Report: Governments Should Take Advantage of the “Metaverse” and Its Technologies

Ever since Facebook became Meta, the “metaverse” – a term coined in the early 1990s to refer to a network of three-dimensional virtual worlds – has been a hot topic of conversation online, at home and in many town halls. The implications of this new generation of digital interaction and the technology that puts it into practice are profound.

“The most common future vision and current application of the metaverse is very touristy – local governments are thinking about how to use augmented reality to attract people to their local tourist towns or historic sites,” said Lena Garrity, director of iinnovation and sustainability at the National League of Cities (NLC) Center for urban solutions. Garry is author of a report published Monday entitled “Cities and the Metaverse”.

In addition to regulating these and other emerging technologies, it is important to be informed and involved in everything the metaverse evolves into, as it is essential for administrators to be “part of the conversation”, determining the purpose of a new technology. and what are the benefits? continued Garry. “There are some versions of the metaverse that can certainly really help people live their lives the way they want to live it.”

From apps to help people with limited mobility to digital communities connecting people through augmented and virtual reality, Garrity said it’s important for local leaders to start thinking about how to represent their constituents’ interests rather than let tech companies take over the conversation. to be led.

And advocacy aside, the metaverse could provide local administrators with an opportunity to better serve their communities, strengthen economies, increase accessibility and create new connections, among other benefits.

What if a real simulation of our physical world could be simulated virtually? What value would it add to people’s lives, what challenges would it pose and ultimately have a net positive effect on cities? asks the report. “Imagine a future where community members can interact ‘face-to-face’ with construction department staff about plans for their new patio from the comfort of their homes, provide commentary in a virtual town hall meeting from their offices, or even be able to contact their mayor without entering the town hall.

While the technology needed to fully launch a global metaverse has not yet been developed, it is advancing and some US governments have begun experimenting with technologies that will serve as the foundation for future development of the metaverse.

“We’ve seen governments use everything from augmented reality to virtual reality to blockchain and cryptocurrency, which we see as the building blocks of a larger metaverse,” Garrity said.

As an example, she cited a project in Massachusetts led by the Boston Planning and Development Agency that built digital twins that map the city’s physical landscape, “from water and sewer systems to treetops,” the report notes. “In the case of a controversial development proposal, the digital twin was used to assess the shadows a proposed new building would cast on a popular park, causing (the agency) to change building plans and minimize the ‘impact on the park’ while in the planning process.

From urban planning to climate change and mapping natural disasters, digital twins, a virtual model designed to accurately represent a system or location, are clearly beneficial to governments. The Internet of Things, a term that refers to devices loaded with artificial intelligence and advanced computers, is another aspect of the metaverse that can clearly be exploited to the benefit of the public.

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for example, administrators have “implemented adaptive traffic lights that change lights based on actual traffic to reduce travel times and fuel consumption. The Intelligent Traffic System has reduced travel delays in Pittsburgh by about 20%,” the report said.

And in Austin, Texas, homeless people can get a digital identity stored via blockchain so they don’t have to carry a physical ID card, Garrity said.

In addition to boosting tourism with three-dimensional virtual reality tours that users can experience before visiting, other uses of metaverse-related technologies include a virtual reality city hall where voters can conduct business remotely.

“Better access to information is really going to be crucial,” Garrity continued. When you visit local government websites, “it can sometimes be very difficult to find what you need”. In addition, a virtual advisor could “point people in the right direction”.

Within the wider Metaverse, Santa Monica, California was the first U.S. city to join the Metaverse, according to the report.

“The city now offers a virtual way to experience the downtown neighborhood through FlickPlay, a metaverse social app company based out of Santa Monica. In partnership with Santa Monica, FlickPlay will provide users with an interactive map of the city’s shopping district, where they can collect tokens as they move around the city,” the report said. “Some tokens can be used to unlock in-app digital experiences and others can be exchanged for physical items at local retailers.”

In addition to a pilot program to test emerging technology, the company is pushing foot traffic to local businesses and underutilized spaces, the report continues.

As local leaders begin to navigate this unprecedented next step in the digital universe, they should “feel empowered” to investigate further, Garrity noted.

“We are still in the early stages of these talks,” she said. “How local governments use these technologies and how local governments can interact with the metaverse in the future is an important first step.”

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