The metaverse is one of the 21st century’s most exciting developments. What exactly is the infrastructure holding up the metaverse, and what role does computer hardware technology play in this? Here is a deep dive into this.
Before the 2020s where the vocabulary of web 3 is increasingly seeping into everyday, layman conversation, American speculative fiction writer Neal Stephenson’s in his1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash coined the term ‘metaverse’.
The metaverse is seen as the future of the internet, and while it has not fully materialised yet, companies like Roblox, Meta, Epic Games and other tech giants and startups are innovating to build technology related to interacting with virtual worlds or supporting their infrastructure.
What is the metaverse?
Broadly speaking, the metaverse is a concept that envisions an always available, persistent, online universe. This means that unlike time in a game, it will not reset, pause, or end, but instead continue indefinitely just like time in the physical world.
The metaverse is also envisioned as a 3D universe of multiple platforms (seen as multiple virtual worlds) existing in cyberspace. For example, a user could have a platform for gaming, a platform for buying and developing virtual real estate, and even platforms for professional networking, signing contracts, and so on.
We can think of this metaverse experience as being a shared virtual space for users to interact, whether that’s for social purposes of making new friends, deepening connections, attending a virtual celebrity concert, or to buy, sell and trade digital goods, or having a work meeting, much like how we would in real life.
These human interactions will be made possible with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology, which design the digital experiences and spaces for users to live extensions of their ‘real world’ lives online. Think of Fortnite’s visual landscape as an early-stage example of what is to come in the metaverse, or a gather town virtual company meeting too.
In short, the ‘metaverse’ involves thinking of technology integration with our lives differently – it advances how one might use and interact on the internet in a seamless, immersive way.
How will the metaverse be built?
We’ve heard of AR and VR headsets, but what are the other components that make up the metaverse?
The metaverse is built by a combination of software, hardware devices, Augmented Reality (AR) technology, Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) technology.
Understanding the tech that builds the metaverse
Technologies like VR, AR and MR combine to form what is known as Extended Reality (XR), which are crucial to the metaverse experience. These include things like MicroLED displays, sensing and haptics technology like microcameras and sensors, optics and displays.
Extended Reality technology is what makes the metaverse an immersive experience to us users, where not only is a virtual world provided to us as a platform, geospatial, 3D data is captured for realistic portrayals of rooms, architecture elements, and character avatars, as well as audio data for digital voices and spatial 3D sound.
However, the key building blocks of the metaverse also include the computers and servers that help to run these virtual worlds. As of today, the hardware of the metaverse is still a long way from where it needs to be to support the metaverse’s capacity and efficiency needs.
Importantly, without the hardware technology needed to support the 3D user experience, the metaverse cannot materialise.
At present, more sophisticated computing infrastructure is needed for smooth, lag-free data transfer and more, in order to create seamless virtual environments and avatar interactions needed at the scale needed for widespread, global metaverse adoption.
Building high performance computing infrastructure
High performance computing infrastructure is crucial to support the metaverse. This has made the graphics processing unit or GPU, one of the most important types of computing technology needed for the metaverse.
GPUs are essentially chips or electronic circuits. A GPU has a parallel-processing architecture, which allows it to perform multiple calculations simultaneously. GPUs are processors responsible for rendering visuals on computer screens and were originally designed to quicken 3D graphics rendering in computer games.
With the increasing growth of cryptocurrency, an adjacent field to the metaverse, a new market for GPUs was created, because GPUs were now also used for mining cryptocurrencies.
In summary, graphics technology today is applied to a wide range of use cases, from video editing, to machine learning, to building the metaverse.
Harnessing hardware power to run the (digital) world
For the metaverse to feel truly immersive and close to real life, extremely high-resolution displays with high-speed refresh is required. In other words, we cannot have lagging, poor latency visuals and sound experiences.
The solution for this: solid GPU technology.
For this reason, GPU manufacturing companies like Nvidia have in recent years come forward with new innovations tailored to withstand and support the computing capacity needed to render the metaverse. This is because GPU manufacturers customers are now both individual users of the metaverse but also companies building the metaverse, with much greater processing power needs.
Most famously, Nvidia has developed the Omniverse, their platform for developing the metaverse. This includes Nvidia GPUs like the with a stronger processing power, more than nine-times over their older A100 GPU, with higher-bandwidth memory too, in order to sustain more internet traffic.
Increasing efficiency when rendering digital worlds
Further GPU development in recent years have also resulted in these processors being used in AI and big data problems because the GPU’s ability to execute thousands of threads simultaneously results in higher output and memory bandwidth than older, traditional GPUs.
One such example? GPU giant Nvidia has developed RTX GPU technology with powerful real-time ray tracing and AI acceleration capabilities. Designed to be able to take on the most complex tasks, this new GPU allows people to develop photorealistic renderings and build highly physically accurate simulations for 3D worlds
Given the benefits of using these new GPUs for more efficient big data work, the metaverse stands to benefit from cutting-edge GPU technology, seeing potentially more efficiently rendered digital worlds too, thus inching us one step closer to building our metaverse reality.