Orlando will test whether a physical city can be the center of the metaverse

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Orlando wants to be the center of the metaverse. The City of Florida has teamed up with Game engine creator Unity Technologies to create a digital twin of the city.

The city will be one of the first to present one of the central theories of the metaversethe universe of virtual worlds all connected to each other, as in novels like snow crash and Ready Player One† Once the domain of science fiction, the vision for the metaverse is about to become reality.

And Orlando wants to show that the world benefits from connecting virtual worlds with the physical world. As the home of Disney World, Orlando is familiar with the idea of ​​making dreams come true. But it also hopes to expand beyond the Magic Kingdom and become better known as a hub for the metaverse, Web3, and the related industries of augmented reality, virtuality reality, AI, gaming, and simulation training.

David Adelson is Chief Innovation Officer for the Orlando Economic Partnership.
David Adelson is Chief Innovation Officer for the Orlando Economic Partnership.

“Orlando, for as long as I can remember, has always been defined as one thing: The Magic Kingdom,” said David Adelson, chief innovation officer for the city. “And so what’s interesting is that in the background of all that, which is great stuff, there’s been innovation and technology. For each of the sectors and the building blocks that make up the metaverse, Orlando has been in it for a long time.”

I met Adelson at the recent Augmented World Expo event in Santa Clara, California, and sat down with him for an interview.

The metaverse-related industries have had their roots in Orlando for decades, and now Orlando wants to be known as the… MetaCenter, a metropolitan center known for its fantastic and authentic elements. That sounds like a lot of marketing. And that’s it, for now. Many people have their doubts about whether the overhyped metaverse will actually happen. But the deal with Unity shows that the city is serious.

“The parks and attractions we have are our anchor industries,” Adelson said. “But that’s where the metaverse becomes real. That’s where people first experience it through those experiential entertainment attractions, environments and the technology behind them.”

With augmented reality and virtual reality, Orlando was a $6 billion market for defense-related AR and VR. Because of its defense focus, Unity engine maker Unity Technologies has the largest concentration of Unity licenses in the city of Orlando, Adelson said.

Orlando’s AR, VR, and simulation roots are in the military.

“The developers are in Orlando,” Adelson said. “For the AR and VR departments, the central Florida department is the most active in the world. We have many small companies developing VR and AR for gaming, education and entertainment.”

New research from McKinsey & Co. shows that the metaverse could grow to $5 trillion by 2030. And it’s not just about games. In fact, games are expected to be smaller than enterprise markets and e-commerce in the metaverse, according to McKinsey.

Companies based in the region include Disney, Universal, Lockheed Martin, Falcon’s Creative, Brand XR, AVT Simulation, and Red 6. Disney, of course, has plenty entangled in the state of Florida about Disney’s support for transgender people and Disney’s opposition to the state’s “Don’t Say Gay Law.” But Adelson notes that the city of Orlando is not the same as the state of Florida when it comes to Disney.

“Orlando is not the state of Florida,” Adelson said. “We pride ourselves on being inclusive, working together and things like that, because we’re a melting pot. That makes us who we are.”

The game companies present in Orlando are Electronic Arts, Iron Galaxy, 302 Interactive, Echo Interaction, Unity and GameSim. On the AI ​​side, the companies include Checkr, SoarTech, Kore.ai, Care.ai, MindSphere, and AdventHealth. And in 3D Reconstruction, the selection includes CREOL, UCF’s College of Optics and Photonics.

The Unity Project

Orlando is a hub for AR and VR.

The Orlando Economic Partnership (the region’s economic development group) is working with Unity to create a digital twin of the 800-square-mile metro area that will use new 3D technology to map out scenarios for everything from infrastructure to real estate to talent availability and more.

The Unity rendering will capture 3D scans of building exteriors and interiors and will aid in the analysis of grid extensions, traffic flow, traffic light timing and climate change.

The people of Orlando also took part in last week’s ringing Nasdaq bell in the metaverse by futurist Cathy Hackl, Journey’s chief metaverse officer. Hackl is working with the city to bolster its reputation in the metaverse, and the bell rang in both the physical exchange building and the metaverse.

“I see the area of ​​South Florida that focuses on crypto, all the way to Orlando, the simulation capital of the world, becoming one of the metaverse and Web3 innovation corridors to watch,” Hackl said.

Orlando is home to Full Sail University, a technology and video game university that helps train many of the region’s talent. A total of 550,000 students live within a 100-mile radius of Orlando. While Orlando focuses on science and innovation, nearby Miami is emerging as a cryptocurrency-focused city.

Full Sail University is located in Orlando, Florida.

“If you look at the building blocks that will make up the metaverse, it’s shown here,” Adelson said. “Miami can have blockchain and crypto. They paint themselves well with that. But that’s okay. The MetaCenter is where the actual center of the metaverse is created.”

He noted that Orlando has a high-speed train linking the city to Miami, meaning that the region’s tech centers are sufficiently connected for collaborative purposes.

Of course, people are concerned that a technical slowdown could be caused by the slump in the larger economy. Adelson noted that more than $1 billion had been invested in Orlando in the first four months of the year, much of it in AI, 3D simulation, optics and photonics.

Adelson acknowledges that many people in Orlando are probably not that aware of the metaverse. But he said that’s part of the campaign point for MetaCenter.

“They feel like it’s just gaming and it is. They don’t understand how many pieces hit the metaverse, and when you loosen those layers, you see how it becomes very real for Orlando,” Adelson said. “There is already so much industry around it. We are not building new industries to handle the metaverse. We’ve had these industries in our pocket for a decade or more.”

Orlando Skyline.

While it may take 10 or 15 years for the metaverse to mature, Adelson doesn’t mind. He knows it might take a new generation to adapt to the changes the metaverse will bring, and he watches his 15-year-old son who already spends a lot of time in VR watching movies with friends, the watching football games and doing other things in the metaverse.

“We’re seeing the new generation start to adapt,” he said.

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