Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Metaverse

By Richard Eisenberg, Next path

Every now and then, a new buzzword seems to come out on the left and suddenly as ubiquitous. Currently, that word is “metaverse,” meaning the use of virtual reality (VR) headsets or augmented reality (AR) glasses or apps to make the internet more interactive and 3D.

Euromonitor International calls the metaverse movement one of the 10 global consumer trends for 2022 (another in the Top 10: digital seniors).

As you know, Mark Zuckerberg changed his company name from Facebook to Meta. He called the metaverse the next chapter on the internet and spent $ 10 billion on it last year.

But if you’re trying to ignore the Metaverse, thinking it’s only for techies, kids, and video game fanatics, it’s time, as Steve Jobs likes to say, to think differently.

“The metaverse is something that has every indication of a mass trend,” said Janet Balis, head of market practice at EY Americas, part of professional services firm EY Americas.

A paradigm shift

It’s a paradigm shift, he added, because the metaverse “introduces a new dimension to how we think, create and connect.”

Metaverse also helps seniors reduce their social isolation, have more fun, and be even healthier. Pandemic may make these benefits even more attractive to you and your parents.

“We have evidence of people over the age of 60 using it, talking to their grandchildren who are all over the country, watching each other,” said Rick Robinson, vice president of AARP Innovation startup. Labs and AgeTech’s new collaboration for companies targeting the 50+ market. “This kind of socialization can have a huge impact on life in a positive way.”

AARP offers a free virtual reality experience called Alcove where users equipped with Meta’s Quest or Oculus VR headsets “travel” the world and virtually chat with friends and family. The free HomeFit augmented reality app for Apple

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allows you to consider ways to “protect your home for the future”.

Dana Pierce, the nutrition manager for LifeStream, a central Indiana regional agency on aging, has been wearing virtual reality goggles for several years and loves them.

“I really try,” he said.

Virtual experiences can alleviate isolation

When his agency partnered with a pilot program at AARP’s Alcove, Pierce recalls, he and others were almost moved to travel around the world.

“We grouped on Christmas‘ trips ’where we‘ went ’to Prague and Vienna, and it was like we were on the street with music and people passing by carrying hot chocolate and their decorations. It was beautiful, ”Piercé said.

They also watched a string quartet play – “like a personal concert,” Pierce said – as if they were in the room with the musicians.

Pierce says the Alcove VR experience has also helped some people manage pain and depression better because it reduces their isolation. “They feel more connected,” he said.

Pierce became such a VR fan that he played a VR fishing game with his son and his girlfriend making them feel like they were throwing their reels along a Korean river.

Elizabeth White, a Next Avenue influencer on aging, enjoyed her experience with an Oculus virtual reality headset and is optimistic about the potential of virtual reality for seniors.

“I went to a beach in Indonesia where I was snorkeling and I saw fish swimming near me,” he recalls. The device also allowed him to watch a movie with someone in a different place “but with the feeling that we were sitting”.

White said: “I immediately saw the potential of seniors as a way to expand the living world and as a way to connect with friends and family.”

He particularly likes how virtual reality “offers the ability to visit places you can’t reach and experience things like skydiving or visiting the Louvre that you can’t physically and/or at a lower cost” .

However, many seniors are still unaware of Metaverse or unconvinced of its benefits for them.

In a recent poll by media company Toluna, 54% of respondents aged 55 and over had never heard of Metaverse and 45% said they were not interested in virtual experiences. Only 12% of people 50 years and older surveyed by AARP said they were interested in augmented reality glasses (‘smart’ glasses that can add 3D images and information to what you see).

However, an increasing number of seniors are likely to enter the metaverse.

That’s because companies are thriving to allow them to “see” their children and grandchildren living far away, to meet physical therapists and occupational therapists virtually, to interact with others in their communities and retirement facilities. experiences or creating legacies. Tell their life stories through avatars.

But how do you enter the metaverse and start hanging out with others in a 3D world?

Now there are two ways.

One is to buy virtual reality glasses or a headset, like Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 ($ 299) or Sony’s Playstation VR ($ 399). Another is to buy expensive mixed or augmented reality glasses, such as from Microsoft.

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HoloLens2 ($ 3,500) or, later this year, Magic Leap 2 ($ 2,300).

However, in the not too distant future, VR glasses and AR glasses are likely to be cheaper and less clunky. That’s what “The AgeTech Revolution” author Keren Etkin said in a call to Zoom.

“Now we have to wear these big, funny glasses. In the future, I might wear sunglasses similar to the ones I’m wearing now and talk to you like we do, but instead of looking at you at my computer screen, you seem to be sitting down. next to me here in my living room, ”said Etkin, the Israeli founder of The Gerontechnologist website and a 2019 Next Avenue influencer on aging.

Robinson of AARP says, “While glasses can be cheaper and less burdensome in terms of wearing them and limiting your range of motion, they will open up many new opportunities. ” He believes it will happen in about a year.

Ways to join the metaverse via your smartphone or TV are also coming, according to experts.

Companies like Rendever, MyndVR, XR Health, and Embodied Labs have become popular ways for seniors and their caregivers to enter the metaverse for fun, companionship, and better health.

Rendever (featured in Next Avenue articles “How Virtual Reality Helps Older Adults” and “Ready Player One: How VR Will Reinvent Aging”) uses virtual reality to help overcome social isolation and combat loneliness. and depression. It is offered to thousands of residents in more than 400 retirement homes in the United States, Canada and Australia.

With “Reminiscence Therapy”, Rendever users can feel like they are visiting their past and seeing their childhood homes or wedding locations. It has been shown to boost self -esteem and contentment and improve mood in people with dementia. Rendever can also allow people to take immersive group “outings” to see amazing locations around the world.

MyndVR (described in Next Avenue’s “Virtual Reality Offers the Opportunity to‘ Travel ’”) also offers VR trips designed for seniors. It retails for $ 395, which includes a lightweight headset and tablet with a library of travel, adventure, music, nature and meditation videos.

MyndVR is also used in several hundred elderly living communities and skilled nursing facilities. She is currently working at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab to see how virtual reality can help residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes reduce loneliness among people with dementia.

At the recent South by SouthWest festival, MyndVR unveiled the upcoming MyndConnect augmented reality platform that will connect seniors with distant family members and friends in the metaverse through immersive glasses that look like large Ray- Bans.

Be prepared for bumps in the road

XR Health can be described as the next telehealth recovery for people with chronic illness and neurological conditions.

Its therapeutic virtual clinics use virtual reality and augmented reality – through augmented medical reality, or MXR, devices – to connect people in seven states with physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech pathologists. . Cost: $ 69 per week to $ 119 per week; the VR headset is free.

Embodied Labs (featured in Next Avenue’s “Using Virtual Reality to Enter a Sufferer’s World”) has a virtual reality training platform to help healthcare workers and caregivers gain empathy for the people they help with hearing loss, hearing loss. vision or dementia. By wearing Embodied Labs VR glasses, a user has the impression that he the someone with health problems.

Pierce advises people considering a Metaverse ride to prepare for road bumps and even the possibility of helmet-induced nausea in the first place.

When he first tried virtual reality with his band, he recalls, “it can be hard sometimes, but we had a lot of laughs about the fun little glitches that happened with the technology.”

To keep up the learning curve, Pierce said, do what he does and find VR Facebook groups that are suitable for people over 50. While spending time with them, he said, “Seeing I have people in their 60s, 60s, eighties, and some 90s who like to use the headset. “

And, Pierce added, if you find your VR gear a bit sore, change it. “I bought a completely different strap, so that took the weight off my face,” he said. “It’s more comfortable.”

Richard Caro, a scientist, startup CEO and co-founder of the company Tech-enhanced Life for seniors, praised the prospects of the metaverse, even if he fears for its future.

“The potential for a better version of the Metaverse is the ability to interact in a realistic way with people,” he said. “But if we’re not careful, it could just be another place to advertise, take your data and try to sell you things.”

Gerontologist Etkin, however, is optimistic about the metaverse.

“Would it be nice if you could have an avatar of an elderly loved one who has died telling you their life story in their own voice?” he asked.

Even better, Etkin said, “I think if we’re successful, [the metaverse] there is great potential to actually solve a great challenge of aging, which is loneliness and loneliness. And I think that’s a good possibility. ”

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