Group Editor Marty Kauchak sat in on the NBT TalX: The Consumer Metaverse Meets Defense.
Let’s meet expectations early-on. On this late day in 2022, there is less than a unanimous and agreed-upon definition of metaverse among industry-defense team members, much less a consensus among randomly selected members of exhibitors at the conference on whether society, much less than the military, has or even will have an operable metaverse construct.
Session moderator Danny Williams, Unreal Engine Simulation Manager, Epic Games, was brutally honest when he said he had no idea how to define metaverse, but added he does know we’re at the foundational stage of establishing a metaverse. Panelist Apurva Shah, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Duality Robotics, offered that, among other perceptions, metaverse is an enterprise of digital twins.
Off-the-record discussions with industry exhibitors during the conference provided interesting insights: several opined the military, with the live, virtual and constructive training environment and the synthetic training environment, has achieved the metaverse. While a few “outliers” dismiss metaverse outright as hype, a solid majority of others believe the military is starting its journey to create a metaverse – and is somewhere on the continuum between hype and “we’re there.” The initial NBT TalX session on metaverse provided invaluable insights and discussion points on opportunities and challenges the military faces in create a defense metaverse – presented through the prism of the commercial sector’s early but quickening efforts in this space.
Gastao de Figuerido, Senior Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at blackshark.ai, set the stage for the session by offering some vital ground rules and attention-getting lessons learned for the metaverse journey. The executive’s perspectives were shared from his company’s achievements as a geospatial metaverse company.
The metaverse journey is being driven by small, relatively new companies that are succeeding through partnerships – don’t look for many large, clunky legacy-era companies to be shepherding this effort. Indeed, two blackshark.ai partners include Maxar and Epic Games.
The community expert provided several interesting use cases of metaverse. While it has delivered and shared some eye-watering AI-enabled, high-fidelity, large-area renderings, for instance of the author’s hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, the company has developed a protype demonstration for naval decision-making. The DM tool is cast in a strategic-level environment with blue and red forces in the Spratly islands.
de Figuerido then added several other observations, some to be repeated and concurred with later by other presenters: there is and will be no single metaverse; no single company will build the metaverse; the end product will be a collection of systems, relying on common standards and other “glue” to provide the environment.
Brian Vogelsang, Senior Director of Product Management at Qualcomm Technology, provided a hardware focus of the content necessary for the metaverse journey. The firm’s activities have heavily resided in the XR domain. Vogelsang noted metaverse will be established and matured through an AR environment, moving beyond PCs and wire-supported hardware. The executive suggested the evolution of sensors and optics in the consumer market will be vital to adoption of enterprise-level metaverse – the major end-state, with its adoption across defense departments and other organizations.
While the executive avoided any buy recommendations for specific HMDs and other content, he did provide an unbiased, objective list of product attributes needing improvement to better support human participation in a metaverse, five of which include: size, comfort, performance, power, and battery life. To that end the panelist called attention to Magic Leap’s efforts to reduce the weight of its products. For instance Magic Leap 2 is 20% lighter and 50% smaller in volume than Magic Leap 1. In another case, Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3 Smart Glasses weigh in at less than 130g (4.6oz).
Vogelsang added the importance for developing and using open XR standards to help advance hardware needed to establish the metaverse.
The panelist debunked some negativity in the community about the viability of metaverse by offering two commercial use cases that are laying the metaverse foundation. Arvizio is building object recognition and other enhancements for training with its AR Instructor product. Holo-Light is developing the Business-Ready Industrial Metaverse across many industries.
Panelist Apurva Shah first offered another definition of metaverse: a visualization of physical spaces along with the assets and interaction with them.
Shah’s metaverse construct relies on digital twins that are predictive and analytic. His observation of the nascent consumer metaverse, while highly scalable, is that it is not predictive and accurate. The Duality Robotics executive explained the importance of data in the metaverse, by first asserting the value of the metaverse is to generate data. In the metaverse enterprise, accurate and predictive data will feed machine learning models’ insatiable appetite for data as well as enabling AI models.
Shah, while a metaverse advocate, is pragmatic. Concurring with Vogelsang about the importance to develop and use standards, he also offered the imperative for corporate and even public sector investments in metaverse development to be more holistic, and offered a long horizon for full maturation. The executive compared the metaverse’s journey to that of developing the internet, wryly noting the US government (DARPA) provided initial investments and other development resources, and emphasized the decades it has taken to be an everyday tool in our lives.
Need a ‘Hacking’ Mentality
As for other challenges and opportunities to develop the metaverse, Vogelsang pointed to the need to miniaturize and provide other improvements in displays and optics. de Figuerido opined the government-industry team also needs to rethink service-company interaction. Calling attention to an Israeli government-sponsored “Hackathon” in which he was involved, decisions were made in days, and in other instances hours. He concluded, “We can’t get this through the traditional acquisition process. We need a more agile and ‘hacking’ mentality.” Vogelsang concurred, adding, “Companies are often insulated from real problems. They need to be more engaged with the customer when possible.”