What hardware advances will bring the metaverse to life?

03/08/2022 by Ali Sajwani

I’m fascinated by the metaverse and what an exciting, interesting future it holds for us all. But like all emerging technologies, its promise lies in the hands of technology.

You’re probably aware of 5G and 6G – higher speed networks that provide greater reliability, faster access and low latency – perfect for smooth metaverse graphics.

But beyond a decent connection, what else are we going to see – and need – before the metaverse becomes as commonplace as the internet?

Hardware is what I’ve been thinking about. We know the metaverse technologies at the user end are emerging and evolving from the video game sector, but what about the enormous processing power required to run a global, always-on virtual universe? It’s a pretty mind-blowing concept, right?

The hype is building, and pundits say the metaverse could represent a $1607 billion market by the end of this decade, according to Precedence Research.

But to turn the vision into reality, we will need powerful computers beyond what even the highest-powered gaming machines can provide.

Intel’s VP Raja Koduri suggests we will need computing power 1,000 times greater than the best systems available today, simply to render ‘avatars’, gather data from their virtual movements, and deliver audio information – all of which, of course, must be transmitted in real time. As an example of where we are today, Meta’s Horizon Worlds – a VR environment and a precursor to what the metaverse may become – can only support up to 50 people in a given environment.

There’s hope, though. Big tech companies like Intel, Samsung and IBM are already working on creating a new kind of semiconductor chip, which promises a doubling of performance with an 85% reduction in energy usage.

We will also need a new generation of VR headsets – that are lighter, more comfortable, less cumbersome and more natural to wear.

Big consumer-facing tech and gaming events like the US-based Consumer Electronics Show (CES) are the perfect platform to introduce new tech like VR glasses – and the most recent edition of the show saw Panasonic reveal the most lightweight headset to date – more akin to glasses than cumbersome goggles or a boxy headset.

At present, a majority of VR headsets are heavy, cumbersome, and aren’t good for long-term wear, leaving some users feeling nauseous or causing headaches but technology is evolving rapidly, so watch this space.

Haptic gloves – that allow a sense of touch in the virtual world – need further R&D and investment, too. And developing that sense of touch in the virtual world is loaded with ethical and moral concerns, such as how we can best manage personal space and boundaries safely.

The sector is still in its infancy, with reports of gloves feeling ‘wrong’. Most are currently difficult to set up, require a wired connection to your headset and additional software – and, like headsets, are so expensive as to be out of reach for most people. Haptic tech development is currently squarely aimed at corporate use instances; such as training to use tools, medical applications and remote work in dangerous environments.

And above all, we need super computers working around the clock to handle the mass of data. I expect to see more ‘server farms’ emerging, as the need to handle world-building, transactions, interactions and all the minutiae of the encroaching virtual world becomes more imperative.

As Tim Shaheen, EVP, Strategy & Development at Aligned Data Centers told Data Center Frontier, “All digital and virtual capabilities are rooted in physical infrastructure, so increased adoption of [the metaverse] will inevitably mean more data centers.

“It will also mean an increased focus on enhancing network connectivity, reducing latency, additional power allocation, more efficient data center cooling, and above all – scalability and the ability to expand on demand.”

We clearly have a way to go, but there are more and more companies investing research and funds into this bright new era. What we must ensure is that no-one gets left behind.

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