The idea of a metaverse makes some people excited while others shrink. Most of us have watched movies or video games where the idea of a synthetic world comes to life, where participants can engage with each other, free from the boundaries of reality. Like it or not, the metaverse has not escaped the attention of the defense industry.
What is the metaverse?
There is no consensus on the definition of the metaverse and explaining it is a bit like trying to define the internet. This is not a unique technology or even a unique concept. But because of the argument, this article will use a working definition provided by War on the rocks writers Jennifer McCardle and Caitlin Dorman: “The metaverse is a series of interconnected and immersive virtual worlds that provide users with a sense of agency and influence.”
It is similar to virtual or augmented reality in that it provides a spectrum where the physical and the digital can meet. In military conditions, these platforms are mostly used for training purposes. Commercial meta-universe technology will not satisfy the military due to lack of skill. But the cost of the best equipment available on the market is irritating to the eye, and defense departments can adopt technologies in the early stages to improve them to meet the requirements of the armed forces.
“If there is a greater impetus for cheaper but better quality haptics and cheaper things like motion capture and investment in these capabilities, then that could lead to something important for the military in the future,” says James. Crowley, business development director of 4GD immersive urban learning expert. “This will both improve technology for the civilian market and make it cheaper and much more affordable.
Protection in the metaverse
The military has been using various forms of rudimentary metaverses for training for years. The development of the first simulation network (SIMNET), where different virtual words were stitched together, began in the 1980s by the US military. SIMNET was a comprehensive network of vehicle simulators and real-time distributed combat simulation displays that included tanks, helicopters and virtual battlefield aircraft. Over the last two decades, the fidelity and effectiveness of simulated learning and synthetic environments has grown instantly.
Nick Brown, marketing director of defense products at Hadean Distributed Computers, said: “Maybe we can categorize the defense metauniverse as an ‘industrial metauniverse.’ While the more familiar metaverse is focused on entertainment and social interaction itself, industrial metaverses use the same technology to improve activity in the physical world.
Brown believes there are three key aspects of the metaverse that make it so attractive to protect. “First, the virtual worlds of the metauniverse are getting better at connecting more people from different places,” he says. “Second, they can be used to simulate high-precision physical events so that greater knowledge of the ‘real world’ can be gained.
The third point, Brown says, is the ability of the metauniverse to offer an immersive experience that would be too costly, logistically or economically unfeasible, or simply physically impossible. Combining these three aspects, when placed in the concept of modern military acquisitions, force development and training requirements, it becomes clear why defense is interested in the metaverse.
Crowley expects continued military interest in the metaverse in the future. “There is an area of influence and an area where we need to be aware that different groups come together and maybe form either very short-term groups or long-term political groups, and we need to be relatively politically alive as organizations,” he said.
He says that if the metaverse changes the way people come together and the way information is exchanged, the military and governments will need to be coordinated to know how these interactions happen.
The challenges of the metaverse
It is also very important to take into account the operational challenges of the metaverse. Building computing power and infrastructure capable of managing high-precision virtual worlds on a number of devices and processing vast amounts of data will be equally imperative for the existence of the metaverse.
“The ability to create such simulations may be the most modern, but they are not good if you need a computer the size of a car seat next to you while you start it,” explains Brown. “Any participant whose device can vary must be able to see and act within the simulation.
“This is where distributed cloud and border calculations are set to change the game. If you can dynamically scale the calculations in cloud and peripheral environments, this significantly reduces the requirements required for the devices to start the simulation.
Crowley reiterates the importance of computing power, saying: “This is probably the most powerful part of it. Unless you can reduce your latency to a level that doesn’t make people sick and feel realistic, unless you can store movement and communication data between different people in different simulators, you won’t provide a practical training tool.
Another major challenge in developing an open metaverse, where military from different countries can engage with each other, is the security aspect.
“Eventually, Allied operations, for example between NATO countries, will be significantly improved by completing training simulations together, stimulating the creation of an open defensive metaverse for them,” Brown said. He can imagine an open meta-universe for defense, where all allied forces could engage in the same virtual version of a strategic context.
However, Crowley warns that protection will have to be ruthless and extremely pragmatic when certain technologies are adopted. The military must ensure that they do not adopt new technologies just because they are the latest on the market, but ensure that they can deliver the results they need.
The development and use of different metaverses and augmented realities is not new to defense, but the industry still has a long way to go before it can enter the metaverse for military purposes.