By Victor Agreda
Verses offers an ambitious goal: Become the baseline standard for an emerging web of virtual and physical realities. As HTTP is to the World Wide Web, Verses hopes to be the protocol that connects AR, VR, and tangible places and things in the real world. Will it work? I spoke to Executive Director Gabriel Rene about what he calls the Spatial Web, or Web 3.0, to see how Verses plans to build the foundational blocks of this emerging, interconnected world. Of course, blockchain is at the root of its functionality.
Verses is a Los Angeles based non-profit set up to create the standards that would verify so-called “smart assets” that would be transferred in a hybrid of virtual and real spaces. One of the more compelling examples would be a shipping container. Filled with real objects and using AR technology, a shipping manifest could be displayed as a dockworker just looked at that container. Further, each item could be tagged and verified, and tracked as it was distributed to its location. If you’ve been following the use of blockchain for cannabis companies, you can extend this concept a bit further. Just as cannabis strains can be tracked from “seed to sale,” you could reduce counterfeit items by tracking them from factory to delivery. Ever hear of someone getting a fake item from Amazon or another online retailer? Using blockchain and Verses spatial tracking protocols, this could (in theory) be eliminated. All along the supply chain the authenticity of goods could be cataloged and tracked.
As Rene explains the spatial web, “The whole idea is that you take the web protocol suite and extrapolate that into 3D space. We have redesigned the domain name model and reworked it for real world locations as well as virtual worlds. And then using blockchain as the underlying security and storage layer, enabling property rights, and then the interaction and transaction and navigation between any space, person, or thing.” He points out those could be virtual items or real items. In addition, these could interface with Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices.
While augmented reality is a ways off from being widely commercially viable (Magic Leap’s glasses are barely out of development and far too costly for wide consumer adoption), Verses is betting these technologies will see more widespread use as costs drop. Like consumer trends related to broadband internet, it’s only a matter of time. What’s already happening is movement in the semantic web, and internet connected devices (IoT), and those are areas Verses can already address. Again, Rene said, “For that to work you’ll need some kind of underlying spatial protocol.”
The plan is to roll out these protocols by the end of this year. Meanwhile, Verses has about 20 partners toying around with its tech while it’s in beta. Rene gave the example of some mining companies that want to track assets like copper and steel, construction companies, and entertainment companies like IMAX. Rene promises that through 2019 Verses will announce new partners almost monthly — an ambitious goal but not unsurprising given the scope of its platform.
Connection Speeds for IoT vs Transaction Speed of Blockchain Tech
Because IoT in real-world scenarios often requires lightning-fast connections. Traffic lights that can communicate with cars or other transport systems must make decisions and have situational awareness, but blockchain’s scaling issues could be a bottleneck if not handled properly. Rene said Verses is designed as an abstraction layer, and will use the distributed nature of the web to scale much as the web scaled when it started its own growth curve. Ultimately Verses will allow for multiple tiers, and implementation can be handled in a variety of ways. He hedged a bit here, noting that technology is improving and scalability issues are being worked on by a number of groups. However, he did say that users could choose different consensus methods, and the speeds of a public blockchain or private blockchain would need to be weighed against consensus and security priorities. If it sounds vague, that’s somewhat by design. Verses is more focused on the protocols for spatial awareness, and creating a system for AR/VR tools, rather than improving the underlying blockchain consensus tech. As Rene put it, “Do you want slower and more secure? Use Option A. You want speed? Use Option B. I think we have some interesting middle grounds.”
Verses is focusing on verifying the authenticity of items in physical space. This manifests in a number of ways, from “digital twins” like recreations of a part in a nuclear plant or the layout of an entire electrical grid. Rene asks, “What happens when AI, VR, blockchain converge? That’s what we’re asking.” Of course, creating a set of standard protocols is no small task. With HTTP, the task was elevated by academics and quickly adopted by commercial interests almost organically. Rene says, “The promise of these technologies is really amazing. But the pitfalls are really devastating — just think about surveillance capitalism or weaponized drones as examples.” He also notes that you could be having a virtual meeting with someone who turns out to be someone else (just imagine having a conversation with a hologram of a dead celebrity). “As all these technologies converge, we think that it’s important to get out front and build consensus, and work with everybody to develop standards,” says Rene.