ON MAY 10, two fighter pilots performed a high-altitude proto-metaverse experiment. A few thousand feet above the desert of California, in a pair of Berkut 540 jets, they donned custom AR headsets to connect to a system that overlaid a ghostly, glowing image of a refueling aircraft flying alongside them in the sky. One of the pilots then performed a refueling maneuver with the virtual tanker while the other looked on. Welcome to the fledgling military metaverse.
It isn’t only Silicon Valley that’s gripped by metaverse mania these days. Just as tech companies and corporations are scrambling to develop strategies for virtual worlds, many defense startups, contractors, and funders are increasingly talking up the metaverse, even if its definition and utility aren’t always clear.
The key technologies needed for the metaverse—augmented and virtual reality, headmounted displays, 3D simulations and virtual environments built by artificial intelligence—are already found in the defense world. The result is a lot less polished, cutesy, and spacious than Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual world vision, but that’s partly the point. And there’s a good chance that the underlying tech could take off, even if it stutters in the civilian realm.