Metaverse: the Lego bricks

co-written with Michael Papadopoulos

Some of the technologies underlying the Metaverse, as we defined them in our previous article, are not particularly new. However, since the announcements made by Facebook (now Meta) in September 2021, one can have an ambivalent sense: either the Metaverse is something completely new, or the Metaverse is simply the repackaging of a series of technologies under development. decades.

What is it exactly? What stones does the Metaverse consist of? What are the technologies in each of these stones? How mature is each of these stones? When are they adults? When can we hope (or fear) the arrival of the Metaverse?

To answer these questions, this article presents the: frame which we developed at Arthur D. Little. This one frame aims to represent the architecture of the Metaverse in six layers. Six layers covering the “value chain” of the Metaverse. Six layers with the highest level corresponding to new experiences and business models and the lower level of which corresponds to the required hardware and software infrastructure.

Figure 1 – the six architectural layers of the Metaverse, according to Arthur D. Little

Layer #1: Experience Continuum – Use and Business

Layer #1, which we mentioned Experience continuumis the layer that contains all new applications and new business models, existing and future. These new applications and business model blurring the boundaries between reality and virtuality, as we defined them in our previous article (think in particular of augmented reality and creative economy† Like today’s internet, use cases can be divided into three categories: individuals (socializing, having fun, playing, etc.), companies (exchanges, collaborating, etc.), and industry (modeling a production chain or distribution network). ).

Layer #2: Human-machine interfaces – the gateway

Layer #2, which we mentioned Human-machine interfaces (human-machine interfaces, or HMIs), as the name suggests, is the layer that allows humans to perceive and interact with layer #3. HMIs are the gateway to the Metaverse. HMIs contain a mix of hardware and software that allows users to send messages entrances to the machine and to the machine to send exits users, forming a coherent interaction loop. Some of the underlying technologies, such as the keyboard and mouse on the entrances or the screens on the side of the exits, are very mature. Other technologies, such as brain-machine interfaces, on the other hand, are much less mature. Between the two is a whole range of more or less mature HMIs such as virtual and/or augmented reality headsets, holography, haptic interfaces. The further these technologies advance, the more the immersion and interaction with the Metaverse will involve our five senses.

Layer #3: Extended Reality – the visible side

Layer #3, which we mentioned Extended Reality (Extended Reality, or XR), corresponds to the immersive representation that augments or replaces reality. It is a spectrum that ranges from 100% real to 100% virtual. Extended reality combines the real world and objects with one or more layers of computer-generated virtual data, information or presentations. Thus, augmented reality is, in a sense, the visible face of the Metaverse. Extended Reality includes Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), as well as a range of capabilities in between. The technologies that make up it are also in varying degrees of maturity. Virtual reality is now much more mature than augmented reality. The more these technologies will evolve, the more they will converge and the more the Metaverse will be synonymous with continuity between the real and the virtual.

Layer #4: World Motor – the motor

Layer #4, which we mentioned world enginecorresponds to any software that allows the development of virtual worlds, virtual objects and their process (digital twin) and virtual people (avatar of digital people† the world engine in particular, included four essential building blocks. i) The graphics engine, which is responsible for creating and displaying the visual layer of the virtual world. ii) The logic engine, which is responsible, for example, for the interactions between different virtual entities. iii) The physics engine, which makes it possible for example to make realistic multi-physics modeling and simulations (eg related to fluid dynamics or gravity). iv) The presence engine, allowing users to feel everywhere as if they were physically there (for example, the first presence technologies exist in 4Dx cinemas that integrates images on the screen with seats with synchronized movement and real effects such as water, wind, fog, perfume or snow). Again, the underlying technologies have quite varying levels of maturity.

Layer #5: Infrastructure – Pipes

Layer #5, which we mentioned Infrastructure, as the name suggests, corresponds to the physical infrastructure (network, compute and storage) that ensures real-time data collection and processing, communication, display and response. The infrastructure is the piping that allows to guarantee the three essential properties of the Metaverse: immersion (allowing users to be more and more “in” the internet), interaction (allowing users to interact in real time, as if they were in the same room). ) and persistence (which keeps the Metaverse even when the user is not logged in). The infrastructure is probably the least sexy and which hardly anyone talks about, and yet the most critical: the infrastructure needed for the Metaverse doesn’t exist yet.

Layer #6: Key Enablers – oil in the wheels

Layer #6, which we mentioned Critical Factors, brings together a series of technologies, mainly software, that are essential for the proper functioning of the other layers. This sixth and final coat is a little oil in the wheels. In particular, it brings together the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and NFTs, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI). The latter is necessary, for example, for the automatic generation of digital twins (Digital Twins) or for the creation of realistic avatars with realistic attitudes.

the frame architecture presented above is of course a simplified view of reality – if indeed we can talk about reality when we talk about metaverse. This is quite debatable. And we encourage you to tell us what you think, even to challenge this frame† However, this simplified view helps analyze the complexity underlying the Metaverse. In particular, in future articles, we’ll dive deep into each of its layers to understand the ins and outs, as well as the maturity of each of the technological bricks that make up it. This approach allows us to answer the question: Should I be interested in the Metaverse as part of my business? What are the current and future opportunities?

(Layers of the Metaverse – illustrated by Samuel Babinet)

†< Lees ook: Google Foto's: een radicale verandering voor miljoenen smartphones>†

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