This should pique the interest of those anticipating a fully immersive metaverse experience, while simultaneously dampening expectations for when that next level experience will arrive.
Today, Meta – the firm that used to be known as Facebook – revealed additional details about its development on haptic gloves, which would allow you to feel and interact with virtual objects in virtual space.
Imagine working on a virtual 3D puzzle with a friend's lifelike 3D avatar, as demonstrated by Meta. When you take a virtual puzzle piece off the table, your fingers cease moving as soon as you feel it in your hands. As you hold the cardboard up for closer inspection, you notice the sharpness of its edges and the smoothness of its surface, followed by a gratifying snap as you slot it into position. That's a huge step forward, but as you can see in this video, the reality of them being a cheap and accessible tool for average people is still a long way off. Look at the tangle of connections that connect these prototypes.
It's difficult to estimate how far away such parts are, but Meta claims that it's taken them seven years to get to this point, which included developing whole new technological improvements and elements to satisfy the project's requirements.
For instance, a haptic glove needs hundreds of actuators (small motors) all over the hand working in concert to make the wearer feel like they're touching a virtual object to provide a realistic feeling of touch. However, current mechanical actuators generate far too much heat for such a glove to be comfortable to wear all day. They're also far too huge, inflexible, pricey, and power-hungry to produce true haptic sensations.
To achieve these requirements, Meta had to create additional actuators, which added not just technical complexity but also cost. When you consider that automobile door lock actuators cost roughly $200 each, you can certainly imagine how much a working version of these gloves, with 'hundreds' of them affixed to the hand surface, would cost. So we're still a long way from picking these up at Walmart and disappearing into virtual worlds. They are, however, on their way, and they do point to a new, immersive metaverse future. But we aren't quite there yet.
This is where Facebook's Meta name change may have caused some consternation, with aspiring tech leaders and investors flocking to anything with the term "metaverse" in the title to stay ahead of the curve and on top of the next technological advancement. Many people missed out on social media when it first became popular, dismissing it as a passing trend, and they want to avoid making the same mistake. But, as Meta and others imagine, we're still a long way from a fully functional metaverse that incorporates global, co-created digital worlds that are available to all and allows for all new forms of avatar-based interaction and involvement. That chasm between vision and reality could explain the recent interest in NFTs, which many regard as a portal to the next stage, where digital art can be displayed in virtual realms and even AR/VR avatars can be created based on these animated character representations.
That isn't going to happen for the great majority of people, and we don't even have the schema requirements for a universal metaverse yet, so no one knows what will be necessary to create 3D avatars and characters, or who would host the digital realms where such characters could exist. Investors, on the other hand, see a profit. Somewhere. Perhaps future digital art galleries will value these early NFT productions, and perhaps the greater community surrounding certain NFTs will lead to the next step.
It's all a little unclear right now, but as Meta's trials with haptic gloves illustrate, that future phase is still a ways off, and there's still a lot of development work to be done before we can support more immersive digital involvement, at least at the level being discussed.
Some of the technology required to create genuine haptic experiences in virtual and augmented reality do not yet exist, as Meta pointed out. If you're not paying attention, such development might happen swiftly and even creep up on you. But it's important to notice the gap between where we are now and where we'll be in the future and think about what it means for short-term metaverse investment.