Thirty-eight years ago, when William Gibson wrote Neuromancer, a science fiction novel that later won multiple awards and sold more than 6.5 million copies globally by 2007, he did not envisage that Dr inz. Andrzej Tucholka, who read the book as a teenager, would be inspired in 2022 to found Astronation. Astronation is a project that uses virtual reality technology to take users on a trip to space, to explore the star system and socialise with its inhabitants.
It (Neuromancer) was one of the first ones to imagine and define virtual space and virtual worlds. I’ve been exploring different approaches to simulation of virtual world’s mechanics for about a decade, Tucholka told Arweave News.
A digital world created using technologies such as virtual reality and the internet, the Metaverse has developed over the years, only becoming popular in 2021 following Facebook’s parent company, Meta, announcing that it would expend $10 billion to develop technology for what it described as the “next evolution of social technology” whose future “is beyond any one company and that will be made by all of us”.
Opportunities in the Metaverse are estimated to be about $800 billion according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysis in 2021. The Metaverse has use cases ranging from virtual real estate to meeting and collaborating with remote colleagues, social events, shopping for real and virtual products, among others. Sales in virtual real estate hit $500 million in 2021 and projected to rise to $1 billion by the end of 2022 while some companies are exploring virtual reality games and scenes modelled after astronomy.
For Astronation, the decision to adopt the futuristic space theme for its virtual reality platform is not solely based on a desire for monetary gain. Opportunities for technology advancement and the passion of its founder for astronomy contributed to determine which aspect of the Metaverse the project should explore.
I also think that space is the next frontier, so imagining how humans will thrive in such an environment can help us understand it a little bit more, Tucholka said.
Using a simulation engine which takes a top-to-bottom approach, in building a virtual world model of the stellar system, Astronation takes a methodical approach beginning from the largest to the smallest details.
Simulation engine is being developed and deployed starting from the largest objects in the star system (star, planets, moons) through mid-sized constructs (star stations, cities) to concrete elements, their material properties, he said.
“There are different physical models implemented in the simulation engine. These include all virtual effects like movement, multiple thermal electric, kinetic models.”
In the Beta phase, users will be able to buy items including space ships and equipment with in-world utility and choose companions for their space travel experience.
Beyond visiting natural locations, we started deploying star stations on the orbits of planets and moons. These virtual locations act as activity hubs and provide access to virtual elements, Dr inz. Andrzej Tucholka said.
Immersion into the virtual reality world is best achieved through gadgets such as Oculus. But the high cost of the gadgets could be a barrier to using virtual reality applications. Astronation’s founder, however, said this was not a problem for the platform because users who do not have access to virtual reality sets can also explore the application by using desktop computers and other connected devices. The tradeoff, he said, is the level of immersion and features users can access.
From my perspective, we are building for the near (but still) future. The devices to enable mass adoption are right behind the doors (reportedly already manufactured, just not sold yet), Tucholka claimed.
Companies are striving to build infrastructure that would power the race for control of the Metaverse industry. It’s an effort some people believe is a waste of resources which should be channeled towards developing the physical world instead of the virtual. Tucholka, however, maintains that exploring the Metaverse would expand utility, access and understanding of the internet.
Although it is competing with big firms in both Web2 and Web3 ecosystems, many of them with deep pockets and years of operational experience for a slice of the Metaverse, Astronation said it had winning chances to become the simulation engine of the Metaverse. Its immediate task is launching into mainnet in early 2023 after its Beta phase this year.
So far, we are at the beginning of our path, but I’m optimistic about the future after having solved several ‘hard’ problems through research done over the past years, Tucholka said. “We win by innovating on the hard software problems and staying close with the community.”