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Stepping into the Metaverse: ASU at the forefront of expanding virtual opportunities

Posted at 12:11 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 15:33:42-04

TEMPE, AZ — It's a word and a world we hear more of these days: the Metaverse. It's the next frontier of living life online, conducting business virtually, and expanding education. Arizona State University is at the forefront of exploring this virtual world and is already opening up a world of possibility in the Valley.

A team of about 70 students at the ASU Learning Futures Collaboratory are helping expand the Metaverse and testing out practical applications of it. Led by Dan Munnerley and Heather Haseley, they say a lot of people already use parts of the metaverse and don't realize it, like Snapchat or TikTok filters or apps like Ikea's Place that let you envision full-sized furniture in your own homes.

"The metaverse is where it enters the world of 3D, and we start to think about real-time 3D," said Munnerley.

There are certainly aspects that are entertaining, like the ability to put on a virtual reality headset and conduct a meeting anywhere in the world, like Paris, all while listening to Parisian life unfold around you. But there are other ways that it could change life for the better.

Haseley says during the pandemic it could've helped families reconnect without the Zoom fatigue.

"You could put on a pair of glasses and your grandmother could be sitting there with you, clear as day, as if she were really there. And she could have a pair on too and you'd both be able to be sitting in her kitchen," she said.

Seeing the endless possibilities, especially in education, they are creating the A-S-Universe, starting with a digital twin of the campus.

"We can actually put people in there in an avatar form so they can meet with each other, walk the campus, do campus tours, even take classes together without ever setting foot on campus," Munnerley said.

Another project in the works is a scavenger hunt, utilizing augmented reality like Pokémon Go, to help a new student get become familiarized with the campus. They've also created the Career Arcade, which could be the future of internships or even career day experiences for middle and high schoolers. It offers a chance to fully immerse yourself in simulated experiences, even in space.

"You can walk around and see what a clean room looks like, where a satellite is being built, you can walk on the surface of Mars," said Haseley.

Both say it is a balancing act, expanding the world to everyone while being careful not to cut yourself off from your own reality but, Haseley points out this is like the evolution of the internet in the 90s when there were a lot of similar questions.

"What is this AOL thing? Why am I going into chat rooms? What are the standards? This is the genesis of a whole new world and I think we're really excited to be at the forefront of it."

Munnerley says he expects VR headsets to become as common and necessary as smartphones and like phones will eventually get smaller and thinner. They've both already tried headset accessories as well that add smell to the virtual experience.