BRINGING VIRTUAL REALITY TO LIFE: THE METAVERSE PROJECT

Posted 07 January, 2022

Owo employee plays in virtual reality, with the haptic jacket that allows her to physically experience different sensations, during CES in La Vegas on January 5, 2022

An Owo employee plays in virtual reality, with the haptic jacket that allows her to physically experience different sensations, during the CES in La Vegas on January 5, 2022 (Patrick T. FALLON / AFP)

 

"What is the metaverse without the sensations? It's just avatars", launches José Fuertes, whose haptic jacket, lined with sensors, allows you to feel the hugs as well as the punches in virtual reality.

At the Las Vegas Technology Show (CES), many start-ups this week unveiled their innovations intended to build the "metaverse", a parallel universe where human, augmented and virtual realities must merge.

The bodycon jacket has bands that stick to the skin, with sensors linked to a mobile app. Before donning a virtual reality (VR) headset, the user can choose the intensity of each sensation, from insect bites to blood flowing from a gunshot wound.

"We want to give shape to the metaverse, with a second skin, which adds the sense of touch in virtual worlds", explains Mr. Fuertes, the boss of the Spanish company Owo.

The garment, which will be marketed for less than 400 euros at the end of the year, evokes the novel "Ready Player One", where humanity lives, plays and studies in a parallel virtual society thanks to haptic devices.

This science-fiction horizon seems distant, when bandwidth is still often too low in many parts of the world, including California, if only for video calls.

But Facebook recently renamed Meta, gave an unprecedented impetus to the vast metaverse project when its boss Mark Zuckerberg decreed last year that it was the future of the internet and announced colossal investments.

 

Inevitable?

 

Many bricks are needed to make it emerge on a large scale, beyond existing pockets in video games, like Roblox or Fortnite.

Glasses will have to become comfortable and affordable, and immersive use cases will have to multiply.

There is also the question of interoperability, in order to be able to move from one virtual world to another, which is not yet possible.

"I am a big fan of augmented reality and VR (virtual reality), but the equipment is not up to date. I don't believe that anything exciting will happen for 5 to 10 years," notes Paddy Cosgrave, patron of the Web Summit, a European technology fair.

"Nothing can stop" the metaverse, assures his side Edo Segal, the founder of TouchCast, a specialist in events and VR.

On Wednesday, he launched a collaborative VR platform for companies, which will be able to create their ".metaverse" address there, like ".com" on the web. But their domains will be registered on the blockchain, not on servers.

"In 1999, it was hard to believe that we were going to buy things online," enthuses Mr. Segal. "Today we are witnessing the migration from web 2.0 to web 3.0, the decentralized internet".

The pandemic has already popularized VR a bit. In the fourth quarter of 2020, 1 million copies of the Quest 2 headset from Oculus (Meta) were sold worldwide, according to Statista.

 

Cyborg

 

Since the health restrictions, Takuma Iwasa spends his weekends on VRChat, a platform where avatars can create 3D worlds and spend time chatting and hosting parties.

At the end of 2020, the young Japanese entrepreneur decided to design suitable equipment: sensors to attach to the torso and legs to make the avatar's movements more faithful, a box that gives the sensation of temperature, and a microphone that isolates from the real world.

Above all, its start-up Shiftall (Panasonic) is releasing VR glasses that are lighter, more sophisticated - and more expensive - than current models in the spring.

"In Ready Player One, they have suits with all the integrated systems. But for now, you have to wear them separately, like a cyborg," he laughs, showing dance movements that his avatar, a female manga character, reproduced on screen.

The Israeli start-up Wearable Devices is working on a bracelet that detects the electrical signals sent by the brain to the hand: the user can control connected objects with a snap of the fingers.

 

At CES in Las Vegas, Takuma Iwasa wears both Megane X VR glasses and the Mutalk microphone which is used to speak in virtual reality without being heard in the real world

At CES in Las Vegas, Takuma Iwasa wears both Megane X VR glasses and the Mutalk microphone which is used to speak in virtual reality without being heard in the real world (Patrick T. FALLON / AFP)

 

A function that could in particular make it possible, in the future, to control the display on augmented reality glasses, without taking out our smartphones.

"We are going to test a lot of completely crazy things, a bit like the first planes and cars", reacts Marc Carrel-Billiard, head of innovation at Accenture.

But as the metaverse gains ground, we will also find the pitfalls of society, from harassment to disinformation, he admits.

"It will be necessary to educate the users to the risks, for example, that one projects you a + false reality + on your glasses".

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