The conversation around the metaverse has been getting louder by the day, infiltrating our news and social feeds. But what is it really? And how does it relate to the superyacht industry? While a few definitions are flying around, it can be seen as a digital world parallel to the real one, augmented, virtual, 3D and mixed reality technology.
Some compare this speculation surrounding the metaverse to the birth of the Internet back in the 70s. With this year set to be the 'metaverse gold-rush’, and with Web 3.0 (the expansion of our Internet as we know it) developing rapidly, where will it lead us?
Amongst the speculation and wonder are endless questions, especially in business. How will the metaverse work in specific sectors? Is it even relevant for some? What is clear is that this metaverse discussion isn't just for the serious gamers or to display the latest celebrity avatar; it is impacting most industries, including yachting. Various industry players have already launched metaverse initiatives, from NFTs to the use of cryptocurrency.
Alongside this new version of our virtual world and this metaverse chatter is also the underlying and persistent need to improve sustainability globally, and within the superyacht industry specifically. Sustainability is getting higher and higher on agendas, and the new wave of more environmentally-conscious owners is impacting the industry's future - huge progress is already being made in the design and propulsion of new builds, for example.
There is still a long way to go though, and the industry should be analysing metaverse developments in tandem with sustainability goals. What should the eco considerations in the yachting metaverse be? Will the metaverse be used as a force for good, or will it create more problems? Will it help or hinder the industry in hitting these looming sustainability targets? These are all questions waiting to be answered.
Technological advances in the metaverse
Innovations and technological advances are constantly evolving to address sustainability issues within the superyacht sector, giving us better ways to analyse data, streamline supply chains and improve production.
The industry is also adopting virtual technology that can perhaps be taken further within the metaverse to support sustainability targets. This is already present within city and building planning, with architects and designers using simulations to make buildings more energy-efficient, finding out exactly where to place solar panels to maximise exposure and improve airflow. Could these simulations translate into the yacht design community? While Alex McDiarmid of Alexander McDiarmid Design is hopeful - "there is potential for these common simulation practices," he says - he also states that there are limitations with CAD (computer aided design) tools. "Walking through an 80m superyacht project may be visually stunning and detailed through VR goggles, and there is the potential for AR digital additions to show what could be, but it is still different from reality. I think technology is simply not capable just yet."
Perhaps Anastasia Yushkova, CEO and Founder of Anchor VR, has the solution - a platform offering a full range of Extended Reality solutions (virtual, augmented and mixed) to the superyacht industry. "Our platform is different from the metaverse because the metaverse can hardly handle very heavy CAD files used in yacht designs,” she explains. “Our platform does handle VR visualisation of these heavy files."
Yachting has vast potential to drive research and development to find innovative, technological solutions for the sustainability crisis, and there is certainly the argument that the metaverse can be a good sounding board for this.
Creating a virtual world
Yachting's carbon footprint is unquestionably worrying, however what the metaverse can offer is a reduction in some physical events and meetings. While the pandemic saw an explosion in video conferencing, some believe there is a lot more the metaverse can add.
The idea surrounding virtual 3D boardrooms, used for meetings with stakeholders such as shipyards, owners and designers, is a case for sustainability as it reduces the amount of travel across the globe. "VR/AR during the design process does not require people to travel long distances to see each other as they can do everything online, so it helps with energy sustainability," says Yushkova.
VR is also popular among yacht owners. Experiential Yachting is a new philosophy within the industry, adding more to the experience of simply owning a yacht. It encompasses different ways a yacht can be used, including immersive VR, with owners trialing out locations - virtually - before committing to their next destination.
With this, however, comes the concern that virtual worlds cloud our expectations. Referring to the move to online and virtual business, McDiarmid explains that "The real hurdle has been the lack of physical interaction between colleagues and clients when you cannot see someone's reaction or read body language concerning your work; you have no choice but to adapt."
Another use of these virtual and 3D platforms is within the operational side of yachting; there is vast scope to use the technology for yacht crew. Sustainability agendas can be incorporated into interactive training, from identifying how systems on board can be used more efficiently through to recycling procedures.
NFTs and superyachts
NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, have already made their way into the superyacht industry through a few key players, typically traded at extortionate rates, but what we need is to channel some of this wealth into positive climate projects.
Already a handful of NFTs are directing proceeds towards ocean conservation projects. An example is Oceanco: "We are looking to reduce the emissions related to the project wherever possible, and there will also be a CSR element to superyacht NFTs as we will be donating a percentage of the profits from the sale of the tokens to charities involved with marine conservation," says a spokesperson for the company.
Sustainability issues with the metaverse
Looking into this vision of the near future, one crucial aspect to consider is how widespread adoption of the metaverse might increase emissions. While the virtual aspect could potentially cut emissions by reducing travel, there is still the vast energy consumption to grapple with; the metaverse’s reliance on VR technology and data centres is a huge environmental concern.
The metaverse relies on high-resolution imagery through VR and AI, which consumes considerable energy. There are also concerns regarding Blockchain technology, through which NFTs and cryptocurrency work. Blockchain is a decentralised technology spread across many computers which manage and record transactions. While it isn't easy to estimate the exact carbon footprint of minting an NFT, estimates by Digiconomist suggest that a single Bitcoin transaction emits 1205.09kg of CO2, the equivalent of watching 200,849 hours of YouTube.
Each time an NFT is minted or transacted, another block needs to be built on the Blockchain, creating more emissions. Digiconomist estimates that Bitcoin's annual electricity consumption is equal to Ireland's total annual usage. A recent study uncovered that training just one AI model could generate 283 948kg of CO2 - more than five times the amount of greenhouse gas emitted during the lifetime of one car.
Unfortunately, the bad news surrounding the environmental impact of cryptocurrency doesn't end there - mining generates a considerable amount of physical and electronic waste as the hardware becomes obsolete. In just one bitcoin transaction, 400.80 grams of physical waste is accumulated, equal to 2.44 iPhones.
Although the statistics around energy consumption and emissions are eye-watering, the hunt for solutions is ongoing. The Ethereum network, for example, is developing a more environmentally friendly approach called the Proof of Stake method which significantly improves computing power and energy consumption, thereby reducing the carbon footprint. This could save up to 99.95 per cent of energy, significantly improving the sustainability of transacting within the metaverse.
Cybersecurity concerns within the metaverse
Ever since the Internet came about, there has been underlying cybercrime, with more and more security systems implemented to tackle this. However, the metaverse is a new concept with new technology, and without such sophisticated security systems it is vulnerable to illegal activities which threaten social sustainability.
Cybersecurity tools are currently constrained by the bandwidth of satellite communications within the superyacht industry. While technology continues to advance, our ability to detect threats within this brave new world has a long way to go.
"We are very open to new and innovative ideas, but have immediate concerns about intellectual property, plagiarism, and fakes sales," says McDiarmid. "The proprietary meta technology is still in its infancy and, for the moment, we are closely watching what is happening with these first NFT sales. How long before we see meta yacht brokers? This entire metaverse can only work if there is one core engine or multiple core engines that have agreements on exchanging and interpreting data.
A new normal for the yachting industry?
While this new wave of technology and innovation is inevitable, we need to ensure it develops responsibly and sustainably for our future. There is a strong desire to create a 'new normal'; we saw it with the pandemic and now we see it with the advent of the metaverse. Perhaps the only conclusion to be drawn is that change will be the new normal for the foreseeable future.
This virtual world is very new, and though surrounded by skepticism, it isn't going away, as evidenced by key players already operating within this space.
There’s no denying that the carbon emissions associated with this new world are very worrying. In the superyacht industry, where the reduction of carbon emissions is a key target, we must continue to innovate and develop new tools and initiatives to achieve this.