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In 1969, the first moonwalk wowed the world and hinted at all the possibilities of broader space exploration. But today — 53 years later — our imaginations are less enthralled by the thought of exploring Mars, and more captivated by the development of a different frontier: the metaverse.
The concept of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) has been around for a while, especially in the gaming world, and the creation of the metaverse has brought a whole new dimension to the technology. As more and more people immerse themselves in this secondary reality and buy homes, attend events and maintain relationships on a virtual plane, the current technology will need to evolve to support the demand.
That’s where embodied reality fits in. Virtual and augmented reality enabled the metaverse to come into existence, but the true test of this technology is how fully someone can “live” inside the virtual experience. Embodied reality, which engages the senses to form a more complete experience of your surroundings and activities, will fundamentally change the way we perceive reality, and it’s this final frontier that will change our world forever.
The current state of the metaverse is, undoubtedly, impressive. In 2020, the metaverse market was worth a whopping $46 billion, and it’s projected to reach $800 billion by 2024. Additionally, investment in developing this space is coming from major tech players such as Microsoft, Epic, and Meta (formerly Facebook), with the latter already devoting $10 billion towards their Reality Labs segment.
The truth is, however, that the existing technology has only barely begun to scratch the surface of what is possible. It has a long way to go before the experience can blur the line between the real world and the virtual one. As it currently stands, the bulk of developers’ time and energy has been directed toward creating visuals that jump off the screen and are so lifelike that the concept of “real” begins to lose its meaning.
But this is only the beginning. In a virtual stadium, you’re still just watching the game, but as a participant, you can feel the bat crack. At Coachella, you can feel the beat of the festival all around you in a way that transcends simply seeing and hearing it. The experience can and should be visceral, not just that of a spectator. If the goal is to make it, so people struggle to tell the difference between the virtual and real worlds — and that is, in fact, the ultimate goal — visual effects don’t create the sense of immersion that is necessary.
To accomplish that, we need a new format, so people can feel the experiences they see and inhabit them fully, instead of watching them play out on a screen. The most memorable experiences in a person’s life are filled with color, yes, but more than that, they are linked to the sounds, smells, textures and feelings of these moments. Capturing that level of authenticity and reality is impossible through current methods of virtual and augmented reality, but through embodied reality, we can take the metaverse light-years forward and break through the boundaries of what is real and what is fabricated.
Just as people were awed — and instantly hooked — by the experience of the first moving picture, embodied reality is a new way of communicating an idea or sensation that helps people ‘teleport’ to another place. Every day, we are getting closer to capturing a full experience or environment — visually we’re extremely close — but feeling and hearing things as if we are really there, are the keys to meeting this new expectation of reality. Until all five senses are represented, the experience won’t meet this expectation, and embodied reality is the key to bringing the virtual world to life.
The metaverse is coming, and soon it will likely play a key role in our personal and professional lives. But if building a lived experience for all users is the endgame, relying on legacy technology isn’t the answer. Whether the dream is to live a whole new life in the metaverse — complete with a house, friends and virtual possessions — or to take that infamous walk on the moon, embodied reality is the final frontier and the only way to make those dreams a (virtual) reality.
Valtteri Salomaki is the cofounder & CEO of Edge Sound Research Inc.
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