LAS VEGAS - The metaverse may not be here yet, but it is closer than most people think as all the "building blocks" for it are already present and being used in the tech industry today, said the Consumer Technology Association's (CTA) vice-president of research Steve Koenig on Monday (Jan 3).
Defined as a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection, its building blocks include cloud technology, 5G wireless connectivity and cryptocurrencies.
Recent innovations in haptics and volumetric video capture - a technique that captures objects and spaces in three dimensions and in real time - will also spur the development of the metaverse.
The next step is to take these technologies and assemble them into a cohesive product or experience, Mr Koenig said.
He was speaking to the press at a media preview event ahead of CES 2022, the latest edition of the world's biggest tech show which opens on Wednesday (Jan 5) in Las Vegas and runs till Friday.
The metaverse was one of several emerging trends that Mr Koenig highlighted in a presentation on the future of the industry.
Defining it as "the next generation of the Internet that will convey increasingly immersive digital experiences", Mr Koenig said the metaverse will become "inextricably linked with our physical reality" over the next 10 to 20 years.
But while popular media, such as the book and movie franchise Ready Player One, often associates the concept of the metaverse with gaming, real-life applications may lean more towards business applications.
A look at how virtual reality (VR) technology evolved will offer a glimpse of how the metaverse may eventually be used.
VR technology, which initially attracted attention as a new gaming platform, found real-world business use for purposes such as immersive training and visualising building plans.
"We'll start to see virtualised conferences, training seminars as well as metaverse social media activities that are consumer-facing," said Mr Koenig.
A number of exhibitors at CES 2022 will showcase experiences and products that offer a glimpse of how the metaverse is starting to coalesce.
Car manufacturer Hyundai, for instance, will let attendees create an avatar and virtually test out the new features of new concept cars at its booth.
Samsung's booth will let attendees create a virtual home featuring new appliances and products.
Augmented reality glasses by Hong Kong-based smart glasses-maker MAD Gaze and a wireless haptic vest that simulates various sensations using vibrations, made by Spanish firm OWO Game, will also be on display.
Besides the metaverse, Mr Koenig also highlighted technologies that continue to gain momentum such as the ongoing roll-out of 5G wireless technology, which he said would form the "connective tissue" for many innovations in the decade to come.
The rapidly increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence (AI), together with 5G, will open up new applications for existing technologies.
An example of this is agricultural equipment producer John Deere's See and Spray technology, which combines cameras, sensors and AI-powered software into a self-driving vehicle that can autonomously identify unwanted weeds and spray herbicides selectively, instead of the traditional approach of spraying a whole field.
Autonomous vehicles in general will also feature prominently at CES 2022. Several companies will exhibit the latest advances in light detection and ranging (Lidar) devices, or laser-powered sensors.
On Friday, the last day of the show, there will also be a race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway featuring fully autonomous race cars, with teams competing for a US$1 million (S$1.35 million) prize.
Another noteworthy new trend this year is health tech, with more than 100 exhibitors focusing on medical devices, telehealth, diagnostics and therapeutics.
Abbott Laboratories chief executive Robert Ford will deliver a keynote address on Thursday, the first time a healthcare-related keynote has featured at the event.
CES 2022 is proceeding with its in-person component in Las Vegas as planned despite an ongoing surge of Covid-19 cases in the United States.
The surge has resulted in the withdrawal of numerous high-profile exhibitors such as Microsoft and Google.
Ahead of the opening on Wednesday, some booths and exhibition spaces could be seen left empty due to last-minute withdrawals and cancellations.
CTA has said that more than 2,200 exhibitors will participate physically this year, which is down from about 4,400 during the previous CES event held in person in 2020. Last year's CES 2021 was held entirely online.
CES executive vice-president Karen Chupka told reporters that there would be "tens of thousands" of attendees, but could not provide a more precise estimate.