fashion, education, health care set to grow in the virtual world

The Metaverse, a virtual reality platform, hasn’t yet become the life-changing new technology that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg hoped it would.

Following Facebook’s rebranding as Meta in October 2021, Zuckerberg has made it a point that it’s the next big go-to technology people will embrace.

The recent Gitex Global event in Dubai – one of the newest technology events in the world – gave visitors the opportunity to sample what the Metaverse has to offer.

The current model of education is not broken, but it does what it was designed to do 200 years ago

Melissa McBride, Somnium Space

The clear winners in this new parallel, virtual and augmented universe appear to be fashion, education, healthcare and gaming, offering users a new level of virtual social interaction.

To take full advantage of the immersive experience, most applications that provide access to explore virtual worlds require a cumbersome — and expensive — headset, haptic gloves, controller, and clothing.

While this could make the metaverse out of reach for many, some proponents insist the technology will change our lives forever.

to learn new ways

Sonium Space's Melissa McBride at the XVerse tent at Gitex in Dubai.  Leslie Pableo for The National

One of those areas is education. Melissa McBride, who showed off her Somnium Space virtual world for teaching children during Gitex, said the metaverse brings new ways of learning to life.

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“The current model of education is not broken, but it does what it was designed to do 200 years ago,” Ms McBride said.

“Learners are different, so outcomes and needs are different. Education now needs to be immersive – bringing to life the abstract that needs imagination.”

Somnium Space users can navigate the virtual world as an avatar of themselves and meet others in the same environment to solve quests and puzzles.

The platform is paired with a TakeLeap Teslasuit, a wearable 68-point haptic suit capable of simulating a range of physical sensations throughout the body.

Somnium builds immersive learning spaces with tasks like learning to play a musical instrument like a horn or making an ice sculpture.

Kids typically spend about 20 minutes inside at a time to get a sense of its potential, and many become more confident as a result, Ms McBride said.

“We can’t take kids to Mars, but learning about space is inspiring. In the Metaverse setting, they can visit a Martian landscape that feels like it’s real,” she said.

“In a class, some have inhibitions and worry about doing something wrong; that is not the case here. Within five to ten years, we will likely move to a more decentralized version of education — that is the holy grail of education.”

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bridge gaps

Cevat Yerli, Managing Director of TMRW Foundation Sarl at Gitex, at Dubai World Trade Centre.  Leslie Pableo for The National

Fashion brands have been quick to capitalize on the potential of the metaverse, creating digital stores where avatars try on clothes and buy tokens in exchange for real-world clothes.

Sportswear brand Nike has captured an online audience of millions. Nikeland is the brand’s micro-metaverse built in the world of Roblox, an online gaming platform.

Since its launch in November 2021, it has attracted more than 21 million visitors and accounts for 26 percent of its total branded sales.

Cevat Yerli, Executive Director of the TMRW Foundation, founded Crytek, one of the largest video game developers, and has turned his attention to the creation of 3D simulation, virtual and augmented reality worlds.

“In real life, we come together physically, but in digital life, people have only come together through video games,” Mr. Yerli said.

“We’re not trying to create a dystopian future where we forget the world and only meet online. We want people to be aware of what’s going on in the world and get involved.

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“It’s not escapism, it’s a way of bridging gaps.”

One of his projects is Room, part of the “Internet of Life” – a metaverse where real people can meet, collaborate and create without the need for wearable devices.

Meeting rooms can be conducted via computer or tablet and are more personal than the usual video conferences.

“Google has brought us information, Facebook has brought us connectivity – we want to be the technology that brings people together,” Mr. Yerli said.

“We try to be second best in real life.”

Consultations in real time

The TMRW Foundation helped the Department of Health and Prevention establish the world’s first Metaverse Customer Experience Service Center, where patients can virtually log in to speak with a doctor.

However, metaverse healthcare is not expected to have a broader impact.

Medcare Women & Children Hospital in Dubai opened a virtual world hospital to give patients a preview of a real ward experience.

However, the experience requires smart augmented reality glasses, which cost around Dh1,500.

“Our ultimate goal is to provide actual healthcare services by incorporating the delivery of real-time consultations through our team of over 400 medical experts,” said Dr. Shanila Laiju, director of Medcare hospitals and medical centers.

“We anticipate that over the long term, traditional telemedicine services will be replaced by the need for metaverse interactions, giving our patients a more tangible and collaborative service.”

Updated October 16, 2022 4:36 am


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