The Metaverse wave in India’s startup landscape

The metaverse is the next big investment theme. Socializing, digital transactions, gaming, shopping, simultaneous participation in multiple events & more will get a new interface. With digital MNCs venturing into this domain at a rapid pace, it is only a matter of time that metaverse shall witness an exponential expansion of its boundaries.

  • Metaverse is the fully realized digital world that exists beyond the analog one in which we currently engage.
  • It is the next major computing platform and allows people to create an online version of themselves and have a second life in the online space.
  • The expectation from metaverse is to have a strong connection with the real-world economy. It will thus be the string through which companies & individuals alike shall participate in economic activity just as they do today offline.
  • These persistent shared 3D virtual spaces linked into spatial universe are slowly catching up with reality.

Metaverse_TPCI

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The metaverse is the future iteration of the internet. Broadly, it refers to the shared virtual world environments where clusters of users interact and get the feel of it being real. Rather than being mere viewers, they can get an immersive experience of the digital content rendered. This could incorporate a wide range of activities, from playing games, building things, visiting virtual shops, attend classes & meetings, getting the thrill of concerts, to even walking on the moon!

Users will be drawn to believe that they’re actually in the reality, which they have ventured into. Replacing the two-dimensional screen, collaborative options are raised to the next level. They get to explore a 3D environment, where interaction with things around them is closer & seems real. The immediate & direct path to the metaverse will be through video games, as these have already been established. Besides, they make for an easier evolution.

The next convenient application is virtual meetings, which until now have been a two-dimensional experience with the use of a camera. One can now wear goggles or a hood and be able to better connect with people in a realistic environment, regardless of their physical presence. Designed with sensors, facial expressions will be replicated and voice & hand interaction can be better simulated. Inculcating a deeper connection, interaction will be possible with enhanced value as compared to the current stale format of staring at the screen during meetings.

The concept is evolving at a rapid pace due to enhanced software and increasing sophistication of technology. Augmented Reality overlays virtual objects onto users’ view of the world. Such digital places enhanced by VR are truly owned by its users. They are fast becoming a part of our daily lives & the blend of the real with the virtual world is here to stay. At the consumer end, going further, the metaverse shall make itself available via next-generation TVs and smartphones.

The need for metaverse

NFTs are the nascent version of the Metaverse, which represent popular art & digital memorabilia. It is a claim of ownership for a unique, non-interchangeable digital asset that is stored on a blockchain. This has been lapped up not only by crypto fans but also investors. It is thus the foundation for value creation.

One can buy digital artwork in-game assets using cryptocurrencies or non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and will also have the right to display it in one’s virtual home. Post Covid, online interaction needs to be more life-like. Something much closer to sharing physical space. With rising logistics & transportation costs, the country has accepted transacting business virtually.

This is the centralized big-tech version. Then there will be a virtual world which will be owned by its community guided by the Ethereum blockchain. It will be more democratized & people can really have their own place.

The India bond

Indian startups are not far behind in catching up with the metaverse race. Industrial conglomerates like RIL have also ventured into metaverse. It is running a metaverse pilot, wherein it shall use the three wings; namely AR, VR & MR (Mixed Reality) in combination with other software & hardware in order to bring about a digital twin that shall showcase the sub-sea environment on a virtual platform.

RIL intends to cut down risks & costs which correspond to implementation of new processes in oil & gas operations. Additionally, it is being backed by a Chennai based MR company Imaginate, that is providing them the software in the form of two distinct combinations – Atom & Assist. Imaginate is expected to partner with HDFC Life to create a 3D meeting platform in the near future.

Then there is Mumbai headquartered VR startup Tesseract, in which Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio has a major share, is heading towards a MR future with its Jio Glass, Quark Camera, Holoboard headset, & Jio Fiber in tow. It shall cater to both the consumer & enterprise sector. The capital city New Delhi based XR Cntral (XRC) is referred to as an extended realty-based products solutions company, assists its clients to create immersive collaborative virtual spaces using its technology platform CUBE. These include experience centres, museums, virtual retail stores & gaming engines.

Metaverse is not only about companies, it has as much to do with individuals. Keeping this in mind, an avatar technology company – Plutoverse has created a virtual avatar for adults by the name of DeerDost, to be labeled as India’s first adult animated web series.

Proceeding further, Plutoverse intends to create more virtual avatars / versions of Bollywood icons, sports personalities, virtual worlds & so on.  Not far away is the IT hub (Bangalore) based NextMeet, which, as the name suggests, is an avatar-based immersive metaverse platform that enables remote working, virtual meetings & networking for business, education & events. It will be initially launching Saas – software-as-a-service – with a monthly subscription model for users & companies.

All these companies are busy building & equipped enough to hold out India-made global standard matching metaverse platforms.

The other side of metaverse

Like every innovation, metaverse is not short of its concerns & legalities. It is well-known that the online realm cannot be owned by a single company & is only democratically owned. Privacy & Security issues are of course on the cards too.

User’s mental health- preference for virtual world over the real world can end up neglecting their real-life needs/requirements. AI-powered algorithms need to be transparent and AI models should be smart enough to attend to biases ingrained in the training data or possibly even simply detect any human induced bias.

If utter-care is not taken, the complexity of products & services coupled with AI powered data analytics can lead to gross misuse, if there are no checks & balances in place. Interoperability is key to metaverse’s success

The full-fledged metaverse won’t be ready soon, as it cannot happen overnight & creating it will be costly. Experts say it could even take a decade due to technical hurdles, such as slow internet latency – the duration of data transfer from one point to another and back, design limitations and capacity to hold the digital space.

The metaverse global market touched a size of US$ 47.69 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to US$ 828.95 billion by 2028* according to Emergen Research. India has yet to fit in the Data Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 with the parliament. Once implemented, consumer data at disposal would able to be leveraged in a much better & secure fashion. So also goes for the Cryptocurrency & Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill 2021.

The metaverse gives humans the capacities to consume digital content as if it were real. These can mean attending concerts, meetings, gallery openings, etc. It will seem Real & Open. With metaverse, the end user is the owner in the transaction with the help of blockchain. Transfer of funds is possible in a seamless manner without any gatekeeper. (virtual economy). It can be considered as an exclusive & complete economy of its own.

It is important to utilize the metaverse the right way so that the benefits offered outweigh the risks & threats. Only then will we able to live up to its literal definition of ‘living beyond the universe’. After all, tech should be used to make the core of human experiences even better—not bring a replacement.

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