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AWE 2021: The Pulse of the Metaverse February 11, 2022

AWE 2021: The Pulse of the Metaverse

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There’s a gold rush underway to build new businesses or solve age-old business problems in new ways by leveraging the Metaverse, a space that may seem as strange to us as a website seemed to some 30 years ago. The Metaverse is not just a weird, sci-fi fantasy anymore. Advancements in technology are now making the once impossible, possible.

In November, thousands of people from around the world gathered in Silicon Valley to discover, inspire, share and celebrate some of the latest advancements in XR technologies, wearable devices and innovations from a variety of industries, including healthcare, enterprise business, entertainment, gaming, consumer brands, construction, manufacturing and automotive. Cantina was excited to be a part of AWE2021, both to take in the insights from the varied participants and share our recent learnings on these emerging trends and technologies.  

Interestingly, one key theme emerged early on: the next frontier of technology is the Metaverse, and it is here to stay. 

We left the conference with a refined understanding of the Metaverse, and perhaps our own definition: The Metaverse is a network of connected human systems expressed through the convergence of the physical and digital worlds, driven by the integration of sensing technology (including smartphone cameras), SuperSight wearable devices and digital experiences that are delivered to enhance human interactions with the real world.

Why does this all matter?

This was a key overarching question from our experience at AWE. According to Grayscale, the annual market for buying and selling goods in the Metaverse will soon surpass the $1 trillion dollar mark. Metaverse real estate is booming. For example, a plot of virtual land in Decentraland recently sold for $2.4 million dollars. Brands like Nike are heavily investing in the space, most recently with their acquisition of a virtual shoe company that makes NFTs and shoes for the Metaverse. Startups like Zed Run, a blockchain and crypto-driven virtual horse racing platform, have generated over $30 million in revenue in under two years while attracting near equal amounts of investor funding. 

In other words - the business impact is huge and can’t be ignored. Significant revenue opportunities are being realized, and it’s not only consumer-focussed. At AWE we saw other examples from industries such as manufacturing, education/training, and healthcare. 

The evolution of the Metaverse centered us at the conference, and it became clear that a number of underlying trends are driving the current ecosystem and the Metaverse’s rapid expansion. Many of them were discussed at length at AWE, including: 

Development Platforms 

New announcements from Niantic (Lightship) and Qualcomm (Snapdragon) indicate significant developments in the underlying platforms that can enable the Metaverse and implementation of XR experiences. New tools such as these make it much easier, cheaper and faster to design and develop new experiences. Looking ahead we can expect these advancements will accelerate the growth of the Metaverse and new experiences that meld the physical world with the digital.

Explosion of SuperSight Optics

In addition to advancements in software development platforms, AWE was a showcase for the global explosion of smart glasses and wearable devices that are the catalyst for enabling rich XR experiences. As the form factor evolves, partnerships are in play with tech providers such as Qualcomm and fashion brands such as Ray-Ban. Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3 glasses are some of the most compelling on the market today, combining state of the art tech with a fashionable look. The “humanization” of these wearables will drive greater adoption in the future as the technology becomes more integrated into everyday products and fashion accessories.

Training in the Metaverse - Digital Twins / IIOT

AWE offered an Enterprise track of panels and presentations from large global organizations such as Kohler, Cisco, Chevron and Northrup Grumman. Each spoke on the great opportunities for training and managing complex systems found in the implementation and use of digital twins. Defined as a virtual model designed to replicate a physical object, a digital twin attempts to gather valuable data about the object to improve its performance or increase its functionality.  Large global manufacturing organizations, such as Kohler and Chevron, are leveraging digital twins and creating “smart” approaches to manufacturing and servicing equipment to make people’s jobs easier. Peggy Gulick from Kohler stressed the importance of establishing a culture of continuous innovation in order to help ensure successful pilots and production-level implementations within today’s smart factory. She went on to highlight Kohler’s approach, which is built on four driving tenants:

  1. Continuous improvement and change
  2. Strategy and performance
  3. Efficient process and knowledgebase
  4. Skilled people and collaboration 

Culture, Brands and Consumers

There is no question that the Metaverse will continue to become a platform for the convergence of culture, consumers, and brands. Development platforms, such as Niantic’s Lightship, are democratizing the implementation of new experiences within the Metaverse as brands adopt AR and the Metaverse as part of the cultural conversation. 

Allison Ferenci, CEO of Camera IQ, observed that brands that effectively leverage AR within customer experiences can revolutionize the way consumers think of the brand. Ferenci cited several examples, including Mac Cosmetics’ Pride Campaign to celebrate the LGBTQIA+  Community. The campaign was praised for its virtual try-on experience, a customer touchpoint that is becoming increasingly adopted in the fashion world. 

A team from Toyota, including Jazmieka Smith and David Kleiner, presented a compelling use case for AR to better sell accessories for new vehicles. Toyota’s experience, which they are currently piloting in dealership showrooms, allows a car buyer to visualize how different accessories might look in their new vehicle. This experience makes it very easy to see all accessory options in real time, giving the customer a much richer visualization of their choices to assist in their purchase process.

NFTs, CryptoCurrency and Blockchain  

The integration of NFTs, smart contracts, and cryptocurrency payments into the Metaverse is another emerging theme that came front and center during AWE. The ability to easily buy, sell and trade digital goods within metaverse experiences via cryptocurrency and NFT smart contracts presents new ways for brands to generate revenue and consumers to enhance their presence in both the Metaverse and real world. The emergence of the Smart Contract continues to expand the way in which NFTs can be leveraged, bought and sold. Smart Contracts that tie in real-world goods and experiences are also emerging, providing more value behind the first generation of NFTs typically classified as being only digital. 

Community Responsibility 

An underlying theme at AWE centered on the notion of responsibility within the development community. With any new major wave of technology there will always be infinite ways in which it can be applied. As greater society continues to adopt XR technology, there will be a persistent threat from bad actors to apply these emerging technologies in malicious ways. Many at AWE stressed our community responsibility as technologists, product managers, developers, and executives to keep a strong focus on using the Metaverse and its associated technologies for the better of human good and society. Let’s use these great new innovations to make people’s lives better! 

Are you thinking about ways to tap into the Metaverse and capitalize on new and innovative opportunities? Cantina wants to hear from you. Please drop us a line or feel free to connect with me directly via Calendly to schedule an online meeting and I would be happy to share additional insight and detail on what I saw, learned, and what it might mean for your own organization.


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