An interoperable foundation for the metaverse

As various Big Tech players are building their own versions of an extended virtual reality, the need for a common standard is being addressed by open-source platforms and other stakeholders

Published - July 07, 2022 10:48 pm IST

Proponents of the metaverse call it the future of the Internet with 3D at its core.

Proponents of the metaverse call it the future of the Internet with 3D at its core. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

From a futuristic idea in the novel Snow Crash three decades ago, the metaverse has now come of age. Metaverse projects are booming, and large tech firms have thrown plenty of money into a yet-to-be-fully understood digital fantasy land.

The Big Tech rush

Starting with Facebook, now renamed Meta Platforms, companies have invested millions to build online universes where people can meet and talk to each other virtually. Meta has set aside $10 billion to buy and develop hardware and software to provide VR (virtual reality) capabilities within the metaverse.

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai has also expressed his interest in augmented reality (AR). The search giant could soon augment some of its apps for users to experience in a virtual setting. The company’s Maps AR, or Live View feature, shows superimposed details (like arrows) on the app when users are walking or looking for direction. It has also invested nearly $40 million in a private fund toward projects in the metaverse. Compared to Meta’s investment in the metaverse, Google’s is small, but not negligible.

Microsoft, a long-standing player in AR/VR, is also moving fast into the digital land. It comes to the online universe through the gaming channel. The software maker has splashed $70 billion to buy Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard. The video gaming company’s popular titles will help the cash-rich Windows maker corner a big part of the virtual reality space.

Chip makers are also investing in building semiconductors to power the 3D world. Nvidia is putting GPUs in consoles, PCs and laptops. Qualcomm is busy building extended reality to enable device makers to power their gadgets for people to view the metaverse in action. The chip maker is also working alongside Microsoft to advance AR-related interfaces.

The need for interoperability

With hardware and software makers coming together, the race to the metaverse feels like the Gold Rush of 1849. This time around, there won’t be any physical gold to mine. And this digital land is unlike the wild wild west of the 19th century. The treasure here is the digital footprint users will leave behind as they play games and socialise. For example, picture a school science exhibition where different groups of students are showcasing their projects. Each one of them highlights a particular concept in science. That is exactly how the metaverse looks now. Each company is building software or hardware for the metaverse on its own.

But to make all of it work in sync, interoperability between various software and hardware is key. There has to be a set of commonly agreed upon protocols to make the metaverse work, just like how Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) enabled the Internet to go live four decades ago. Such protocols help us in connecting to a WiFi network from home and office without changing our devices.

They are a result of open standards. Industry leaders and experts have pointed out that the potential of the metaverse will be best realised only if it is built on open standards.

Proponents of the metaverse call it the future of the Internet with 3D at its core. And to fully simulate the digital world, 3D interoperability has to be met.

Joining hands

This is why open-source platforms like Web3D Consortium, World Wide Web Consortium, XR Association (XRA), Cesium and several other industry players have come together as the Metaverse Standards Forum to build interoperability into the amorphous metaverse.

Open to any organisation at no cost, the Metaverse Standards Forum “will focus on pragmatic, action-based projects such as implementation prototyping, hackathons, plugfests, and open-source tooling to accelerate the testing and adoption of metaverse standards”. It will also develop consistent language and deployment guidelines to expand the online universe. The Forum has also confirmed that it will not create standards by itself but coordinate requirements and resources to foster the creation and evolution of standards within organisations working in relevant domains.

This group will gather data and share insights with organisations to ensure standardised APIs (application programming interface) in order to provide access to input and output capabilities commonly associated with XR (extended reality) hardware and sensors.

It will also enable mobile handheld devices and standalone headsets to interact with each other. This coming together of various open-source platforms is an important step to build an interoperable foundation for an idea that finally came of age.

Their joint experiences and learnings can help maintain safety and fair use of technology in the digital space.

THE GIST
Metaverse projects are booming, and large tech firms have thrown plenty of money into a yet-to-be-fully understood digital fantasy land.
With hardware and software makers coming together, the race to the metaverse feels like the Gold Rush of 1849. But to make all of it work in sync, interoperability between various software and hardware is key. There has to be a set of commonly agreed upon protocols to make the metaverse work.
Open-source platforms like Web3D Consortium, World Wide Web Consortium, XR Association (XRA), Cesium and several other industry players have come together as the Metaverse Standards Forum to build interoperability into the metaverse.
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