Metaverse: we tested Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual reality

It was no longer possible to miss the experience of the moment. Since Mark Zuckerberg formalized the transformation of Facebook into Meta at the end of October, there is no longer any question of dragging our feet. We, on the other hand, had to dive into the metaverse. The parallel world promised by the social network is boiling Silicon Valley. Annoying, fascinating, the object fascinates as much as it annoys, just like its creator… But is it real news? Invited by Sia Partners, a digital transformation consultancy that studies its use for its clients, we went through the doors of the metaverse to get our own idea of ​​it.

This Thursday, December 6, we found the avatar of our editor-in-chief, Pierre-Henri de Menthon, in a virtual meeting room, Meta’s “Horizon Workroom”, together with another guest. Each is installed in a different room in Sia Partners’ premises with a virtual reality helmet placed on the forehead. Within minutes we are teleported to an alternate reality. A large office open to nature. The landscape by the windows is reminiscent of the Jura’s peaceful valleys, smoking chimneys and a lake in the distance. An enchanted video game atmosphere that we still need a few minutes to adapt to despite a rather playful first look.

Digital doubles

Overall, the experience is not much different from a typical VR simulation. Our avatars don’t have legs, so our digital twins float above the ground, almost as easily as Mark Zuckerberg on a surfboard. So far, the consumer headset marketed by Meta for $300, the Oculus Quest 2, is able to reproduce the movements of the hands and the facial expression using its integrated sensors, but it cannot yet scan the whole body, explains Agathe Malinas, the director of Nod -A the agency.

“It’s only a matter of time”, for Matthieu Courtecuisse, the director of Sia Partners, which is participating in the experiment. Mark Zuckerberg’s group is already studying the possibility of donning a one-piece suit, ReSkin, to feel sensations even in the metaverse. This double skin is based on the detection of magnetic signals, picked up by an artificial intelligence. Revealed in October, the “elastomer” invented by Meta should make it possible to further increase the sense of immersion in this parallel world and make the experience even more addictive for users.

Currently, two simple joystick-shaped controllers are assigned to each of us. They will be used during the experiment to write and manipulate objects. But also to move from one point to another in an interior personalized with the logo Challenges. Actions are limited at this time. We move there by clicking floating buttons. The spatialization of sound works wonderfully and maintains the illusion of natural conversations from one end of the room to the other. Regarding the feeling of discomfort (“motion sickness“), which is sometimes felt during virtual reality demonstrations, is relatively absent. At least for the half hour spent in the metaverse.

Finally, Mark Zuckerberg wants to integrate all the applications developed by the group into the metaverse: from instant communication (WhatsApp, Messenger) to social networks (Facebook, Instagram), via online commerce (Stores). The “store” integrated by Meta into the helmet provides access to several applications that the user can access from his Facebook account for about twenty dollars. An offer dominated by entertainment applications (Beat Sabre, Job Simulator, etc.) and a few more rare features intended for businesses, such as Smarsheet (an online work platform).

Microsoft’s competition

Businesses, let’s talk about it. In France, Accenture, Orange and Renault have already acquired several headsets to introduce their teams to VR. Event groups are interested in it for their post-pandemic conventions; fashion brands, to exhibit their new collections. And who knows, one day parade models with virtual coins, authenticated on the blockchain? Creations that could be put online in the form of NFTs and sold using cryptocurrencies in points of sale based on the e-commerce model. In short, the use cases are varied. And the increasingly numerous bridges between the two worlds.

“To complete this transition, Facebook will need to take inspiration from Apple,” notes Matthieu Courtecuisse. After lowering the prices of VR headsets, Meta will have to secure the rest of the value chain, from hardware to the device, and approach a market that it does not currently control.” The Metaverse is still far from fulfilling all of Mark Zuckerberg’s promises. Its competitors, such as Microsoft’s “Mesh” platform, offer more hybrid experiences that combine augmented reality and virtual experience, a less intrusive solution than a VR headset where the user is immersed in a total illusion.

Microsoft’s “mixed reality” headset, HoloLens 2, thus simulates holograms in the user’s field of vision rather than transporting him to another world, giving him the choice to act as an avatar or as a human according to his preference. At CES in Las Vegas, the group announced on Monday that it has partnered with electronic chip designer Qualcomm to integrate its SnapDragon technology into future Microsoft glasses. More ergonomic and less heavy than current helmets. A market that will surely determine the future of the metaverse. EAs we waited to “build the next chapter” with Mark Zuckerberg, we found our newsroom and said goodbye to our digital double. Until the next appointment…

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