Since Facebook became Meta, “metaverset” – a term invented in the early 1990s that refers to a network of three-dimensional virtual worlds – has been a hot topic of conversation online, at home and in many town halls. . The implications of this new generation of digital interaction and the technology that drives it to reality are profound.
“The most common vision for the future and current use of the metaverse is very tourism-based – local governments are thinking about how they can use augmented reality to attract people to their local tourist towns or historic sites,” said Lena Garrity, director of iinnovation and sustainability at the National League of Cities (NLC) Urban Solutions Center. Garry is author of a report published Monday entitled “Cities and the Metaverse”.
In addition to regulating these and other new technologies, it is important to be informed and engaged in what the metaverse is evolving into, as it is important that administrators are “part of the conversation.” , which determines what is the purpose of a new technology and what are the benefits? Garry continued. “There are some versions of the meta-verse that could definitely really help people live their lives the way they want to live it.”
From apps to help people with reduced mobility to digital communities that connect people to each other through augmented and virtual reality, Garrity said it’s important that local leaders start thinking about how to defend the interests of their constituents instead of to let technology companies drive the conversation.
And in addition to advocacy, the metaverset can offer local administrators an opportunity to better serve their communities, strengthen economies, increase accessibility and create new connections, among other benefits.
“What if a true simulation of our physical world could be recreated virtually? What value would it add to people’s lives, what challenges would it present and ultimately prove to be a net positive for cities? asks the report. Imagine a future where members of the local community can interact ‘face to face’ with building department staff about plans for their new patio from the comfort of their homes, comment in a virtual town hall meeting from their office or even get in touch with their mayor without having to enter the town hall.
Although the technology required to fully launch a global metaverse has not yet been developed, it is advancing, and some U.S. governments have begun experimenting with technologies that will serve as a basis for future metaverse development.
“We’ve seen governments use everything from augmented reality to virtual reality to blockchain and cryptocurrency, which we see as the building blocks of a larger metaverse,” Garrity said.
As an example, she cited a project in Massachusetts led by the Boston Planning and Development Agency that built a digital twin that maps the city’s physical landscape, “from water and sewer systems to treetops. Trees,” the report noted. “In the case of a controversial development proposal, the digital twin was used to assess the shadows a proposed new building would cast on a popular park, leading (the agency) to change building plans and minimize the ‘impact of the park’, while they remain in the planning process.
From urban planning to climate change and mapping natural disasters, digital twins, a virtual model designed to accurately reflect a system or location, are clearly beneficial to governments. The Internet of Things, a term that refers to devices filled with artificial intelligence and advanced computing, is another aspect of the meta-verse that can be clearly exploited for the benefit of the public.
In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for example, administrators deployed “adaptive traffic lights that change light based on actual traffic to reduce travel times and fuel consumption. The intelligent traffic system has reduced travel delays in Pittsburgh by approximately 20%,” the report said.
And in Austin, Texas, homeless people can get a digital identity stored via blockchain so they don’t have to carry around a physical ID card, Garrity said.
In addition to boosting tourism with three-dimensional virtual reality tours that users can experience before visiting, other uses of metaverse-related technologies include a virtual reality town hall where voters can do business remotely.
“Increased access to information will be really critical,” Garrity continued. When you visit local government websites, “it can sometimes be very difficult to find what you need”. In this, a virtual advisor could “point people in the right direction”.
Within the wider Metaverse, Santa Monica, California was the first U.S. city to join Metaverse, according to the report.
“The city now offers a virtual way to experience its downtown neighborhood through FlickPlay, a Santa Monica-based metaverse social app company. In its partnership with Santa Monica, FlickPlay provides users with an interactive map of the city’s shopping district where they can collect tokens. when moving around the city, “the report states.” Some tokens can be used to unlock digital experiences in the app, and others can be redeemed for physical items at retailers in the area. “
In addition to a pilot program to test new technology, the company is pushing pedestrian traffic to local businesses and underutilized areas, the report continues.
As local leaders begin to navigate this unprecedented next step in the digital universe, they should “feel empowered” to investigate further, Garrity noted.
“We are still in the early stages of these conversations,” she said. “How local governments use these technologies and how local governments can engage with the metaverse in the future is an important first step.”