Why Is the Defence Sector Creating the Metaverse?

Writing for Defence Online, Craig Beddis, CEO and Co-Founder of Hadean, examines the concept of the metaverse and how it can play a crucial role in defence.

The metaverse is gaining traction. Never before has Neal Stephenson’s idea of a virtual world where we communicate through avatars seemed quite so appealing. With many of us unable to attend traditional social outlets, a virtual alternative seems both helpful and logical.

So what does the metaverse look like? From one person to the next you’ll get a different answer, but these loose definitions all possess certain common threads. The idea of a perennial, persistent virtual world that many of us can connect to is an integral tenet. Such worlds will be a social platform, with its own physics, economies and artificial intelligence. Recent advances in distributed computing and networking are making a sort of extended massive scale Second Life seem a very real possibility.

Although, quite how the metaverse will continue to evolve is dependent on the development and adoption of various nascent technologies, (such as VR, AR and XR), the central tenet of persistence is now a realistic possibility. Shifts in how computational load is rebalanced and distributed enable unpredictable worlds to live and breath without the underlying infrastructure crashing or running up astronomical costs. Entire ecosystems can grow, evolve and migrate, while flourishing cities can be built and shaped by the people that inhabit them.

So, who is building Metaverse?

The ability for simulations to grow ad infinitum without the risk of crashing has opened up a plethora of new design opportunities, and the pursuit of grand scale virtual worlds is an endeavour already being spearheaded by gaming companies. Those already familiar with building vast open worlds, are looking at how to populate them with ever increasing numbers of interacting players to partake in anything from concerts to sports to graduation ceremonies. What perhaps is a little more surprising is that the defence sector is also at the forefront of advancing the metaverse through its early life.

Although on the surface quite different industries, the defence and gaming sectors have somewhat fairly intertwined history when it comes to technology. Simulation and gaming engines play a key role in either recreating historical events or mapping potential future scenarios – anything from disaster planning through to construction projects. The long-term goal is to use gaming tech to create single synthetic environments, capable of accurately modelling geological phenomena, manufacturing processes, cityscapes, and even human behaviour to inform strategic planning and decision making.

The immediate appeal of this to those in the defence sector is the opportunity to create interoperable, layered simulations without the logistical or practical issues typically associated with large scale training scenarios. It would synchronise training efforts, highlighting the impact of anything from the weather and terrain to the movement of people – at the point of need. At the same time, data and credentials could be shared across a geographically distributed network.

Why Now?

Until now, such ambitious projects had been easier said than done. Creating a living breathing simulation of a real-world counterpart that synthesises a huge amount of data into a single coherent viewpoint requires a massive scale robust infrastructure across a

distributed network. Most pre-existing computing models are ill-equipped to handle the computational complexity derived from the volume of entities, data or rapid structural changes. Projects were put together piecemeal, and involved a vast array of incompatible tools leading to fractured architectures and even security risks.

Managing the ebb and flow of computational complexity had proved tantalisingly out of reach. Endlessly spinning up server after server creates astronomical costs, or large expensive teams to manually look after the infrastructure configuration and management; localised fluctuations are daunting and capable of crashing the simulation. But through dynamic and provisioning and distributed load balancing many of these infrastructural concerns are abstracted away. The barrier to entry is lowered and developers are able to create worlds of unimaginable complexity.

The metaverse that the defence industry is looking to design, involves bringing all the varying layers of a simulation including the terrain, satellite networks, IoT devices and human behaviour under a single architecture. All of which can change at scale, at a moments notice, even without direct interaction. Moreover connecting so many users and entities into a single viewpoint lays the groundwork for iterations of the metaverse that the general public might expect to consume – such as large scale social platforms inhabited by thousands of people across the world.

Ultimately, the strides made in recreating the real-world will have profound implications for the technology that underpins the metaverse. But to be successful, it requires an overhaul in the distributed computing technology stack and infrastructure, whereby access to near unlimited processing power enables immersive, complex and high-fidelity simulations. It is the defence sector, not just gaming or virtual events industries, at the forefront of this innovation.

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