Four crazy metaverse trends that will make you go: “Huh…?”

  • Supermarkets are setting up shop in the metaverse
  • Smell is a powerful ‘tool’, and it’s coming to the metaverse
  • Real cows are being plugged into the metaverse to improve milk production
  • What’s next, virtual children in the metaverse? You better believe it.

In the future, our physical world will increasingly merge with the digital. In fact, we will eventually spend most of our time in virtual environments like the metaverse, according to some predictions. Private industry is already injecting billions into this virtual Valhalla, this universe beyond real life, in which we can do whatever we do in the real world as well – and so much more. Not only does the metaverse parallel the real world, it is really also an extension of it. It will free us from any physical obstacles and limitations and enable us to experience sensations, moments, events, creatures, and worlds that we were – up until now – only able to fantasise about. It’s not all play-play in the metaverse, however. We will also be able to work, study, and do business there, and this fully immersive, virtual realm will even offer real (economic) benefits.

In this article, we will introduce four crazy metaverse trends that will make you raise your eyebrows and go: “Huh…?”

1.    Supermarkets are setting up shop in the metaverse

Grocery shopping means going to a supermarket to select your products, placing them in your shopping cart, having them scanned by the cashier, paying for them, putting them in your shopping bag, and then taking your groceries home. The metaverse could enable a very similar and ‘embodied’ physical experience – but from the comfort of your home – using a VR headset. This will enable you to digitally stroll through your supermarket and buy products for delivery, offering a real experience as well as convenience. Shopping in the metaverse will mean that your experience will also continuously be improved. For instance, you could receive product suggestions based on previous purchases, be reminded of items you may have forgotten to select, or be nudged to buy a great new wine to go with the pre-made meal you just added to your cart. For grocery stores, launching a supermarket in the metaverse could create new opportunities to address increased demand, offer solutions for staff shortages, and increase revenue opportunities. Thailand’s Central Retail Corporation (CRC) – in partnership with Southeast Asia-based digital tech asset platform Zipmex – is preparing to open a blockchain-powered supermarket in the metaverse. The company already opened a virtual shopping mall in 2021 and is planning to “cement its leadership in food retail innovation” and “tap into the potential of the metaverse”, says Stephane Coum of Central Retail. The aim of the partnership is to create seamless experiences, drive retail innovations of the future, and to become ‘central to life’ for all customers. One thing is pretty certain, the metaverse could very well become a step up from our usual – and already rather mundane – experiences with online shopping.

“It’s critical that scent be part of metaverse development… or we’re completely limiting the potential. Smell has this profound effect over who we are, how we feel, what we do, what we buy, who we love.”

Aaron Wisniewski, CEO of OVR

2.    Smell is a powerful ‘tool’, and it’s coming to the metaverse

Up until quite recently, many people didn’t consider smell a very important sense at all. In fact, a 2018 study of British millennials found that almost 65 per cent would rather sacrifice their sense of smell than their smartphone. But a significant part – up to 75 per cent – of our emotional responses is actually caused by smell. Scents evoke memories and can have a significant psychological impact. This means it’s really one of our most valuable senses, and the retail sector in particular is fully aware of this. We’ve all experienced being enticed by the smell of freshly baked bread, making us head over to the bakery section to buy a couple of croissants or crispy bread rolls. And today’s metaverse architects, designers, and engineers also realise that, in order to build a truly immersive metaverse where digital spaces feel as real as possible, incorporating scent will be critical.

But how do you replicate smell in virtual environments like the metaverse? Vermont-based tech firm OVR Technology – one of many companies that are active in the digital scent space – has recently developed the ION, a Bluetooth-enabled cartridge that you can attach to a VR headset. It contains nine preloaded chemical compounds that – when combined in various ways – can create hundreds of scent varieties that are released upon digitally programmed cues. OVR’s technology is already used in various therapeutic settings. A New York-based substance disorder clinic, for instance, offers patients guided virtual reality meditations in nature settings during which 0.1-millisecond bursts of scent are emitted, corresponding with their interactions during the meditation. Aaron Wisniewski, CEO of OVR, says: “It’s critical that scent be part of metaverse development… or we’re completely limiting the potential. Smell has this profound effect over who we are, how we feel, what we do, what we buy, who we love.” 

Another company that’s been developing scent for VR is the Spanish company Olorama Technology. The firm created a scent library that contains 400 scents, including ‘wet ground’, ‘mojito’, and ‘pastry shop’. These smells are voice activated by the user and are released via special scent-releasing devices. The smells last exactly the time necessary – about one minute on average – to enable a synchronised sight, sound, and smell sensation. The aromas contain natural ingredients that are free of toxins, to enable a safe and pleasant virtual experience. The market for VR scent technology is still relatively young, but the only way for the metaverse to provide lifelike immersion and truly replicate reality is to incorporate scent. And by the smell of it, more and more tech companies are working to make this happen.

3.  Real cows are being plugged into the metaverse to improve milk production

Another out-of-this-world development is the introduction of cows to the metaverse. Turkish cattle breeder and rancher Izzet Koçak – whose family has been in the farming industry for three generations – decided to fit two of his cows with VR headsets so that they could experience a more naturally pleasant environment, essentially feeding his animals the idyllic fantasy of grazing in green pastures, while, in reality, they are indoors during the cold winter months. The idea was to give his cows an ‘emotional boost’ and improve their mood, after which he wanted to assess whether this would lead to the ladies producing more milk. The headsets were developed and tested by a company in Russia, with the assistance of government officials, and in collaboration with veterinarians to ensure their safety. As cows can only see dull shades of blue and yellow and are unable to perceive green or red, IT specialists needed to adjust the colour palette in the software, so that it would be compatible with the cows’ unique vision. In the two cows wearing the VR headsets, the daily milk output did indeed increase from 22 litres to 27 litres. The farmer previously tried classical music to soothe his cattle, but he is far more impressed with the VR headsets. Now, Koçak wants to introduce more of his cows into the metaverse, saying: “They are less stressed”.

Officials of the Russian Ministry of Agriculture are convinced that it works. “Environmental conditions have a significant impact on cow health and, as a consequence, the quality and quantity of milk produced. Examples of dairy farms from different countries show that in a calm atmosphere, the quantity, and sometimes the quality of milk increases markedly,” according to the ministry. While early results from the experiment are ‘positive’, and the VR headsets do seem to have the desired effect on milk production, we can’t ignore the ethical and moral aspects of fooling animals to believe an idyllic lie for the sole purpose of benefiting human consumption.

Having and raising children in the metaverse might eventually become a fully embraced part of society, like many new – and initially outlandish – technologies that came before.

4.    What’s next, virtual children in the metaverse? You better believe it.

It gets even more crazy. Catriona Campbell, British AI expert and author of a new book called AI by Design: A Plan For Living With Artificial Intelligence, says that one day – perhaps as soon as 50 years from now – we may even ‘give birth’ to and raise ‘children’ in the metaverse. Virtual children will be easier to conceive, and safer and easier to give birth to – no labour, no pain, no complications. They will be virtually indistinguishable from real children, with very realistic-looking features. ‘Parents’ might eventually even prefer virtual children over real flesh and blood ones, says Campbell, especially because they will be created exactly to the parents’ specifications in terms of intelligence, physical characteristics, level of interactivity, and personality, enabled by technologies like machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing. Parents will be able to play with their virtual children in virtual living rooms, swimming pools, parks, or any other virtual space, and even choose how fast they grow up – or whether they grow up at all. You will even be able to take out a monthly subscription on your child and cancel it when you get bored or tired of the responsibility.

Campbell calls these digital kids the ‘Tamagotchi generation’, referring to the small digital pet toys created by Japanese toy manufacturer Bandai that were all the rage in the 1990s. Tamagotchis also went through the regular life cycle of baby, child, teenager, and adult, and needed to be fed and taken care of when sick. Similarly to Tamagotchis’ objective: learning how to care for a ‘living’ being, hyper-realistic virtual children could also be useful for training people on how to become real parents. They could even contribute to solving the problem of overpopulation. Baby behaviour also isn’t very complex for AI to simulate, program, or model, which makes creating virtual children relatively uncomplicated. Atharva Sabnis, a metaverse expert at the international sustainability technology company, says: “Childless parents and nostalgic grandparents may want to vicariously relive their childhood. Digital kids may appeal to a variety of groups, who have the common goal of feeling and forging a sense of connection.”

It might come as no surprise that many experts are divided over what these developments would entail exactly, and what it would mean for human relationships in general. One thing is certain, however: people will be spending more and more time in the virtual world – not only for leisure, but also for work, education, social gatherings, and many day-to-day activities – which will inevitably also lead to more interaction with digital beings. And having and raising children in the metaverse might eventually become a fully embraced part of society, like many new – and initially outlandish – (technological) developments that came before.

In closing

Whether we like it or not, the metaverse is coming, and every self-respecting tech company in the world has already thrown itself in the race to develop the best possible products and services for this crazy new virtual realm. The developments will arrive in quick succession – with each new one even more mind blowing than the one before. It’s safe to say that, in the near future, life without the metaverse will be virtually incomprehensible, as we will increasingly transition to virtual worlds for engaging on social media, virtual entertainment, gaming, e-shopping, and virtual learning. No one knows exactly what the metaverse will look like and encompass, but we do know that it will be a world like no other, a digital ‘universe beyond’ with endless possibilities. It will be everywhere, and forever change life as we know it.

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