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Sunday, December 5, 2021
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2021 VR/AR Association Global Summit: Metaverse, Convergence, and Adoption

What is the metaverse? Does it require blockchain? What’s the future of XR?

 

The VR/AR Association held their annual Global Summit for North America from June 2 through 4. For the second year in a row, the conference was held online but that didn’t stop it from delivering the kind of insights and announcements that we’ve come to expect from the annual event. Highlights included new platforms, metaverse definitions, tech convergence, and more.

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“We will have an audience of thousands of people in attendance,” VR/AR Association Global Director, Kris Kolo, said during opening remarks. “We are thrilled to have you here with our hundreds of speakers and presenters.”

What the Smartest People in the Room Are Talking About

As our customary warning, even devoting three days to the conference we weren’t able to catch everything. Here are some of the big trends that we were able to glean from the hours of talks that we were able to take in during the event.

XR Adoption During COVID-19

The world (and the XR metaverse) is in a strange place as we look forward to the lifting of coronavirus restrictions while remaining in what is hopefully the end of the quarantine period that, as unwelcome as it was, offered huge benefits to the XR industry.

“Virtual became the new normal. That bodes well for the technology space in general,” 8th Wall Vice President of Product, Tom Emrich, said in a “Burning Questions” panel discussion on the first day of the summit.

This period in our shared history didn’t just increase the use of XR, it changed how people use and perceive XR technology and its use cases.

“VR is social. It’s not just about gaming anymore,” Cube XR LLC partner Larry Rosenthal said in the panel. “What COVID has done is it has made XR more like the telephone than the television.”

While speakers at different panels and presentations didn’t have a universal stance on what the future will look like, they did agree on one thing, as summed up by industry expert Deborah Worrell in an “Everything VR/AR” podcast recorded live at the summit: “We’re not going back to the way it was. There is no new normal.”

Why Isn’t the Future Here Yet?

Despite Rosenthal’s analogy, XR is still not as ubiquitous as the television, and there was no shortage of discussion about why not.

“The lens of meme theory tells us a very damning story of why AR failed to take up,” Auki Labs CEO, Nils Pihl, said in a talk on the impact of persistent AR. “When AR is hard to share, its [appeal] is limited.”

On the enterprise side, XR has been difficult to adopt and scale in part because of legacy management methods.

“There is a fundamental difference between managing smartphones and tablets and managing AR/VR devices,” ArborXR COO and co-founder, Jordan Williams, said in a talk on “Why Oculus for Business and Other Solutions Aren’t Working for XR Deployments.” “AR/VR devices are regularly shared between multiple users, and smartphones and tablets are usually not shared.”

One of the recurring themes at XR conferences that resurfaced at this event is that XR advocates tend to be most vocal during XR conferences.

“A lot of our conversations over the last ten years have been quite insular,” UgoVirtual CEO, Michael Cohen, said in a talk on hybrid events. “They’ve been about how we launch these amazing technologies,” rather than on the value of the experiences delivered.

The Metaverse and “Post-Reality”

Cohen wasn’t the only one who pointed out the shortfalls of XR’s branding. There was also a lot of contention over our understanding of one concept that was discussed almost continuously: The Metaverse.

“The term “metaverse” and what it implies are still unknown to the public,” Outpost Capital Founding Partner, Ryan Wang, said in his talk “One more step into Metaverse: XR meets Blockchain.” “One of the key reasons is that it’s difficult to understand the term and what it means.”

Wang suggested that the term should apply to any platform that promotes a “digital lifestyle” including companies like Peloton. One benefit of this is that it answers the question of whether there will ever be a single dominant metaverse. Instead, there will be a constellation of purpose-built metaverse platforms and providers creating a “multiverse.”

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Others argued for an even more user-friendly definition, though one that potentially reduces discussion on the matter.

“We already have a metaverse. It’s called the internet,” MetaVRse co-founder Alan Smithson said in the “Burning Questions” Panel. “What we’re doing now is creating more visual ways of interacting with it.”

No matter how you define the metaverse or the role that you think it plays, Google AR Partnership’s Global Head of Creative, Matthieu Lorrain, said that it was contributing to a period of “post-reality.”

“The radical transformation of our perceived reality will be the most significant cultural change in our lifetime,” Lorrain said in his talk “Welcome to Post-Reality.”

The “Convergence” of Emerging Technologies

The VR/AR Global Summit’s more robust conversations on the metaverse also tended to involve “the convergence” of XR with other emerging technologies, usually blockchain.

“With blockchain, you can claim the ownership of not just digital items, but digital land,” said Wang, who also commented on the ability of blockchain and edge computing to allow decentralized management of vast amounts of spatial data. “With the popularity of the creator economy, there are more and more players being incentivized to become creators.”

The idea of creators creating the metaverse themselves through blockchain-enabled peer-to-peer transactions inspired many speakers, though some admitted that we haven’t pinned this down yet.

“It’s kind of the Wild West right now, but what we’ll see is the development of a new parallel economy,” industry expert Amy Peck said during the “Burning Questions” panel. “It’s really a peer-to-peer economy and we’re seeing it already with digital goods and NFTs.”

In the same panel, futurist Anne Ahola Ward commented on NFTs potentially being a way for people to establish and secure entire virtual identities.

Announcements and Introductions

One of the big draws to the Global Summit are the industry announcements and introductions, of which there were plenty this year.

Involve XR from Lumeto

Raja Khanna introduced Involve XR from Lumeto, a multi-user synchronous immersive learning platform for medical training and crisis response training. The virtual studio is populated by interactive virtual equipment and a responsive AI-powered patient.

“Our goal as a company is to get out of the way of the trainers. We don’t want to hardcode the session into the experience,” Khanna, the company’s CEO, said in a talk introducing the platform. “It’s a big, ambitious goal. We’re not there yet but we’re getting there very, very quickly.”

The platform is piloting with the American College of Chest Physicians, as well as select universities in the United States and Canada, with plans to deploy more widely later this year.

HoloMedX

HoloMedX is another medical training platform, but it takes a different approach. The platform uses ray casting to construct a patient-specific 3D model from 2D scans used with spatial models of surgical implants. The model is then displayed on a Looking Glass holographic display manipulated with an air controller designed after medical equipment.

This results in a hyper-realistic XR display without the use of a headset. The company’s goal is to use the technology, which is rolling out in the coming weeks, to train practitioners as well as to give patients a better pre-op understanding of a surgical procedure.

Announcements from Altered Ventures

The last two big announcements came from venture capital fund Altered Ventures. These were the launch of a VR art gallery for NFTs and partnership and investment in Victoria VR, a blockchain-based VR MMO/RPG. Within Victoria, all assets are purchasable and saleable for users.

“We see the future of Victoria VR as a universal platform for VR experiences,” said Victoria VR co-founder and COO Adam Bém. “To create not just a game, but a virtual world where people are able to live and work.”

See Around in the Metaverse

The VR/AR Association Global Summit is behind us once again. However, that doesn’t mean that the conversations need to stop. The VR/AR Association has regional meetups and events throughout the year, not to mention their more focused industry-specific forums throughout the year. Maybe by next year, we’ll agree on what the metaverse really is.

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.