While the word metaverse is used loosely to describe a unified virtual world, this is not entirely correct. Currently, there are a great number of platforms that are nothing more than just little islands unto themselves with no connectivity to other virtual spaces, the people, objects and other platforms.
Players at the centre of creating the metaverse and fans of metaverse reckon the metaverse should have some measure of interoperability that allows users to seamlessly navigate from one virtual space to the next pretty much like people do on the web today thanks to the HTTP protocol.
Now, it looks like the Universal Scene Description (USD) protocol might become the foundation of interoperable content and experiences in the metaverse the same way HTML is to the internet today.
Invented by a movie studio
The USD protocol, which was originally invented by Pixar, is a perfect fit for the needs of the metaverse. Nvidia, a power player in the metaverse space, seems to agree.
In fact, Nvidia is rooting for the USD as the “HTML of the metaverse.”
The HTML forms a description of a webpage that can be hosted on the internet, and is retrieved and rendered locally by a web browser.
“The most fundamental standard needed to create the metaverse is the description of a virtual world. At Nvidia, we believe the first version of that standard already exists. It is the Universal Scene Description (USD)—an open and extensible ecosystem for describing, composing, simulating, and collaborating within 3D worlds,” writes Nvidia’s Rev Lebaredian and Michael Kass.
It is envisaged that with some sort of a ‘USD browser’, the protocol could become the common method to define virtual spaces and make it easy for anyone to decipher and render.
USD includes features necessary for scaling to large data sets like lazy loading and efficient retrieval of time-sampled data. It is extensible, allowing users to customize data schemas, input and output formats, and methods for finding assets.
“In short, USD covers the very broad range of requirements that Pixar found necessary to make its feature films,” Rev says.
Pixar created the USD protocol in order to make collaboration on presumably complex 3D animation projects much easier, and open-sourced it in 2015.
In other words, the USD is not just another file format for 3D geometry.
It describes a complex scene with various objects, textures, and lighting and can also include references to assets “hosted elsewhere, property inheritance, and layering functionality” which allows non-destructive editing of a single scene with efficient asset re-use.
But in order for the USD to become the protocol powering the metaverse, it will need to evolve so that it can meet the needs of the metaverse.
They are many others who share the conviction that the USD has a major role to play in the coming metaverse.
The notion has led to the formation of the Metaverse Standards Forum, a forum Nvidia and thousands of other companies are members of. This suggests strongly that the USD will be a foundation for interoperable virtual spaces and experiences.
Nvidia is developing a glTF interoperability that will allow glTF assets to be referenced directly by USD scenes. This, essentially means that users currently using glTF will be able take advantage of the composition and collaboration features of USD without altering their existing assets.
Its not just Nvidia backing the adoption of USD as the main metaverse protocol.
Khronos Group, the group backing the OpenXR standard, is also pushing to assemble other XR industry players to embrace interoperability standards for its “open and inclusive metaverse.”
Metaverse Standards Forum was founded by platform holders, hardware companies, engine creators, and users, with participants including companies such as Adobe, Autodesk, Epic Games, Unity, Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia, Otoy, Qualcomm, and Sony.
The founder’s forum will focus on “practical, actionable interoperability projects that can ‘move the needle’ on aspects of the metaverse that are needed by broad consensus.”
“We are ‘backing the open standard bricks’ for the metaverse, not ‘building the cathedral’,” the Khronos Group says.
The organisers of the metaverse forum say the group will “coordinate requirements and support for existing SDOs developing standards relevant to the metaverse,” with the Khronos Group acting as host.
The Khronos Group has made a name for itself for backing and organizing open standards such as the OpenXR, an open standard developed to make XR applications run across many different XR headsets without developers needing to build different versions of their applications for each headset.
Meta Reportedly Defeats FTC to Receive Court Approval to Acquire Within
Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, has reportedly won court approval for the acquisition of VR fitness app Supernatural’s maker, Within, after the Federal Trade Commission attempted to block the deal.
A US district judge, Edward Davila in San Jose California, “denied the FTC’s request for a preliminary injunction to block the proposed transaction” in a sealed decision on Wednesday, reported Bloomberg, citing a source familiar with the ruling.
Meta’s plan was to acquire Within and Supernatural back in October 2021, but it was blocked by the FTC’s complaint file to stop the deal. The FTC’s complaint was justified by saying Meta already owns a “virtual reality empire.”
Following the news, shares of Meta were slightly positive on Wednesday afternoon.
Facebook and The FTC also declined to comment with Bloomberg’s query citing the sealed nature of Davila’s decisions.
Push for Metaverse
The reported victory in this case may boost Mark Zuckerberg’s push towards the Metaverse. Zuckerberg’s Meta Quest 2 is arguably the best VR headset, even after a massive hike in its price last year.
Meta Quest Pro for $1500 and Meta Quest 3 are also in the company’s VR line-up, which has already developed VR spaces for work and play.
The Supernatural, developed by Within, was one of the first subscription-based services on the original Meta Quest.
Supernatural, a fitness app that features video instructors and motion-tracked workout routines, carries similarities to Meta’s successful fitness VR music game Beat Saber. Beat Saber was also acquired by Meta in 2019.
A trial before the FTC’s administrative judge will start on Feb. 13. The FTC will also decide if it will continue with the case. Lina Khan, the chair of the FTC, was appointed by US President Joe Biden to bolster antitrust enforcement as a key principle of his administration’s economic policy. Hence, if this order stands, this loss to Meta will be a significant setback for Khan.
The FTC sued Meta back in July, arguing this acquisition would expand its dominance in the consumer VR market, highlighting its purchase of Beat Saber three years ago. The agency even emphasized that the addition of Within would even eliminate a “beneficial rivalry” between the two companies.
At the time, “the case was) based on ideology and speculation, not evidence, the idea that this acquisition would lead to anticompetitive outcomes in a dynamic space with as much entry and growth as online and connected fitness is simply not credible,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.
It’s still to be decided whether this will be the end of this story or not, as the FTC has declined to comment.
“Out of respect for the court’s orders, the FTC is not in a position to comment at this time,” FTC director of public affairs Douglas Farrar told The Verge.
Within would be the third start-up acquired by social media giants over the last decade if this case ends here and Meta purchases one more VR start-up. Previously, Meta acquired Oculus in 2014 before purchasing Beat Saber in 2019.
How AI Can Accelerate Metaverse Development
Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to accelerate the creation and development of the metaverse, with multiple companies including Nvidia, Google, and OpenAI creating AI-powered 3D tools.
The public is already familiar with chatbots and AI-image generators, both of which can be leveraged to speed up development cycles for the metaverse. Text-to-3D generators, among other type of 3D generators, accelerate that process still further, and empower enthusiasts to channel their creative urges in new arenas.
The filling the metaverse problem
In the earliest days of the internet most users passively consumed the world wide web as they surfed from site to site. The emergence of social media empowered users to share their own content, and the internet experienced a cambrian explosion of information.
Filling the metaverse means learning the lessons of the early internet all over again argues Rev Lebaredian, VP for omniverse and simulation technology at Nvidia. This time, however, ordinary people will need greater levels of assistance to create the content.
“We’re able to fill the internet with interesting stuff because everybody is capable of taking a picture, recording a video, or writing words,” said Lebaredian on January 27. “If we are going to create a 3D internet, then you absolutely have to have the people who are participating in it creating content as well, and the only hope we have of making that happen is if AI can help us.”
Nvidia holds the belief that AI and the metaverse are intrinsically linked, and that both rely heavily upon each other.
“Just as AI is crucial to the expansion of the metaverse, so too is the metaverse to the expansion of AI,” explains Gavriel State, director of the system software team at NVIDIA.
“Digital twins in the metaverse are providing physically accurate virtual environments that allow developers to simulate and test AI,” says State before concluding, “Generative AI is key to scaling these digital twins and virtual environments that will usher in a new era of AI and the metaverse.”
The here and now
Sean Ellul, co-founder of the 3D development studio Metaverse Architects, is a big believer in transformative potential of AI-generated content.
In a recent interview with TIME Ellul revealed how his own firm has incorporated ChatGPT into a multitude of everyday tasks including brainstorming creative ideas, writing code and composing texts for decks and emails.
“I can’t stress how helpful this has been to us,” says Ellul who has gone all-in on AI, using it as regularly as most internet users use Google.
Ellul also takes the process one step further by prompting MidJourney to create floor plans for buildings which he can then use a template for 3D models. It’s a process which would undoubtedly be a little too complex for the average person, but it’s a powerful time-saving technique for Ellul and his team.
Case in point, the following floor plan was created from the Ellul prompt: “create a floor plan sketch with measurements and dimensions of a house plan built on one floor including two bedrooms three bathrooms kitchen and living and a garden. Include furnishing.”
Ellul also uses MidJourney to help him create virtual non-player characters (NPCs). In one example Ellul used 9 different female faces to create a composite image with MidJourney. The resulting image produced a fresh-faced nordic female with blonde hair.
Ellul then returns to ChatGPT to find out who this young woman is. Ellul prompts ChatGPT to “generate a backstory for a 24-year-old woman from a tiny village in a fantasy setting who works at an inn.”
ChatGPT suggests that the woman is named Elspeth, and that she, “worked as a farmhand, a blacksmith’s apprentice, and even as a barmaid in a bustling city town. But no matter where she went, she always felt like something was missing.”
Tools to make it happen
The challenge for AI is to transform a character such as Elspeth from a 2D image and chatbot-inspired biography into a fully realized character in three dimensions
The field is not short of competitors who are creating tools to make that dream reality.
In November Nvidia announced Magic3D, a high-resolution text-to-3D image generator. According to Nvidia the tool is capable of transforming a text prompt into a fully-realized 3D model in 40 minutes.
At the moment there remain limits to what these tools can accomplish on their own with significant human intervention and expertise in the fields of 3D modeling. The question, therefore, is how long until that is no longer true.
According to Nvidia’s Lebaredian a future in which every person can create their own virtual worlds with the help of AI assistants is not too far away.
“I would say ten years from now, I’m fairly certain that most people are going to be able to create high quality 3D content just by talking to the computer,” says Lebaredian. “And I’m bullish that it’s going to happen much earlier.”
Hiroshima Adopts Metaverse in Education
The use of the metaverse is continuously increasing in different sectors, and now it has become a part of university classes in the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The universities of Hiroshima are using this technology as extracurricular activities and part of the classes as well, Japan Times reported.
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The metaverse allows its users to create avatars to represent themselves while communicating with people from all around the world. Metaverse makes the user feel as if they are talking by looking into each other’s eyes, unlike Zoom and Teams.
Hiroshima universities use the metaverse for classes and extracurricular activities. By creating avatars, students can communicate and socialize with others from far away. #Metaverses
— Sanjar (@sanjar_mohamed) January 30, 2023
Solving Absence Problem
Having such unique features, it has also become the solution for students who are absent from school but still want to attend classes.
“I was feeling distressed and depressed as I only had the chance to speak with my family during my absence from school,” said Noa, a 16-year-old first-year high school student from Hiroshima.
But the time has changed, she was able to participate in a program even while being absent from school through the use of a virtual setup.
— Q.E.D (@wizcap) January 30, 2023
“I could spend quality time while feeling relaxed,” she said after taking part in a program held last fall in a metaverse to support absentees from school.
Three people attended that program organized by a local group to make up for absent students.
Noa entered the metaverse as a female avatar with cat ears and travelled with other attendees to hear high school students share their experiences of being absent from school.
The virtual world, also offers a solution for those who hesitate to speak up in reality. It provides a platform where individuals can communicate without psychological barriers, as they feel more comfortable with others in the virtual world.
“Students who were silent at first could make a presentation on a (virtual) stage in the end,” said Kenichi Okamura, 23, head of the group that organized the program. “I really felt the potential of the metaverse.”
The Hiroshima Prefecture board of education has partnered with the non-profit organization Katariba in Tokyo to offer metaverse-related activities as a learning option for students, per Japan Times.
University Classes in Metaverse
Not, just the bridge for the school absentees, metaverse has also became the topic of university classes in Japan.
“By looking ahead with neofuturistic perspectives, I wanted to try and see how the classes can be expanded,” said Hiroaki Kanoe, a professor of science education at Hijiyama University in Hiroshima, who taught parts of some classes in the metaverse last year.
Kanoe asked third-year students about how the metaverse can be utilized in education during his virtual seminar with them.
The potential of #Metaverse in education is limitless!
Imagine immersive experiences, interactive lessons & boundless opportunities for students.
— Vladimir Radu-Radulescu (@VladimirRadu_R) January 30, 2023
Kanoe was intrigued when his student became deeply involved in the discussion surrounding the use of metaverse in education. They even proposed having a virtual environment open during summer holidays, which could potentially reduce absenteeism.
“Compared with online classes, you can feel the presence of others as if you are in a classroom,” said Soko Hamaen, 21, a third-year student who attended a class in metaverse.
“I hope to explore the uses of the metaverse while making clear the purpose of what to do with the technology, instead of jumping at it only because it is new,” said Kanoe.
With the value of the industry estimated to be worth $13 trillion by 2030, the metaverse is being expanded into different areas of livelihood.
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