Chattanooga business, UTC club weigh in on the real-world applications of the metaverse

Recent technologies are ushering in a new frontier called the metaverse.

Put simply, the metaverse is a virtual, online space where people can meet up and conduct a variety of activities, from attending virtual concerts to playing games or getting together for work. While the details of the metaverse are still being hammered out, ultimately the sky is the limit for what we can potentially do in it, according to workers at Ancur Inc., a Chattanooga-based business consultancy that has gone 100% virtual with every aspect of its business.

Though many people think the metaverse began with Facebook — now Meta — CEO Mark Zuckerberg, it actually began ten or so years ago.

“It started with online gaming,” says Ancur Inc.’s chief marketing and communications officer, Devan Gann. In addition to working for Ancur, Gann runs her own consultancy, Black Widow Creative Inc., that’s working to teach others about the metaverse and its applications.

Ten years ago, says Gann, multiplayer online games such as Roblox and Second Life ushered in what we now consider to be the metaverse as a concept. In these games, players create avatars and use those to interact with other players in a multitude of ways, no matter where they are physically located in the world. Players build virtual, alternate lives or extensions to the ones they have in reality. As technology advances, avatars can do more.

They can build virtual cities together, attend virtual concerts and art shows where other players and users — oftentimes famous people — showcase their work. For example, in 2020, TikTok became one of the first platforms to begin hosting virtual concerts, showcasing musicians such as The Weeknd as animated versions of themselves.

The real-world applications of the metaverse go beyond gaming. Gann sees a future where this technology can be used for more than just a social space. She sees it being used for education, maybe even for medical school students who need to practice surgery.

DeVan Curry, CEO of Ancur, Inc., sees it as evolving into a “conglomerate” where “everything that you see online is in one place.” And by “everything,” he means your banking, your entertainment and social venues, and everything in between — even work.

“If you’re working and using Google Meetups or Zoom or Microsoft Teams, you’re already in the metaverse,” he says. “You’re already in that virtual realm.”

The metaverse can be accessed via a variety of means, including laptops, apps and phones. But one of the most popular ways is VR, or virtual reality. Organizations like the Tennessee Aquarium have already been using VR technology to educate the public about conservation, but with the advancement of the metaverse, the possibilities have increased even more so.

Ryan Johnson, president of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Gaming Club, doesn’t own a VR headset, which is a device that covers the eyes for an immersive experience, but he has experienced it via his roommate and one of his e-sports teammates.

“You can lose yourself, in a sense,” says Johnson of the VR experience, because the experience is so immersive. “It takes you into another dimension, I’d say, because you really feel like you’re in the game you’re playing.”

With the metaverse, he sees its popularity booming particularly because of the same opportunities that Curry and Gann discussed. Possibilities are endless for the metaverse.

Johnson admits that right now, it seems like the technology for the metaverse is particuarly limited, but sees it taking off once graphics catch up — and sees the metaverse sticking around for a while.

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