The technological challenges of developing the metaverse will have to be tackled by deep tech SMEs and global corporations together.
In 2021 Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg was quoted saying that AR glasses are “one of the hardest technical challenges of the decade.” That might really be the case, as several innovations for example in the fields of displays, processors, batteries, sensors, miniaturization, and manufacturing technology will still have to be mastered before metaverse becomes a seamless part of our everyday lives in a way similar to our use of mobile phones and Internet. This will require extensive cooperation by both deep tech SMEs and industry-leading global corporations.
In Finland, the opportunities for cooperation between deep tech SMEs and large corporations have been proactively created by both the XR companies themselves and by private and public accelerators.
Finland at the Forefront of the Metaverse
Finland has got a globally unique and versatile ecosystem of XR companies, which covers all stages of the value chain, ranging from XR headset and technology development to various XR development platforms, use case-specific solutions, and customer-specific XR content.
The thriving ecosystem of companies has been enabled by decades of research at several universities and research agencies in several supporting technologies such as machine vision, mobile phone technologies, and photonics/optics. Particularly the Finnish Photonics Cluster, consisting of several research agencies and growth companies is, from a global perspective, one of the “gems” of the Finnish XR ecosystem.
Internationally the most successful Finnish XR companies include Varjo Technologies, which is developing high-end XR headsets for enterprise use, OptoFidelity with its XR testing solutions, Dispelix with its augmented reality waveguide technologies, and VRKiwi with its Cave Digger VR games available on all VR platforms.
Nokia, the Finnish telecom giant, has been focusing on telecommunication infrastructure development after selling its mobile phone business to Microsoft in 2014. In an interview at the World Economic Forum in 2022, Nokia’s CEO Pekka Lundmark stated that mobile phones will be overtaken by smart glasses by the time 6G is introduced in 2030s. Nokia has also very openly talked about its commitment to metaverse development as part of its 2030 strategy.
In the transformation that metaverse will bring about, we can easily see parallels with the growth of mobile phone markets in the 90s. That’s why it’s great news for the Finnish XR ecosystem to have Nokia onboard this time as well.
Enormous Business Potential
In early 2022, the “Growth Opportunities in Extended Reality” report was released. There were four main categories of business opportunities identified in this report.
Firstly, Finnish companies should strengthen the XR ecosystem by partnering with industry-leading technology companies in technologies and businesses convergent with XR. The opportunities for partnering were identified in trending markets and technologies, for example in remote assistance, cloud software, and 5G.
Secondly, as XR enables tracking users’ actions on an unprecedented level of detail, a lot of attention will have to be paid to user privacy. This trend will open opportunities in e.g., edge computing, data encryption, and standardization work.
Thirdly, certain technologies are currently clearly underserved in XR, and they open market opportunities for significant improvements, for example in displays, edge computing, batteries, and high-speed connectivity.
Fourthly, there are certain key application areas or industry vertical-specific solutions that Finnish companies should pay more attention to. These include at least smart retail, tourism, and architecture.
In my opinion, one way to advance the industry and promote collaboration might also be a consortium of companies around Open-Source projects such OpenAR, which is an initiative by the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Oulu (Finland), and many prominent individuals from the academia such as professor Steven M. LaValle, who was also an early founder and head scientist of Oculus VR.
Indian System Integrators Supercharged With Finnish Technology
HCL Technologies (HCL), a leading global product and technology company recently launched HCLTech MetaLabs for exploring, building, and adopting the metaverse to strengthen its enterprise architecture along with that of its clients’. According to the Tech Trends 2022 by HCLTech, the metaverse holds the potential to change how we will live and interact – a place where reality meets imagination.
In recent years, innovative Finnish SMEs and research institutes have been actively creating contacts with large Indian system integrators such as HCL Technologies.
HCLTech MetaLabs is backed by an open innovation ecosystem with more than 40+ identified use cases, supported by 300+ startup creator partners, and 500+ identified HCLites interested in exploring this burgeoning and futuristic tech solution.
During 2022, HCL Technologies, together with SMEs and other interest groups, organized the HCL Metaverse Startup Exploration Series of events. During these events, several Finnish metaverse companies and Professor Jussi S. Jauhiainen, University of Turku (Finland), met with HCL to investigate concrete ways in which all parties could benefit from the fast-emerging metaverse.
The HCL Metaverse Startup Exploration Series is a perfect example of the advantages and necessity of cooperation between SMEs and corporations with global reach. The companies not prepared to collaborate will either be late for the metaverse or are in danger of not reaching it at all.