WHAT IS THE METAVERSE?The metaverse is a fully immersive digital world where users can interact with each other and the environment in real time, using avatars, 3D graphics, and advanced interfaces. It is not just a single platform or technology, but a network of interconnected virtual worlds that can be accessed and experienced by users worldwide. The metaverse offers a wide range of experiences, from social interactions and gaming to education and commerce. Users can create and customize their avatars, explore virtual environments, interact with other users, and conduct transactions using virtual currencies. In this virtual space, the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds are blurred, providing new opportunities for social interaction, entertainment, and business development. Although the metaverse is still in its early stages, it is rapidly evolving, and companies are investing heavily in its development. As technology continues to improve, the metaverse has the potential to become a central hub for human interaction and commerce, opening up new possibilities for the future of the internet and the way we interact with each other.
THE HISTORY OF THE METAVERSEThe concept of the metaverse originated from science fiction, specifically Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, which depicted a virtual reality space called the Metaverse. In this virtual world, people could conduct business and interact with each other in a fully immersive environment. The novel’s portrayal of the Metaverse had a significant impact on the development of virtual reality and online gaming. Image Source In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the metaverse began to take shape in online gaming communities and virtual worlds. Second Life, which launched in 2003, was one of the first virtual worlds to gain widespread attention. Second Life allowed users to create their own avatars, explore virtual environments, and interact with other users in real time. It quickly became a popular platform for social interaction and creative expression. Image Source In the years that followed, other virtual worlds and online gaming platforms emerged, each with unique features and capabilities, including World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Minecraft, among others. The development of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technology in recent years has led to the creation of more sophisticated virtual worlds, expanding the possibilities of the metaverse beyond gaming.
HOW DOES THE METAVERSE WORK?The metaverse is a complex system that enables user interaction with the virtual environment through a combination of software and hardware. It operates on a set of protocols governing data sharing and transaction processing. Key technologies employed in the metaverse include virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and cloud computing. While often confused with the metaverse, VR and AR are merely components of it. VR provides a fully immersive experience, while AR overlays digital content onto the real world. In contrast, the metaverse transcends these technologies by establishing a persistent virtual environment accessible from anywhere. At its core, the metaverse operates as a decentralized network utilizing blockchain technology. This ensures secure and transparent transactions, vital for establishing trust and reliability within the virtual economy. AI complements this infrastructure by generating intelligent virtual agents capable of interacting with users, providing information, and assisting with various tasks. The metaverse relies on the computing power of cloud technology to create and sustain its immersive virtual environment. Furthermore, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum hold the potential to facilitate seamless virtual transactions, enhancing the metaverse’s functionality and economic ecosystem.
METAVERSE SOFTWAREThe metaverse requires a combination of software and hardware to function properly. On the software side, several platforms provide access to the metaverse. These platforms represent a diverse range of metaverse experiences, from user-generated content creation to immersive social interactions. Each platform offers unique features and opportunities for users to engage, create, and explore within their respective virtual worlds.
RobloxImage Source Roblox is a prominent metaverse platform that allows users to create and play games within a virtual world. It boasts an extensive user-generated content ecosystem, enabling developers to create their own experiences using Roblox Studio. With over 200 million monthly active users, Roblox has a thriving economy where players can buy and sell virtual goods.
Fortnite (Epic Games)Image Source While primarily known as a popular battle royale game, Fortnite has expanded its metaverse-like elements through in-game events, collaborations, and a virtual social space called Party Royale. Fortnite’s immersive experiences, live events, and creative mode allow users to interact, socialize, and engage with various forms of entertainment within the game’s virtual world.
The SandboxImage Source The Sandbox is a blockchain-based gaming platform that empowers users to create, share, and monetize their gaming experiences. It utilizes voxels, a 3D pixel art style, and offers a user-friendly game-maker tool that allows creators to design interactive experiences. The Sandbox also operates on a cryptocurrency model where users can own and trade virtual assets using its native currency, SAND.
Horizon Worlds (Meta)Image Source Horizon Worlds, developed by Meta (formerly Facebook), is an immersive social metaverse platform. It aims to provide a seamless and accessible virtual reality experience for users. Horizon Worlds offers tools and resources for creators to build their own worlds and experiences, emphasizing social interaction, creativity, and exploration.
DecentralandImage Source Decentraland is a blockchain-based virtual world that allows users to create, buy, and sell virtual land and experiences. Powered by the Ethereum blockchain, Decentraland enables users to develop and monetize their virtual content using its scripting language. It also has its own cryptocurrency called MANA, which is used for buying virtual land and trading virtual assets within the platform.
METAVERSE HARDWAREOn the hardware side, the metaverse requires devices that can display and interact with the virtual environment. These devices range from smartphones and computers to VR and MR headsets. VR headsets provide a more immersive experience, while MR headsets overlay digital information in the real world.
Virtual Reality HeadsetsVR headsets are a key component for experiencing the metaverse in an immersive manner. Devices like the Meta Quest, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR offer high-quality VR experiences, allowing users to explore virtual environments and interact with them using motion controllers.
Meta QuestImage Source The Meta Quest is a standalone virtual reality headset. It offers a wireless and all-in-one VR experience without the need for a PC or external sensors. The Quest features built-in tracking sensors and motion controllers, providing users with freedom of movement within virtual environments. With its high-resolution displays and intuitive user interface, the Quest delivers a compelling and immersive VR experience for gaming, social interaction, and other metaverse activities.
HTC ViveImage Source The HTC Vive is a PC-based virtual reality headset known for its room-scale tracking capabilities. It utilizes external base stations that track the user’s movements and position in physical space, allowing for precise and immersive VR experiences. The Vive offers high-resolution displays, comfortable headsets, and motion controllers for intuitive interaction. It also supports a wide range of VR applications, from gaming to architectural visualization, making it a popular choice for metaverse enthusiasts.
PlayStation VRImage Source PlayStation VR (PSVR) is a virtual reality headset designed for use with the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 gaming consoles. It provides an accessible entry point to VR for console gamers. The PSVR features a comfortable headset, motion controllers, and an external camera that tracks the user’s movements. While the resolution may be slightly lower compared to PC-based VR, the PSVR offers a range of immersive gaming experiences and integrates seamlessly with the PlayStation ecosystem.
Mixed Reality HeadsetsMixed reality (MR) headsets, such as Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap One, blend virtual content with the real world in a more interactive and immersive manner. By combining real-world mapping with virtual elements, Mixed Reality headsets enable users to interact with and manipulate virtual objects within their physical environment.
Microsoft HoloLensImage Source The Microsoft HoloLens blends virtual content with the real world. It features transparent lenses that allow users to see and interact with holographic objects superimposed on their surroundings. The HoloLens employs advanced sensors, cameras, and spatial mapping technology to provide an interactive and spatially aware experience. It is widely used in enterprise and industrial applications, offering unique opportunities for metaverse experiences that merge virtual and physical elements.
Magic LeapImage Source Magic Leap is an extended reality company that has developed the Magic Leap One headset. It is designed to provide a seamless and natural experience by superimposing digital content onto the user’s real-world environment. Magic Leap employs a combination of sensors, cameras, and waveguide technology to create realistic and interactive experiences. The headset includes a controller for input and navigation, allowing users to interact with virtual objects and applications in their surroundings.
Smartphones and Tablets:While not dedicated metaverse devices, smartphones and tablets play a significant role in accessing metaverse applications and experiences. Mobile devices often feature AR capabilities, allowing users to engage with augmented reality elements and applications, making them accessible entry points to the metaverse.
INDUSTRY USES OF THE METAVERSEOne of the most significant benefits of the metaverse for businesses is the ability to create immersive brand experiences. This not only provides a unique and engaging experience but also allows businesses to showcase products in ways that were previously impossible.
FashionThe fashion industry is embracing the metaverse as a platform for innovative and immersive experiences and is expected to grow by $6.61 billion from 2021-2026. Fashion brands can create virtual showrooms and fashion shows within the metaverse. Users can customize and try on virtual outfits, explore virtual boutiques, and make virtual purchases. Virtual fashion collaborations and limited-edition virtual items can also be introduced, creating unique opportunities for brand engagement. Image Source In 2022 Decentraland hosted the first annual Metaverse Fashion Week. The event was held again this year in 2023 and featured brands such as Adidas, Coach, Tomy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana, and more. The brands’ experiences ranged from Adidas hosting a runway show debuting 16 digital pieces, to Coach’s virtual showroom inside a giant floating spaceship of their iconic Tabby bag. Image Source By embracing virtual fashion, designers can push the boundaries of design, experiment with innovative concepts, and offer unique digital fashion experiences to a broader community.
Food And BeverageThe food and beverage industry can leverage the metaverse to create immersive and engaging consumer brand experiences. Through the metaverse, brands can connect with their target audience, increase brand awareness, foster loyalty, and generate new revenue streams. Virtual product launches and tasting events within the metaverse offer brands an opportunity to reach a wider audience and generate buzz Image Source In Decentraland Jose Cuervo has created their Cuervo Metadistillary. It is a metaverse experience that brings the essence of the tequila production process to life in a virtual environment. Users can explore the virtual distillery, learn about the history and craftsmanship of Jose Cuervo tequila, make their own custom cocktail, and socialize with others.
RetailIn the retail industry, the metaverse offers new opportunities for virtual shopping experiences. Virtual shopping experiences can offer personalized recommendations, interactive product showcases, and social shopping. The metaverse provides a dynamic platform for brands to showcase products in realistic settings, generate excitement, and bridge the gap between online and offline shopping, fostering customer engagement and loyalty. It is expected that e-commerce value in the Metaverse will be $2-$2.6 trillion by 2030. Image Source On Roblox, West Elm hosts their West Elm’s Home Design Experience. The experience enables users to virtually explore and design their dream homes using the brand’s products and designs. Customers can customize virtual spaces, experiment with furniture layouts, and visualize how West Elm’s items would fit into their real-world environments. This interactive approach enhances the shopping experience by allowing customers to make informed decisions and reduces guesswork.
THE FUTURE OF THE METAVERSEThe metaverse holds immense potential to reshape how we interact, collaborate, and experience digital spaces. It promises to redefine the boundaries of digital interaction, unleashing a new era of interconnectedness and possibilities for individuals and businesses alike. With the collective efforts of technology companies, content creators, and industry leaders, the metaverse is poised to become an integral part of our digital future.
What Is VR?Virtual reality is a computer display technology that places the user within a completely digital world. That world can be something that has never existed in physical space or something that could never exist in physical space. This approach is common in video games and some social and cultural use cases, but it isn’t the only approach. Less imaginative virtual worlds are often used for remote work, education, or social use cases that give participants an immersive way to access an experience without being overwhelmed by complicated controls. “Digital Twins” – exact virtual replicas of physical spaces – are also used for workplace training, tourism, architecture, engineering, and construction, and other uses. By combining a real location with VR artistry, a physical place can be reimagined throughout its history – or its future. This approach is common in gaming, entertainment, and design planning. Students can visit a virtual version of Imperial Rome. Gamers can play adventures set in historic time periods or visions of the future. Designers can envision site construction or renovation.
A Brief History of Virtual RealityHead-worn VR goes back to the late 1960s, but the “modern era” starts with the Oculus DK1 in 2013. The device was large, expensive, and had limited use cases but won big with developers, researchers, and yes, some early adopters. Later that year, the Oculus Rift came out to become one of the first accessible Virtual Reality headsets. Two years later, Facebook (now Meta) purchased Oculus. In another two years, HTC released VIVE, with VIVE later to become its VR division with all headsets bearing the name. That same year, Sony launched the original PlayStation VR 1, Varjo was founded( though its VR 1 wouldn’t come out until 2019), and, Pico released “Goblin” – the first stand-alone VR headset. Products have been discontinued, names have changed, other companies have come and gone, and other companies are out there with their own products. But this is the basic timeline.
Do I Need a Headset?A virtual reality headset is required for the greatest sense of immersion in a Virtual Reality experience and some experiences only exist within VR headsets. However, a number of VR experiences also work on desktop or even on mobile devices. Some users find these devices more comfortable as well as more accessible than dedicated VR headsets. If you do decide on using a headset for full immersion, you should know that there are a large variety of Virtual Reality headsets currently on the market. Different headsets offer different abilities and limitations, and come in at different price points.
Tethered VR HeadsetsTethered VR headsets are wired to either a powerful PC or a game console. These headsets are capable of more robust experiences, but also cost more money, require expensive computers, and might be unsuitable for some applications because of the wired connection. The headset serves as a display as well as a tracker of the head, hands and controllers, and in some cases where a user is looking. Because most of the heavy computational lifting is done on the connected console, these headsets are able to offer more full-featured experiences and better graphics. The best example in gaming is currently Sony’s PlayStation VR 2. Gamers with this system have graphics nearly unparalleled in the consumer space, as well as advanced software like eye tracking. However, the headset costs $40 more than the only gaming console with which it is compatible – the PlayStation 5, which costs over $500. One of the best examples in industry is the HTC VIVE Pro 2. VIVE is known for their unparalleled tracking options, and comprehensive headset design including impressive onboard audio hardware. However, the $800 headset relies on a whole network of additional hardware including a highly-capable computer, external tracking units, and an optional wireless adapter.
Stand-Alone VR HeadsetsStand-alone VR headsets are designed to work completely on their own, although most can plug into a computer to access more content. These devices tend to be more affordable and easier to set up, wear, use, and ship. However, experiences for these devices are often less fully featured and less graphically impressive. Because the device serves as the display as well as the computer, these headsets are more likely to have inhibitive memory limitations and shorter battery life. Most stand-alone headsets come in special editions with expanded memory and are compatible with adapters like external battery packs. However, they still don’t stand up to tethered headsets for some uses. The Meta Quest 2, starting at $400, is currently the headset to have for lightweight VR gaming and many social and remote work applications. While the headset does have limited memory and graphics capabilities, it’s more than enough for remote collaboration at work and it has a growing ecosystem of accessible games and fitness applications as well as productivity apps.
3DoF HeadsetsAlmost all modern headsets operate in six degrees of freedom (6DoF). Older headsets had more limited sensors that didn’t support modern controllers or tracking inputs and offered only “3DoF” – a user can look around within a 3D virtual environment but can’t move freely within it. These headsets have waned in popularity as the ability to offer more complex VR experiences has expanded. However, these headsets were sufficient for some use cases including viewing 3D images and videos. Further, they are less expensive and easier to use. As a result, they have held on in some enterprise and entertainment settings. As of this writing, the most recent 3DoF headset is the Pico G2 4K. However, Pico recently announced an upcoming third generation of their 3DoF enterprise offering demonstrating the continued utility of this often overlooked model.
Specialized HeadsetsSome headsets come with even more sensors for use in assessment, diagnostics or academia, or are specifically calibrated for certain specialist applications. Finnish manufacturer Varjo is probably the leader in both categories. The $7,100 Varjo XR-3 Focal Edition is a modified version of one of the company’s existing enterprise headsets with an adjusted focal plane to optimize for near-to user interactions. The headset is specifically designed for simulation use cases including flight training. The $25,000 Galea combines the Varjo Aero headset with neurological sensors developed by OpenBCI. The VR headset will be capable of measuring a wearer’s gaze, heart rate, skin response, brain activity, and more. The headset should be in the hands of early-access groups this summer for use in human studies and advanced software computer development.
VR Controllers and AdaptersIn addition to specialized headsets, specialized controllers can increase the sense of immersion in a VR experience for entertainment, simulations, or athletic training. Gamers and law enforcement or defense personnel have access to attachments that turn the controllers into a reliably tracked simulation gun. Casual gamers or professional athletes working on their form can turn their controllers into golf clubs or pickleball paddles. Surgeons can use replicas of medical instruments to realistically practice complex procedures.
Virtual Reality Industries and Use CasesSome use cases of virtual reality like training, onboarding, and remote collaboration, could benefit literally any industry. However, there are some industries that have particularly adopted VR and that VR is particularly well suited for.
AEC and DesignDuring a previous technological shift, the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry showed us how useful 2D computer visualization could be with their massive adoption of Computer Assisted Design (CAD). With the power of virtual reality, these files take on a whole new dimension. Automotive and product design follows a similar pattern. Entire models can be designed in VR (or an existing CAD model can be turned into a virtual environment). This makes it easier than ever for designers to get a feeling of what a building, vehicle, or product could be before so much as 3D printing a mockup. One company, Treble Technologies, even uses 3D models to replicate the acoustics of a space. Through this technology, designers don’t just know what a building will look like before it’s built, they know what it will sound like.
FashionPhysical fashion designers can benefit from VR in all of the ways that other kinds of designers can – through remote collaboration and immersive modeling. Enterprising companies are also using extended reality technologies to show fashions to retailers and wearers without the cost of physical fashion shows. However, with virtual spaces and virtual representations of users comes the need for virtual fashions. Some fashion companies, like House of Blueberry exist solely in VR and create exclusively digital fashions – even teaming up with physical fashion brands to do it.
Food, Beverage, and CPGMost common food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods (CPG) XR activations happen in AR on the mobile phone because mobile phones are much more widely used than VR headsets (for now). However, a growing number of these experiences are increasingly immersive worlds, like CocaCola’s recent Dreamworld activation, or a more recent activation that created a personalized “metaversion” avatar from a series of interactive prompts.
RetailWith the emergence of virtual real estate, a growing number of retail companies are establishing presences in virtual worlds. While these may or may not sell physical goods, they are a good way of spreading brand representation to an emerging medium in a potentially impactful way. Companies don’t necessarily need to buy virtual land either. Emperia works with companies to create virtual showrooms that integrate with a retailer’s existing online presence and online payment strategies.
Future of the IndustryVR software is continuing its history of becoming more user-friendly and more visually impressive, while the hardware becomes smaller and more affordable. As big names like Sony and Meta increasingly produce better content on more accessible devices, adoption is continuing to grow. Meanwhile, advancements in how content is created for immersive worlds on consoles, apps, and the web make it easier than ever for new and aspiring developers to leave their mark on the virtual world.
WHAT IS AR?Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that allows users to overlay digital content onto the physical world in real-time. AR enhances the existing environment by adding digital elements to it. This technology is typically accessed through a mobile device or a wearable, such as smart glasses. AR works by using the device’s camera and sensors to scan and map the physical environment. The AR software then analyzes this information and superimposes digital elements onto the user’s view of the real world. These digital elements can be anything from 3D models to text to video and can be interactive, allowing users to manipulate or interact with them.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF AUGMENTED REALITYThe concept of Augmented Reality dates back to the 1960s when Ivan Sutherland, a computer scientist, developed the first head-mounted display, which he called “The Sword of Damocles.” The device was bulky and expensive, but it laid the groundwork for future AR technology. It wasn’t until the 1990s that AR began to gain mainstream attention, with the development of the first AR application, called Virtual Fixtures, by the US Air Force. The early 2000s saw the emergence of AR as a commercial technology, with the launch of ARToolKit, an open-source software library that enabled developers to create AR applications easily. Since then, the technology has evolved significantly, with advances in computer vision, graphics, and mobile computing enabling the creation of more sophisticated AR experiences.
TYPES OF AUGMENTED REALITYThere are three main types of Augmented Reality: NativeAR, WebAR, and SocialAR. Each type has its unique features and capabilities, and businesses can choose the type that best suits their needs.
NativeARNativeAR refers to AR experiences that are created using native app development tools for specific platforms like iOS or Android. Game development tools like Unity and Unreal provide the ability to build AR experiences for both major platforms at the same time. These native experiences typically provide the most advanced features and capabilities, such as 3D object recognition and tracking as well as offline access. That said, creating a NativeAR app can be time-consuming and costly and requires users to download an app which can take several minutes. Ikea makes use of NativeAR through their app Ikea Place. Through advanced 3D object recognition and tracking technology, this app enables customers to preview furniture in their homes before making a purchase.
WebARWebAR refers to AR experiences that are accessed through a web browser, without the need for a dedicated app. This type of AR is typically easier and more affordable to create than NativeAR and can be accessed on a wider range of devices. However, WebAR experiences are limited by tracking (they require a horizontal plane so no wall tracking) and require an internet connection. One example of WebAR is the Moët-Hennessy Virtual Concierge activation. This experience allows users to place the concierge in their home/space, and then answer a series of questions that lead to their perfect product recommendation.
SocialARSocialAR refers to AR experiences that are integrated into social media platforms, such as Snapchat or Instagram. These experiences are designed to be shared with friends and can be used to promote products, services, or events. SocialAR experiences are typically easy to use and accessible to a wide audience, but they may be limited in terms of functionality. One example of SocialAR is the Steve Maddenverse Big Head Girls AR filters. The Instagram filters enabled users to see what they would look like as 3D avatars of Normani, Nessa Barrett, Jordan Alexander, Sydney Sweeney, and Justine Skye in Steve Maddens iconic “Big Head Girl’ style from the 90’s and early 00’s.
TOP AR SOFTWAREAugmented Reality Software applications are essential for creating immersive AR experiences. The software offers developers the tools and resources necessary to create AR experiences that meet the demands of modern consumers. Here are some of the top development platforms for AR:
8th Wall8th Wall is a cloud-based development platform for creating WebAR experiences. It stands out from other platforms by providing developers with a set of tools that can help them create AR experiences that are highly responsive, reliable, and scalable. With 8th Wall, developers can create AR experiences that work seamlessly on both iOS and Android devices, and can be customized to meet the needs of any brand.
ZapparZappar is an AR development platform that provides developers with tools for creating both marker-based and markerless AR experiences. It offers an extensive analytics suite that enables businesses to measure the impact of their AR experiences on their audience.
BlipparBlippar is an AR development platform that provides businesses with tools for creating immersive and interactive AR experiences. It provides a wide range of customization options and templates, making it easy for businesses to create AR experiences that are tailored to their brand and audience.
ARToolKitARToolKit is an open-source software library for creating marker-based AR experiences. It is easy to use and provides developers with a range of features and customization options that enable developers to create AR experiences that are highly customizable and interactive.
INDUSTRY USES OF ARAR has found a place in almost every industry, and its potential use cases are vast. Some of the top use cases for AR include:
Retail and FashionIn the Retail and Fashion Industry, AR has the potential to enhance the customer experience by providing an immersive and interactive way to shop for products. Retailers can use AR to create virtual showrooms, allow customers to try on virtual clothes and accessories, and enable customers to visualize products in their own space before making a purchase. The technology allows retailers to create immersive experiences that bridge the gap between online and in-store shopping, and help customers make more informed purchase decisions. Research has found that these informed online purchase decisions,that AR enables, has led to a 25%–66% decrease in returns, a 50% increase in product sampling time, and a 44% increase in likelihood to add an item to the cart. An example of this is Bloomingdale’s 150th Anniversary AR Catalog, which brought their collection to life. Customers could scan AR-enabled looks within the catalog to see how they look and move in real life, not to mention click to purchase inside the experience. This experience had a 23.4% conversion rate and a 38% engagement rate
EducationFor Black History Month this year, ROSE created our Marching Forward AR exhibition, which commemorated moments of Black resistance in recent history. Users can tap to place the exhibit anywhere and walk along the iconic Black Lives Matter street art text, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the founding of the movement, while looking at and interacting with statues corresponding to these moments. This experience highlights how augmented reality can be used as an important tool for immersive and accessible educational experiences. Augmented reality can be used to teach in the classroom and alongside, or instead of, IRL museum exhibits making educational resources available to all.
Food and BeverageIn the Food and Beverage Industry, augmented reality has been leveraged to personalize the purchase experience and offer consumers a unique and memorable experience. Through AR, Consumer Product brands can set themselves apart from competitors and be successful in increasing consumer engagement and driving sales. An example of this is ROSE’s Patrón Tequila Virtual Gift Wrapper activation. This experience allows consumers to personalize their bottles of Patrón tequila with custom messages and virtual ribbons. The user can then share their bottle on social media or purchase it directly from the Patrón website. This activation had an average session duration of 1.5 minutes, and 53% of users clicked through to purchase Patrón before exiting.
TourismAugmented Reality can enhance the tourism industry by providing a more interactive and engaging experience for travelers. AR can also provide travelers with information and context about the places they are visiting in a fun and immersive way. AR can also be used to create virtual tours of destinations, allowing travelers to explore new places without ever leaving their homes. For example, in partnership with the Miami Design District, Mastercard™ has provided cardholders with an AR-powered virtual tour of the area. Using their mobile device, users are transported to the Miami Design District and can experience a 360-view of selected art pieces.
AR AND THE FUTUREAugmented Reality is a technology that has the potential to transform the way we interact with digital content and the real world. With its ability to enhance learning, create memorable consumer experiences, and provide innovative solutions across a range of industries, AR is a technology that businesses cannot afford to ignore. By understanding the different types of AR, their industry uses, and the software available, businesses can leverage this technology to create engaging and immersive experiences that delight their customers and drive business growth.
Amid a global pandemic the solutions to some of our most basic problems need some creativity. With COVID’s continued presence in our lives, social distancing may have to continue into a time that is usually filled with parties, family gatherings and holiday festivities. People will be looking for ways to make new traditions, and to connect with their loved ones from afar.
Patrón needed a way to help customers connect despite holiday plans shifting across the country, while also maintaining their brand narrative. We worked with Patrón to create a first-of-its-kind digital wrapping as a special gift this holiday season, and beyond, to solve this specific problem. This experience provides a sentimental and original take on gifting alcohol as well as gives customers first-hand experience not just using augmented reality, but harnessing it to make something themselves.
How Does It Work?
Gifters of Patrón can use a microsite developed by ROSE to create a custom wrapping including a photo, text, and stickers that will transform into a 360-degree augmented reality (AR) gift wrapping around their Patrón bottle. This gives customers a chance to use this emerging technology in a new way that hasn’t been available in retail before.
“With COVID-19 impacting most celebrations this holiday season, we wanted to give customers a way to continue to celebrate with each other while social distancing,” Nicole Riemer, the art director on the project said. “By creating a custom wrapping, customers can take the act of gifting alcohol from an easy to a thoughtful one. During a time when you might not be able to gift in person, creating a custom wrapping with photos, stickers, and text provides that personal touch that is missing from not being able to gift it in person.”
Using WebGL in both 2D and 3D allows users to see their content change between dimensions in real time. Gifters can then use built-in recording and sharing technology to share the gift with the recipient as well as on social media.
By providing customers the ability to customize their gift of Patrón for both different occasions and gift recipients, we are showing them that Patrón isn’t the “mass brand” they think it is. This virtual gift allows distance to not be a barrier in creating something thoughtful that nurtures customers’ need for growing and maintaining their relationships.
“Creating these designs digitally allows for the process to be instantaneous and affordable, rather than waiting for something to get engraved or physically customized, without losing the ability to share that someone is thinking of you on social media,” Riemer said.
Why Use Augmented Reality?
Using augmented reality for this experience had several advantages. The most obvious one being that this experience provides a sentimental gift without having to enter a store or be in the same physical space as the recipient — helping maintain social distancing amid the pandemic. Additionally, augmented reality provides a way for users to generate their own content while maintaining the PATRÓN brand.
“The challenge with AR has always been figuring out how we can take new dimensions and connect them to the ones we’re familiar with in creative, expressive, and helpful ways,” Eric Liang, front-end/AR engineer on the project said. “The AR experiences that ROSE has previously created have each addressed that challenge by taking something important to us — something unseen or out of the ordinary that we wanted to showcase — and constructing it in the user’s world. This time, we’re handing the reins to the user. In this new collaboration, we’re letting users create and realize something that’s uniquely their own.”
Harnessing the power of AR will bring all the holiday cheer customers could be missing into the palm of their hand and inside their home — connecting people who want to be together this holiday. Additionally, PATRÓN has a history of creating limited-run packaging and bottles and this experience offers customers peak exclusivity with the ability to customize every individual bottle they purchase, so the virtual expansion of exclusive boxes was a natural progression for the brand.
In designing this web application, we identified two different types of users. As Patrón’s target demographic for this experience is 21–35, we were less concerned with the technological literacy of the user. Additionally, since this started as a concept that would be mainly pushed through social media, we were bound to attract younger users that would already be at least slightly familiar with augmented reality from exposure through SnapChat and Instagram. After determining this demographic information for our target user, the next question was what a user would want to create when using this tool. This led us to determining the following use cases:
Creator 1: The user that wants to create a really thoughtful collage that they want the recipient to see that they spent time on. They expect that their gift will be shown to others and potentially shared on social media in a similar fashion to birthday posts.
Creator 2: The user that is looking to create a quick gift that still wows the intended recipient. They want to expend minimal effort, but get the same praise and reaction as someone who spends a lot of time on their creation.
In order to satisfy the need for a quick gift, we created quick “themes” that someone can choose from at the start of the experience that allows them to upload a single photo and have created a designed bottle in 5 clicks (including previewing their design). For those that want to spend more time on their creation, we provide the ability to start from scratch and choose the content that goes on every side of the bottle.
In choosing the predetermined content that users can apply to their digital bottles, we focused on a few things. The first was to choose assets that could be used for multiple occasions, holidays, and were non-denominational. The second was to underscore the socially distant benefit of this gift and continue to have people drink responsibly even when gatherings are not encouraged. The third was to make sure that the assets could be used in many combinations and still create a wrapping that looks high end.
Once we determined the user experience and the content types that could be placed on the wrappings, we had to find a way to map their content to a 3D bottle in real time, to show the user their creation on this model before sending augmented reality link to their recipient, and then ultimately render each individual experience in augmented reality.
How We Built This
The technical inspiration for this experience began in an understanding of how WebXR, the implementation of augmented reality in a web browser, operates. WebXR is the conceptual model of everything that exists in an extended reality scene: where each virtual object is, where light is coming from, where the “camera” stands and observes, how the user interacts and changes all of these things, and so on. Imagine closing your eyes and understanding where everything around you in the room is: your desk, the floor, a lamp, rays of sunlight coming through a window, even your own hands. Now open your eyes and actually observe those things. That’s what WebGL does. WebGL is the graphics engine that takes the theoretical model processed by WebXR and paints it on a screen, rendering the virtual existence of matter and light into visibility.
While we wanted to capture the same magic of seeing something you create exist in 3D space, it was important that it would be accessible to everyone, both in terms of the technology and creativity. We wanted it to be usable from an everyday mobile device, without the need for expensive VR technology. We also didn’t want to require the user to be a painter, have an empty warehouse to dance around with VR goggles on, or have an intricate understanding of 3D sculpture or set design to maximize the reward of the experience.
There were a lot of moving parts that needed to be addressed. There needed to be a simple, intuitive interface for the user to customize their design and we needed to apply the design to a 3D model composed of a number of different materials and textures, from soft cork to clear pebbled glass to shiny metallic gift wrap. The experience needed to show that customized bottle back to the user in an interactive, attention-grabbing 3D experience. And finally, we needed to be able to scale the experience for a mass marketing campaign, which meant preparing for a large number of concurrent users with different devices and intents. We settled on technologies to address each of these challenges: a React/HTML Canvas microsite to design the wrapping, an 8th Wall/A-FRAME experience to view it, and a serverless API backend with cloud storage to support scale.
The next step was to source a 3D model of the bottle and we worked with a 3D artist and modeller and iterated over the model until each detail was as accurate as possible, and then continued to optimize our renders.This involved adjusting lighting through trial and error until we found the best setup to illuminate the bottle and make the glass and its reflectiveness as lifelike as possible, as well as customizing the physical material shaders for each node of the finalized model: the cork, the ribbon, the glass, the liquid, and the wrapping.
Later on, we also realized that we needed a dynamic approach to the wrapping’s transparency. If the user chose to lay their graphics directly over the glass without using a background, those stickers, photos, and text would need to be opaque while leaving the glass transparent. The answer was taking the texture maps we generated with each user-created design and filtered them into black and white, effortlessly serving double duty as alpha maps to control transparency.
While the experience would be accessible to everyone, we wanted those who had a Patrón bottle handy to be able to integrate it into the experience. It’s not yet feasible to use a real-life bottle of Patrón to anchor the experience, so we looked outside of the box — and settled on the actual box that each bottle of Patrón comes in. This gave us the opportunity to leverage 8th Wall’s image target feature, using Patrón bottle image on the side of each box to trigger the dramatic emergence of the virtual bottle from the physical box.
Those without a box can watch the bottle appear on the plane they have placed it on in the experience. Adding some typical controls like pinch to zoom and finger rotation made it easy for the user to examine the bottle and the details of the design, and we added in 8th Wall’s Media Recorder capability to further boost the shareability of the experience.
As companies look ahead to a greener and more sustainable future, the concept of virtual wrapping and virtual packaging is likely to expand. As augmented reality moves from an emerging technology to an adopted one, user-generated AR content will take center stage, and experiences like this one will enable every day users to create using AR technology. As all industries grapple with how to stay competitive, and stay afloat, innovation is the answer to moving forward. This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what augmented reality can accomplish.
We are excited to continue innovating and bringing projects like these to life. We believe anyone can innovate and that process is vital amid the current economic landscape. Our passion for emerging technologies and augmented reality is immense and our work will only continue to reflect that. We’re looking forward to sharing more soon.
Ashley Nelson: Concept and Strategy, UX Copywriter
Eric Liang: Front-end/AR engineer
Eugene Park: Experience Design
Leonardo Malave: Back-end/AR engineer
Marie Liao: QA Engineer
Nicole Riemer: Concept and Strategy, Art Direction, and Experience Design
Yolan Baker: Project Manager