta, and Microsoft making tools for it, it will likely be where work (and play) happens in the future.
What exactly is the metaverse? "A virtual reality-type of environment where people can get together and interact in interesting ways," says Bob O'Donnell, president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research. This virtual world includes “digital twins” of people, places, and things.
Meta, Microsoft, and others are betting the metaverse will enhance remote collaboration. Meta introduced the beta of mixed-reality Horizon Workrooms last year, and Microsoft has Mesh for Teams in preview.
"Data from our 2021 State of Remote Work report showed employees are highly interested in incorporating the metaverse into their work lives, with 56% of workers being interested in using VR at work and another 56% interested in using holograms,” says Frank Weishaupt, CEO of videoconferencing and collaboration provider Owl Labs.
Other notable early virtual collaboration platforms, according to Michael Inouye, principal analyst at ABI Research on metaverse markets and technologies, include Glue; Virbela, which also supports virtual events; Avatour, which offers real-time 360-degree video communications; and ARuVR, which focuses on immersive training, collaboration, and events.
Every type of immersive technology will help on the collaboration front, adds Inouye. "Touchcast is a great example here with their virtual events and their metaverse-as-a-service, or MaaS."
Early adopters will be in "niche areas, like medical and architecture," says O’Donnell. Digital twin technology, mimicking IoT-monitored processes in the metaverse, "will be very important in industrial environments."
Inouye says NVIDIA’s Omniverse, a platform for 3D design collaboration and simulation, has "brought significant attention to the metaverse in simulations, digital twins, and 3D workflows."
Is there an opportunity for system builders? Jon Bach, president of Puget Systems, a custom builder in Auburn, Wash., hasn't seen a metaverse business bump yet. However, he says, "I expect it first with the systems we make for developers. Someone has to build the place!"
O'Donnell agrees that those with graphics experience have a head start, and artificial intelligence will be critical as well. "It will be AI that animates the avatars."
Those channel pros working in AI and specialized environments like industrial automation, architecture and construction, and entertainment will be well positioned to guide their customers. "Focus on the practical things now; the work-changing stuff will be down the road and don't worry about that yet," O’Donnell advises.
Still, if a meeting on Teams or Zoom will be more engaging and productive with avatars and holograms in a few years, expect the metaverse to succeed.