If the Metaverse was a rock festival, ‘The Gamers’ would be at the top of the bill. The final act of the night.
The loudest band and the one with the budget for fireworks at the end. The Foo Fighters, basically.
‘The NFTs’ would be the one-hit wonder who somehow managed to wangle their way on to a big stage but, after this, likely will never be heard of again. (Anyone remember that The Ting Tings once headlined Glastonbury?)
However, somewhere on a lesser-known stage, scheduled for the middle of the day, would be the underrated ‘The Scaniverse’. People won’t have really heard of them, but those that stumble on it by accident will be blown away and will rave about it to their friends.
Whilst our industry carps on about Roblox and Decentraland, and brand avatars and downloadable skins, there’s a more subtle revolution happening backstage.
In the same way, the 2000s saw technology digitise ‘old media’ — images, audio, and video — and upload them onto the internet, the 2020s will see The Scaniverse volumetrically scan objects, buildings, products, locations, and even people, and upload them into the metaverse; perfect dimensionalised recreations viewable from every angle — as if we are handling a fully interactive scale model.
This is not about shooting zombies, slashing floating blocks to a dance beat, or tracking down digital dragons in Trafalgar Square. This is about making perfect 3D copies of objects and assets; effectively ‘virtualising’ the real.
This will have important implications for us all. And Big Tech is already on the case…
Whilst industrial commentators effervesce over the battle of the VR and AR wearables, sizing up Big Tech’s competing offerings, major tech players are also investing in The Scaniverse too.
For instance, some of you may remember Apple’s introduction of LIDAR into their iPhones in 2020, gifting users the ability to capture the dimensionality of a room — albeit in a rudimentary fashion.
Then there’s Matterport, long a favourite company of mine, allowing the interconnecting rooms of a building to be scanned in full 360 and then reconstituted into a cross between an architectural X-Ray and a ‘dolls house’.
Meanwhile, tech company Threedium is providing ultra-high-definition scans of products from multiple angles, depicting watches to gin bottles in exquisite dimensionalised detail. Whilst it can’t replace holding the item in your hand, it is infinitely better than a static 2-D image unceremoniously plonked on an e-commerce page.
Then only last week Google announced that their latest update to Google Maps will give users the ability to fly through cities in three dimensions as if they were a disembodied spirit soaring among the buildings — turning it into a cross between Sim City and the ‘flyer’ sequences from Blade Runner.
From a technological point of view, The Scaniverse is being enabled by a host of developments, but chief among them NeRFseems to be the one setting pulses racing. NeRF stands for Neural Resonance Fields and is described as a “fully-connected neural network that can generate novel views of complex 3D scenes, based on a partial set of 2D images”.
Or to put it another way: using AI to make 2D into 3D by extrapolating what the side, top, bottom, and reverse angle must look like. Think of it like taking a still photograph of a battlefield, calculating the soldiers’ positions from the image, and then converting it into an interactive diorama or scale model — the kind you may see behind glass in a museum — where shifting your eye line and viewpoint gives you more insight. Check out this fantastic example here.
Whilst the Metaverse, in its broadest sense, is about fantasy and hyper-reality, The Scaniverse is about verisimilitude — the act of rendering something truthful. That means a focus on utility not novelty that can help brands deliver real value to consumers.
Whilst integration into gaming worlds is a sophisticated way for a brand to transfer its values into the metaverse, the Scaniverse is more adept at conveying the realities of the product via extreme detail, extended interactivity, and enhanced try-before-you-buy mechanisms. In this sense, these ‘digital twins’ are more likely to be found attached to a brand’s owned assets, like websites and social feeds, enabling users to get to the ‘product trial’ stage of the sales funnel with less friction.
One of the earliest adopters of this technology was the autos industry, with 3D car configurators hosted on their websites. Hot on the heels were home furnishing with 360-degree scans of their wardrobes and sofas, viewable from all angles. Some supermarkets even have it too. Dimensionalised images of products may soon become standard, regardless of the vertical category.
But beyond products, scanning technology is also brilliant for wayfinding and navigation. Estate agents and hotels are building interactive ‘dolls-house’ views of properties so that prospective visitors can get closer to the reality of physically being there. Some retail outlets are swapping top-down store maps for 3D tours, with volumetric scans of aisles so customers know where to find certain products. More retailers should embrace this: Ikea is already hot on scanning their products, but imagine an interactive scan of their entire stores, maze-like layout, and all.
Last, when infused with a dose of AI, digital twins can also be used to model entire physical ecosystems, not only representing a location in 3D detail, but also modelling anticipated consumer behaviour to predict how they will interact with the design. This has been used to test future layouts for airports, with both the ‘big scan’ and programmable AI passengers being used in conjunction to gain deeper insight into how the airport will service its customers.
Most brands’ excitement about the metaverse is based on a persistent but frustratingly narrow view of its potential — with almost all conversation limited to exploiting virtual real estate in high-profile games. With such a confined definition, marketers are right to query the medium’s potential for rendering products accurately, and right to ask how interactions convert into sales, too.
The Scaniverse goes some way to answering those questions. It is the missing half of the equation. It is the method by which brands can deliver functionality, utility, and product literacy to virtual environments, and points the way to a future where products are recreated flawlessly, rather than the rudimentary geometric representations we currently see.
In short, The Scaniverse prefers accuracy over fantasy.
So, the next time someone mentions the metaverse in a marketing meeting, try seeing it from a different angle.
Phil is a Global Innovation Director, Media Futurist & Conference Speaker with 18 years’ experience from London, Dublin & Auckland. His key skills are evangelising about the future, simplifying the complex, energising clients and hastening the inevitable. He is also Co-author of - and speaker for - PHD's book 'Merge | The closing gap between technology and us’. Phil holds an MA, Politics and Media from the University of Liverpool.