A recent conversation over at GEM (Geek Estate Masterminds) inspired me to look into something. That something turns out to be a very real use case for the metaverse beyond just gaming and cool factor for the cryptogeek crowd. Granted, I’m already on record as saying that the metaverse is the future of the workplace. But this latest concept is far more significant and far more… interesting.
First, let me introduce you to Greg Howes, the CEO of CutMyTimber, who is the GEM member who sparked this discussion by asking us for ideas around construction technology, fintech, proptech and web3. He owns a company that utilizes latest technology, including AI and robotics, to create building materials and even modular homes.
Second, let me introduce you to the concept that he’s thinking about:
As a builder of prefab homes, I am also most interested in new communities forming first online and then in the physical world, ideally in markets in the U.S. West. I am seeing more “intentional” communities proposed like Jeffrey Berns’ in Nevada or the Crypto Community in Puerto Rico and think it only a matter of time before the “right” communities emerge that I and other companies in our network would want to support, join and build.
That sent me down a rabbit hole.
Let’s call it the mirror world. This is the metaverse, but not as a cartoon playground, but as a faithful replication of the real world.
The possibilities are fascinating. Let’s get into it.
The Real Metaverse is Earth
I take the heading of this section from the title of this article on Geopipe, a company that is seeking to build a “whole-Earth digital twin” to be used in “games, simulation, architecture and beyond.” It’s really worth looking at what they have already.
The main takeaway of the article is that the real value of metaverse technology is not in creating fantasy worlds, but in replicating the real world:
This is the Metaverse: the massive future digital version of reality that first inspired Geopipe. The true Metaverse is a massively multi-use environment that replicates our real world, built on top of a richly labeled digital twin of the Earth. Layered together with experiences that understand the objects in that environment to simulate a living world, this true Metaverse is far bigger, infinitely more useful than any imaginary world or patchwork Metaverse could be.
Advances in technology, in computing, in AI, and in computer graphics are getting us closer and closer to being able to replicate the real world down to blades of grass. Open up access to that world to millions of simultaneous users (again, advances in bandwidth, in home computers, etc. make this possible) and you are ever closer to replicating the real world.
Geopipe is not the only company working on creating a replica of the real world in the virtual world. Naver has something called Arcverse that is trying to do the same thing. And Naver has already replicated the city of Seoul:
This is exciting stuff. Below the radar development for now as the uses of this technology are not readily apparent. But things are changing fast.
Graphics Technology Can Only Get Better
It is the advances in graphics in particular that are simply mindblowing. I’ve embedded this video before, but it’s worth seeing again for just how unbelievable it is:
That’s a video game. The world it is set in looks completely real, even though the city is fictional: Megacity. The characters, especially Neo and Trinity, look like people in a movie. They’re not. The black female character is not a model who has been scanned in; it (she?) is a computer generated character.
A calmer, and more on-point representation might be this one:
This video was created by an architect showcasing his design for a winter cabin, using Unreal Engine 4. That’s actually an interesting comparison as this video, as amazing as it is, isn’t quite as realistic as Unreal Engine 5. Within a few years, we can easily imagine Unreal Engine 6 or something new making these scenes indistinguishable from “reality” at least as far as the human eye can tell.
The Mirror World + Advanced Graphics
There are likely to be important advances that combine the “mirror world” of reality-captured-online and super advanced high resolution graphics technology. Think about tele-medicine for example, which is in its infancy today. Think about teaching history, while the class actually participates in the Battle of Waterloo (just remember to turn off the “Blood and Gore” setting). Naver’s Arcverse already shows us how they can scan and replicate a museum in Seoul so that it can be visited online without having to take 16 hour flights.
The advances in real estate and housing are fairly easy to foresee.
The Virtual Architect
The winter cabin video above showcases what is possible in the near future, if we can have accurate mirror world plus advanced graphics.
Imagine that you want to buy some land and build a home. Say you purchase this lot in Sedalia, CO:
As lovely as that looks, it is very difficult to imagine what your home would look like, where you’d put in fencing (if any), etc. Presumably, you would hire an architect who could design a house and a barn and some horse paddocks or some such for you, but it’s still hard to visualize it, never mind really get a sense of living there.
With the mirror world, your architect could design the entire compound, the house, the barn, walkways in between, the six car garage, swimming pool, what-have-you using precisely the materials you pick out, on this plot of land, located in this particular area. You could drive to your virtual house in a virtual car that mimics the exact car you own from Castle Rock or from Denver to see just how long it might take. You can walk around the property using your mirror-image avatar to see how long it would take you to go from the main house to the barn and back.
Using weather data, you can simulate all four seasons to see just how much snow you’d have to deal with. You could simulate wildfires to see how that might play out. You can more or less experience much of what it would be like to actually live there… before a single brick is laid.
The Naver video also shows how interiors of building can be perfectly replicated. Digital tools from companies like Nvidia will allow architects to design and “build” a house in the mirror metaverse using materials that replicate the physics and chemistry of the real world materials, so you can quite literally walk through your house before it is built, make changes as you walk through, “sleep” there, go to the dining room, entertain guests (NPCs can be provided upon request), and so on. Turns out that the dining room light is off by six inches; change that with a keystroke. Oh, you really don’t like that window in the living room you thought you would love; change that with a few clicks.
Once everything is to your satisfaction, your architect transmits everything to your builder, who orders the exact materials you would need, starts site prep, and starts building your dream house.
Take that a step further, and go from one house to many houses. Think about an entire development, an entire community. I think this is what Greg Howes has in mind.
If you can do virtual architecture for one house, you can do it for dozens of houses, bringing together a group of people long before ground gets broken to see if they would even want to live next to each other or not. Likeminded individuals could form a DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization), pool funds together, and build out not just their dream homes but their dream communities in the metaverse before they are built in the real world. Developers would be guaranteed a sell-out of the entire subdivision or community even before paving roads.
It doesn’t have to be only new construction either. Imagine taking a blighted area of a city, and rebuilding it completely in the mirror world. You could simulate what traffic might look like after by extrapolating from current traffic data. You could project how retail businesses might do using local city-wide data. You could do all of the permit fights, architectural reviews, and the rest of it using the mirror world, before spending millions on actual development and construction.
Zoning boards and city planning commissions can and will have their meetings in the metaverse on the actual site of the proposed development, looking at the actual building proposed. As they go back and forth, the site and the building can change in real time as they make changes, until everyone is satisfied with the outcome. That’s the plan, the architectural drawings, the materials list, etc. that get transmitted.
It might not end NIMBYism; but it will make NIMBY more interesting at least. You’ll argue over what the building actually looks like and how it actually functions in the mirror world… rather than speculating and sowing endless FUD.
Of course, those of us who have seen how COVID made virtual tours go from a curiosity to must-have mainstream features of marketing listings can easily see how the mirror world completely transforms things. A Matterport 3D walkthrough would look like flip-book animation by comparison.
In the Arcverse video above, we saw three robots rolling around scanning museums and shopping malls. Soon that technology will be doable from your iPhone, or a tiny drone that automatically flies through a house and builds a mirror world replica.
The particularities of the mirror world means the buyer doesn’t have to spend 15 minutes doing a hurried tour. They can spend days in the virtual house if they wanted to; a private instance can be created giving them the virtual house all to themselves. It’s beyond simply touring; the buyers can experience what it would be like to sit in the backyard around the fire pit… and light the fire too. They can decorate the house however they want, place their own furniture (scanned in of course) where they want, and really envision what it would be like to live there. They can even do virtual renovations to see how the kitchen might look if they redid it, using the actual materials they will be using, and knowing the budget for that renovation… before they buy the house.
The very serious buyers, who have really looked at the mirror world version, would probably still want a real physical tour because as my friend Greg Robertson likes to say, “Zillow can’t smell the cat.” Some things are still impossible in the metaverse. But the mirror world metaverse means the end to open houses with dozens of cars lined up; every day and every night is open house in the mirror world.
All of This Is Going to Happen
As fanciful as these scenarios might seem today, the fact that I can envision it with such clarity means that all of these things will come to pass. It’s just a matter of time and more development, and Moore’s Law is still in play. Computers will continue to get faster and smaller, bandwidth will continue to rise, and technology will keep on improving.
Strictly speaking, none of what I described requires blockchain technology, cryptocurrency, or NFTs. They simply require massive data sets, very fast computers, smart AI, and very advanced graphics. But I believe we’ll only see the true mirror-world metaverse in a decentralized form, because none of us want to depend on a single Big Tech company to own and operate that virtual world for us. In 2022, it would be foolish to trust any single entity with that kind of control. Decentralization, of course, does require blockchain and web3 technology to make things work without trust, without permissions. That is not a given, however.
What is a given is human nature, and our desire for better, faster, cheaper. The metaverse as a gaming platform will be huge, but not as huge as the mirror world: the metaverse as earth itself, down to every leaf and rock. That mirror world metaverse actually delivers on some sci-fi type of promises of technology.
A lot of it will happen here, in real estate and housing, because we deal with space in the physical world. I can’t wait to see it happen.
It’s going to be an interesting several years.