The metaverse is not a new concept. But last year’s big move by Mark Zuckerberg to rebrand Facebook as Meta, the global domination of Epic Games’ Fortnite gaming world, and the growing interest in everything virtual following the pandemic has propelled it into the mainstream. Now, the metaverse is headline news wherever you look.
But in truth, for many, the details of the metaverse are hazy at best. What actually is it? How will we use it? For what? And most importantly of all, what will its impact on the world be? Here we’ll answer these questions and explain how Digital Twins will help shape the metaverse and how Nomoko is already using them to build a metaverse for the real estate industry
The word metaverse emerged from the pages of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci fi novel Snow Crash that envisions lifelike avatars who meet in realistic VR environments. A portmanteau, It combines the prefix meta meaning ‘beyond’ and the stem verse taken from ‘universe’.
At its most generic, the metaverse is (or, rather, is becoming) a collectively shared virtual 3D universe that anyone can socialize, play, work and live in. Enabled by a convergence of technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and holographic avatars, it connects persistent, immersive, interactive and collaborative 3D spaces into a single online world we can navigate around as we would in the real world. Think of it as the internet 3.0.
But there are actually two versions of the metaverse taking shape. The visual metaverse is the purely fantasy ‘online world’ described by Zuckerberg and already being enjoyed by gamers the world over. More interesting however is the augmented metaverse, a coherent and seamless machine-readable, digitized replica of the real world supercharged with data, services and solutions that will improve every part of our lives. A global Digital Twin that is only now beginning to take shape and have an impact.
Nilson Kufus describes the metaverse Nomoko has built for the real estate industry as “like Google Earth but with a lot more information and options. A platform that brings together data that represents the physical world on the one hand and a marketplace of digital products that can access this data on the other.”
Although Zuckerberg estimated it would take five to 10 years for the metaverse to become mainstream, gaming worlds like Fornite, Minecraft and Roblox already persist online and offer a tiny inkling of what is to come.
Elsewhere, platforms like Nowhere and the Sensorium Galaxy are creating temporary and persistent private and public virtual event spaces all accessible via your browser. “Online haven” Nowhere has held concerts, festivals, conferences and more, working with real world production companies to create events and renowned VFX artists to build worlds. Sensorium Galaxy this year launched Prism, its virtual music world where DJ megastars like David Guetta and Steve Aioki perform against mind-bending futuristic landscapes. And of course Second Life has been offering a virtual existence for millions for nearly two decades now.
“Ultimately we’re talking about creating another reality, another world, that’s as rich as the real world.”
But the potential of the metaverse extends infinitely beyond gaming and socializing. It will become an environment that’s not tied to any one technology, app, company or place – be that in the digital or real world. It will not just be a world of fantasy but a mirror to the real world that we can move in and out of and interact between seamlessly.
“Just as virtual places will be persistent, so will the objects and identities of those moving through them, allowing digital goods and identities to move from one virtual world to another, and even into our world, with augmented reality,” explains Rev Lebaredian, vice president of simulation technology at NVIDIA. “Ultimately we’re talking about creating another reality, another world, that’s as rich as the real world.” This is the augmented metaverse.
With the right technology in place, this creates extraordinary possibilities. Digital Twins are the perfect case in point, as they have the ability not only to merge with the metaverse but also to inform its very characteristics. Or as David-Weir MacCall of Epic Games puts it, “Digital Twins are the foundations the metaverse will be built on.”
A Digital Twin goes one step beyond a detailed digital copy of a physical object. It incorporates semantically segmented metadata and enables real-time data feeds from live sensors to be integrated into those digital copies – cars, buildings, cities – creating a live virtual replica in the metaverse that functions in perfect unison with its real world counterpart.
Crucially, using systems and technologies like machine-learning and artificial intelligence, Digital Twins also help make sense of that mass of data by structuring and presenting it in a way that makes it understandable and actionable.
“Digital Twins are the foundations the metaverse will be built on.”
This digital representation of a physical object overlaid with data allows for extraordinarily complex simulation testing. In the context of real estate, this opens up endless scenarios to improve every element of a building’s lifecycle. Let's take a new construction project as an example. In the past, investors and planners would use a physical model and 2D plans as basic templates with limited functionality at best. But with a 3D Digital Twin you can extract huge amounts of different information – what the views from inside will be like; how high local noise emissions; how heavy traffic is; what areas will be in the shade and when; how the building will look in its environment, ad infinitum.
Then there are the process benefits – automation and machine-learning mean projects can be completed at mass scale quickly and inexpensively. For example, tackling the urgent need to make real estate more sustainable. In the coming years, 35 million buildings will have to be renovated in the EU alone to meet the new climate targets. So what's the best, most economical way to renovate each building? With the right Digital Twin data, software products can comprehensively and automatically analyze which are the right measures to take for each individual building, and then put those measures into action.
Nomoko is building the Digital Twin platform for real estate professionals and delivering the services for aerial 3D models that are making a difference in the real world, as well as contributing to the potential future of the metaverse.
For us, this is a crucial distinction. The metaverse will undoubtedly be a place where extreme creativity can run free, where new interpretations of products and services will be built for a new kind of consumer. But these will be unique to the metaverse, which in and of itself creates a distinction from the real world.
Digital Twins have the power to drive not only the metaverse but also to enhance the real world and everyone in it. Using the outcomes of the models and simulations we run in the metaverse we will be able to apply what we learn back to the Digital Twin and synchronize those changes into the real world. The benefits and potential are limitless and for Nomoko, this is where the true opportunities of the metaverse lie.
We are also convinced that transparent cooperation between different sectors will become even more important in the future. The metaverse will grow and thrive through collaboration, through the coming together of different sectors and the multiple industries that operate within them to contextualize their services and democratize their accessibility.
Read Nilson Kufus’ full interview with Swiss newspaper Neuer Zürcher Zeitung here (in German).