Two University of Waterloo professors are part of a team funded by Meta, the parent company of Facebook, to build the metaverse over the next decade.
Ontario researchers are among 17 Canadians to receive an unrestricted $30,000 grant from Meta Reality Labs Research to support their work.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about the metaverse as if it were the future of the internet. Although there is still some debate about what the metaverse really is, these researchers describe it as the next step for the digital world.
“It’s actually a term that’s been around for a while and it’s still evolving. It’s similar to the way people were talking about the Internet in the 1980s,” said Daniel Vogel, a professor in the university’s School of Computer Science.
But for Jian Zhao, it is a medium that blends the real and virtual worlds.
Zhao’s research, also in the School of Computer Science, explores how people and computers interact. He said he wanted to better understand how this relationship might work in the more immersive environment that the metaverse provides.
“A lot of information is displayed on desktop computers or mobile phones, but the metaverse is an increasingly new direction for viewing and exploring information,” he said. “That’s what got me into this area of research: How do people become more immersed in data, exploring information, and communicating.”
Currently, Zhao and his doctoral students are exploring different modes of interaction between VR streaming devices and their audiences. He said he wants to use the grant money to research and find ways to improve virtual reality technology and make it more immersive.
Zhao said virtual reality (VR) streaming is very popular in the gaming industry, but most technologies are aimed at desktop streaming, which can limit how VR players can share their content with viewers.
“So we want to … investigate the frustrations and difficulties of the viewer and the viewer, and develop techniques to facilitate that connection,” Zhao said.
Spatial Augmented Reality
Meanwhile, Vogel’s work is venturing outside of virtual reality goggles with projections – also known as spatial augmented reality (SAR).
“Imagine having special building materials like paints or pixelated wallpaper,” he said. “Now everything is able to display information: even the walls, the floors, the cups.”
He and his students use specialized projectors, cameras, and calibration software to make these projections, and the infrastructure was developed in a previous grant Vogel received.
Now, thanks to this new grant from Meta, he and his students will be able to test different scenarios and buy more equipment.
Vogel said the unrestricted Meta scholarship is a testament to the value of Canadian talent and gives Meta an opportunity to experiment with new ideas.
“It also allows them to run indirect experiments with some ideas – like what my lab is doing – that may not have commercial viability in the near term,” he said.
“There may be more experimental ideas that they may not pursue internally, but they are very happy to use some of their money to help labs like ours look to the future.”
Vogel and Zhao say development of the Metaverse is still in its early stages and there will be bumps along the way. But that’s where they – and their research – come in.
“Our role as researchers is to try different things and think about some of the problems we might have with this new type of technology and try to work on them now,” Fogel said.