By Ina Wanca, Vice President: Global Lead AI Solutions, Mastercard & Aakanksha Jadhav, Director, Product Development
Jeff Bezos, the billionaire behind the Amazon.com brand, and Richard Branson, the billionaire behind Virgin Airlines, both recently blasted off on separate projects to the edge of space. For years, the idea of commercial space travel sounded like science fiction. Now, it is inching ever closer to reality.
Bezos’s most recent venture notably included the participation of 91-year-old actor William Shatner of Star Trek fame. If casual space tourism is good enough (and safe enough) for Captain James T. Kirk, it stands to reason that it is good enough for the rest of us.
There have been criticisms of the very concept of the Metaverse, and privacy concerns are chief among them. This is caused by the same idea of bringing together all aspects of the internet into a shared social experience and the enormous volume of personal information this will require.
Commercial space flight is expected to become a $23 billion market as soon as 2030. This raises many questions, including what will the situation be regarding off-planet commerce? There is still a lot to figure out, from conversion issues to handling the ultimate cross-border transactions. Despite this, consumers do not need to wait to reserve their tickets to travel to space. Right now, they can experience zero gravity and all its effects by way of the Metaverse.
The Metaverse and Commercial Space Travel: Breaking Things Down
Now, technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality go beyond simulating space travel to provide an impression of a potential future. They can allow consumers to purchase rewards, trade goods among themselves, and more. They can give someone the visceral experience of what it might be like to land on the moon or help them feel what it might be like to visit faraway planets.
The Metaverse was designed to be a vast network of 3D virtual worlds that focus on social connections. It is similar to Facebook and Twitter but with an experiential component. Many experts describe it as a logical extension of the Internet—one that brings all facets together into a single, universal virtual world that allows people to live out their virtual lives the same way they might their literal ones.
To accomplish this, a wide range of different hardware and software-based solutions will be needed. Chief among those are the aforementioned augmented reality and virtual reality tools and mixed reality hardware. Of course, virtual world IT will be required to create these interactive environments.
There are currently no official standards or best practices for implementing this software. Hardware items will likely require significant operating systems to power the types of digital experiences that people will soon come to expect. Additionally, the Metaverse technologies are being enhanced with AI-powered models that could store data on physical objects gathered from digital interactions. The data is leveraged to recommend an action or predict a situation. For example, astronauts can use data to improve their machine repairs or simulate a journey to the Moon to gather real-time travel feedback.
Consumer expectations beg the following question: how will buyers’ behavior change once the Metaverse is ready for prime time? In theory, once the model is widely adopted, it will first be used for things like those described above, such as simulating space travel and things of that nature. What happens once brands begin to figure out how to integrate it into their own storefronts? The Metaverse poses a revolutionary opportunity for brands in terms of how they’ll engage with consumers and how they structure themselves internally. Most organizations will have a digital twin of themselves within a few years. That twin will effectively sit in the Metaverse, and the organization will be run from the Metaverse in many ways.
Do a consumer’s expectations of who walks into a physical retail location vary from a consumer experiencing that store via the Metaverse? How does this variance adjust best practices in customer service? What can businesses learn from trends in the commercial space sector that will allow them to attract and retain more customers?
Space can command a massive global audience for brands. Take the Red Bull stratosphere jump in 2012.
At the time, it was the most-watched live stream event in history. The jump was streamed in 50 countries across 80 TV stations and 280 digital partners. YouTube alone attracted 340 million live stream views (8 million concurrent). Half of the worldwide trending topics on Twitter were about the event (3 million tweets).
Red Bull invested $65 million to finance the stunt; the global exposure was worth multiple billions of dollars (with some estimates as high as $6 billion). And though the stratosphere is technically below the Karman Line, it serves as a great model for what’s possible with the right creative minds. Felix Baumgartner broke the record for the highest altitude skydive that day.
Further, it’s not hard to imagine a situation where the Metaverse is used to onboard space travelers remotely, so they can experience what a journey to the stars might feel like. In this case, people would no longer need to board a rocket aircraft for travel. Their home may become their orbit, and they may feel as excited as they could in a physical space location. In addition, space cardholders can purchase rewards for exclusive space travel offers to enhance their simulated space reality.
There have been criticisms of the very concept of the Metaverse, and privacy concerns are chief among them. This is caused by the same idea of bringing together all aspects of the internet into a shared social experience and the enormous volume of personal information this will require. Facebook has been criticized for its business plan, both for the ways in which it uses targeted advertising and for spreading false information online. Nobody can say whether either of these two concerns will continue into the Metaverse.
Regardless of what you think about them as businessmen, people like Bezos and Branson are paving the way for what is possible in commercial space travel. Right now, there are wealthy people on waiting lists to secure their spots on upcoming flights. More realistically, a company called Space Perspectives plans to fly tourists (private citizens) to space in 2024. This company reimagines space travel. It offers a six-hour journey to low orbit, and it has sold 5,000 tickets already. Average consumers don’t necessarily have to wait that long, and they don’t need unlimited resources. The Metaverse, which will be here before you know it, can provide a similarly immersive experience thanks to augmented reality, virtual reality, and more. When you think about just how far this type of technology has come in the past five years alone, it’s exciting to consider what the next five (and beyond) have in store for us all.