Digital Twins and Hyper-Realistic Avatars, the 3D Modeling of 2022
Every day we come one step closer to achieving the next major step in the global tech development that will touch upon every user globally. This step will be both complex yet exciting, reshaping how we see interaction, collaboration and both physical and digital presence - the establishment of Web 3.0 or, like some call it, the Metaverse. Regarless of the name, it will be the next generation of the internet, enhanced with both the latest software and hardware. The next iteration will be both decentralized, data driven, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) enhanced, ungoverned, open-source based global network.
While the vision is there, we also understand that building such a massive new system will require the entire tech community to join forces in providing elements from advanced hardware and software to cyber security and blockchain technology. Nevertheless, all related announcements cause major hype amongst both specialists and enthusiasts. It was distinctly evident when the entire tech community gasped with excitement over October 2021 Meta announcement of their ambition to build the Metaverse and has split opinions on whether it is feasible to say that one company is capable of solely brining us the next generation of the internet.
The caused hype has split the tech community in their rhetoric of whether to consider the Metaverse the potential future Web 3.0 or not. While we are rapidly approaching mid 2022, we have already witnessed a significant downshift in the search trends, evident more distinctly since Feb 2022, it is still too early to say that it was just another overhyped news. The interest around the Metaverse, or more precisely around the next potential iteration of the internet, is still tremendous.
However like with any news, the attention of users can only be maintained for a limited amount of time. Regardless of the switch in the search agenda the concept of the Metaverse is here to stay, with market estimates of hitting over $426.9 billion USD already by 2027. Even though the main drivers of the Metaverse are gaming, entertainment and media industries, they have helped set the stage for a more mass XR adaptation and preparing end-users for Web 3.0. With the rapid consumer interest towards XR enhanced experiences, businesses are surging to adapt to the ever-growing demand and need of cutting-edge infrastructure design, 3D environments revamp and creation of tech-driven ecosystems.
At the same time, the idea of a new generation of the internet has taken root in the technological community for quite some time already, with giants like Meta, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Qualcomm and many more investing continuously into elements that can bring us closer to the Web 3.0 or Metaverse, whichever name the next iteration will have by then. We can see major technological advancement in numerous fields from Extended Reality (XR) and affective haptics to advanced cybersecurity and next generation immersive hardware.
Amongst all elements that make up Metaverse, XR can be deemed as one the fastest growing and most dynamic one. This has to do primarily with the pandemic accelerated market need of remote presence, expanding number of XR devices, growing capabilities of developers as well as appearance of more, low and no code, platforms. The bigger of a technological leap we make with Extended Reality (XR), the more we wonder about the coming opportunities it can bring. Nevertheless, understanding the current point we are at can help us envision and explore the technology stack that will develop even more in the nearest future.
In our previous articles we talked quite a lot about Extended Reality (XR), the technology itself, the major trends, its implementation in various industries including healthcare, pharma, manufacturing and enterprise ecosystems, the advantages it has when speaking of hybrid platforms and much more. Today, we would like to go a bit more in-depth and uncover one of the key elements that make up XR, the essential behind the level of realism, immersion and believability of the entire experience, the backbone of visual fidelity - the 3D modeling.
If we look just at pure 3D modeling, it has long gone far beyond its traditional implementation in game and movie production, emerging in healthcare, 3D printing and XR. With the coming of the Metaverse and Web 3.0, 3D modeling is no longer a solely developers’ domain, more and more low code software are being released that enable users to create 3D objects, avatars and entire environments with simplified and ready to use tools. This, without doubt, enables users to express themselves, sharing their creativity and vision without requiring any advanced developer education or skill.
At the same time, when it comes to XR experiences, advanced 3D modeling plays an essential role in creating practically every element, from entire functional environment and complete scenes to 1-to-1 precision objects as well as hyper realistic AI and ML enhanced avatars. As XR experiences already become more immersive and complex, XR developers have long moved past basic 3D modeling that involved just the creation and production of digital objects and environments. We have already reached the point where developers are capable of recreating objects of significant size, like aircrafts or cruise liners, or even entire cities with the tiniest detail and functionality - the digital twin of practically anything.
Speaking of which, today, we will be taking a look at two of the major aspects of 3D advancements in 2022. The digital twin technology, already mentioned earlier and one other essential direction in 3D, the hyper-realistic avatars. We will have a quick dive into the advancement of digital twin technology that enable more immersive and realistic XR interaction as well as talk about hyper-realistic avatars that will enable to realistically represent users in the Metaverse, or Web 3.0 if you would like, of the near coming future.
Now to get a bit of a better understanding of the concept, digital twin is the technology that implies the creation of one-to-one digital replicas. The creation of practically anything from physical objects, systems, operations and asset to entire environments, 3D designed to accurately reflect real-life visual and functional properties, recreated in a virtual space. Today digital twin technology is used to recreate anything from retail items to aircrafts as well as entire cities or even ecosystems. Additionally, they can include complete functional replicas of worldwide, existing and future objects, connected to precise geographical locations. When it comes to digital twins, we often imagine just the object recreation, they however involve more than simple assets and cover multiple directions including component/part twins, asset twins, system/unit twins and even process twins.
As the technology has quite a wide range of implementation from process simulations, that can for example, be used to simulate how a new subway branch will operate in a variety of passenger scenarios or building hybrid workspaces accessible remotely via different XR devices that can completely replicate entire functional office environments. Let's not forget about the possibility of using digital twins to visualise otherwise hidden elements, for instance in architecture or construction to look at different breakdowns or layers of the building or even to build complex immersive XR experience where, as one of many possibilities, they can be used to create fully functional operating room simulation for surgical prep stage and simulation of the operation.
One of the directions where digital twins are massively implemented today is, without doubt, in creating advanced XR experiences. The main reason behind that is in XR requirement for replicating not only the visual, but functional and interactive aspect of an object, asset, environment or system. In terms of XR, digital twins are especially helpful as they allow users to experience a completely different level of process and presence. They allow for a much more realistic immersive experience and scenario creation, where the users are able to interact with specific elements of the XR experience, see, feel, hear and sense as if they were physically present while interacting in an artificially created setting. Once combined with haptic technology which can partially replicate and convey the sense of touch, the visual fidelity of digital twin technology allow for an unprecedented immersion of a user into the XR experience.
With the on-going development of XR technology and the coming of the Web 3.0, alternatively the Metaverse, more users will strive to achieve realistic and representative depictions of themselves in this new technological ecosystem. Some of us still remember the times when user’s avatars were purely generic 2D images that you could upload, the ones that were only able to reflect the tiniest fraction of the user’s appearance, personality or feeling of oneself. We’ve definitely gone a long way since then. Today, even our phones allow us to instantly capture and create 3D avatars in a simple and straight-forward way.
Looking back, the gaming and movie production industry were, without doubt, amongst the first to adopt the next level of realism in avatar, or to be more exact in character creation, constructing almost every element in 3D from scratch, from textures and facial complexion to hair and clothing in order to build a universal model ready for animation. Today, major tech players have already released software capable of producing hyper-realistic avatars for XR with less hustle. This still doesn't mean that it's possible to produce realistic quality 3D avatars without any 3D modelling, however the process now is much more optimised which enables developers to create them with the next level of realism. Starting with the Unreal Engine that launched their Metahuman high-fidelity photorealistic digital human creation platform back in 2021, and the recent Unity purchase of Ziva Dynamics the real time hyper-realistic 3D character design suite, we are seeing more XR pioneers experimenting and releasing products that can potentially simplify the creative process for many immersive technology developers worldwide.
Amongst the development turning-point topics of the XR hyper-realistic avatar domain, is definitely forth nothing the research Meta has been conducting on life-like avatars. The research as of today has already approached a completely new milestone of achieving practically full realism with Meta Codec Avatars 2.0. As tech giants unravel more immense opportunities for XR developers and 3D artists, we can only expect XR experience to become more life-like and submerging for both businesses and end users.
Even though digital twins and hyper realistic avatars are becoming more widely used for XR projects, we will need much more advanced processing powers before any of such high-fidelity and capability assets can be easily integrated into a Web 3.0 or Metaverse. Regardless of that, today, they already provide the opportunity to simplify some of the basic processes and giving room for developers to create much more functionally and interactively complex experiences which at the same time have an unprecedented level of visual fidelity. There is no doubt that both of these technologies will continue to significantly improve the quality of immersive experiences for users, giving both enterprise and regular consumers new opportunities to collaborate and feel as if physically present.