Everyone is jumping on the metaverse bandwagon. From a billion dollar investment in Epic Games to the rollout of new Google wayfinding tools, a wide range of technologies are vying to stake out their virtual real estate and position themselves for a new gold rush. As the new entrants to this space start to multiply, figuring out who plays in the different layers of the metaverse is becoming an ever more complex affair.
Location technology doesn’t fit neatly in any one metaverse category or value chain concept. It is both underlying infrastructure and part of the end user experience. It touches the human interface component through devices, and also defines the spatial element contained in mapping and augmented reality (AR) technologies.
The cross-functional nature of location technology may make it difficult to place in the metaverse, but that doesn’t make it any less essential. Location technology forms a significant connection between the digital and the physical – and sometimes the only connection. If objects and experiences in virtual reality are going to have any relevance in the real world, they need a location where they can be experienced.
The 3D metaverse
The metaverse was born in 3D. Unlike the flat UI of mobile phones, web browsers, and even some AR experiences, the emerging virtual world is designed to reflect what we see and do in the physical universe. If it’s going to be immersive, welcoming, and ultimately useful, the metaverse needs all of the dimensions we see in our day-to-day lives. 3D isn’t a metaverse luxury; it’s a requirement.
If the metaverse concept presupposes a 3D experience, then it logically follows that connections and interfaces with the physical world will also require 3D to adequately translate those experiences.
Take wayfinding as an example. Digital twin programs can produce a highly detailed 3D digital model of a building, complete with information on where to go and how to get there. Yet that digital model and the information it contains only has value if you can place users in that 3D building and guide them to a destination in real time as they move up and down floors.
Taking any rich, 3D metaverse experience and trying to translate it into a flat, 2D phone map simply isn’t going to work. Most (if not all) of the value of the metaverse elements will fade away.
Where location adds value
It’s also important to think about where the metaverse is going to add the most value. By definition, urban areas are the most important places where physical and digital worlds will overlap. To the extent that location is a factor at all in the experience level of the metaverse – gaming, shopping, social networks – it will mostly take place in cities where the technology and underlying infrastructure is most widely available.
Of course, cities are also where 3D geolocation adds the most value to user experience, whether it’s playing an online game in a high-rise, optimizing logistics for deliveries in a densely populated downtown area, or locating your car in a multi-story parking garage. Elements of the metaverse will enhance these urban experiences, but only if those elements can be tied to a user’s location in three dimensions.
Building location infrastructure for the metaverse
Building digital worlds in 3D is easy. Retrofitting those worlds on top of 2D technology is hard. That’s why here at NextNav, we’re building out an entire ecosystem of data and applications around a 3D world. Our vertical location technology provides the foundation – determining a user’s altitude. Placing that data point into a useful context, whether in a standard location app or a sophisticated metaverse, requires a lot more work.
Moving today’s location technology toward a 3D world that supports the coming needs of the metaverse will require a diverse set of partnerships with players up and down the value chain. We’re covering every angle we can think of. At one end of the spectrum, our NextNav Certified program creates standards for the barometric sensors which power the world of vertical location. At the other end, we’re working with partners like Gimbal to incorporate vertical location into customer experiences which will benefit greatly from rich data sources in the metaverse.
Then there’s everything in between: cloud infrastructure, visual elements, mapping information, open standards, integrations with gaming platforms, and more. We’re busy expanding the footprint of vertical location into all these areas, knowing that they will all filter into the metaverse and influence the course of any virtual environment in the long term.
The emergence of the metaverse makes it an exciting time to be a part of the location world. Translating science fiction into the world’s largest virtual space is a worthy challenge. As different technologies start to coalesce around a common vision for the future, we’re looking forward to both guiding it and riding the wave.