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The Metaverse Has a Chip on Its Shoulder

The metaverse will rely on innumerable semiconductors to power its underlying substructure

Photo by Laura Ockel / Unsplash

Over the past few years, the global economy has been partly-crippled by the pandemic, a global chip shortage and supply chain issues—now we’re facing rumors of a world war and an onset recession. The metaverse, a world computer-network, will rely on innumerable semiconductors to power its underlying substructure.

The challenge in developing this world network is designing chips that can process mixed data types in real time while the data moves uninterrupted at light speed. This requires advancements at the chip level and beyond, including processors that have enough power to avoid jumpiness in signals, architectures that are flexible enough to incorporate changes in communications protocols, and systems that are cool enough to be worn next to the face for extended periods of time—like MR headsets and glasses.

So it seems the metaverse might have a chip problem.

Shorting the Shortage

If you were one of the unlucky ones trying to get your hands on a PS5 when it was released towards the end of 2020, you might have heard talk of the chip shortage as being to blame. Well, it was the chip shortage plus scalpers taking advantage of mass orders to sell them higher for a profit.

The chip shortage coupled with unrestrained crypto mining also created a supply issue for graphics cards, making 2020 a tough time for gamers globally. But these same semiconductor chips will be needed by the bucket full for building metaverse infrastructure, as MR wearables will need next-level chips.

Luckily, then, the chip shortage seems to have come to an abrupt halt. Thanks to the looming recession, demand for the semiconductors has drastically decreased, causing chipmakers to cancel orders and stockpile unsold product. This is in contrast to the disruptions caused by chip shortages in industries that rely on advanced electronic devices.

Both smartphones and PCs worldwide have had reduced demand. As JPMorgan noted, many major tech companies including metaverse-building AMD and NVIDIA have slashed their chip orders at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) —the largest manufacturer in the world.

To manage large inventories, many manufacturers—including TSMC—have cut their prices to encourage consumers and tech companies to purchase en masse. And while the chip shortage might no longer be an issue for the blooming metaverse, other issues are sure to follow.

Changing Chips

For the metaverse to be as immersive and technologically complex as promised, chips will have to undergo significant improvements to handle the needs of MR tech worldwide at an unprecedented scale:

  • To achieve a balance between performance and battery-usage, processors will need enough power to avoid jumpy signals. Systems will need to be designed in such a way that doesn't burn through battery power. Achieving that goal means ensuring that processing is a good mix of size and speed.
  • Headsets—including VR goggles—must be able to run cool enough to be worn for long periods of time. If you’ve ever sat with a hefty laptop for too long, you’ve probably been close to getting third-degree burns on your legs. Now imagine a wearable laptop clamped around your eyes–there's a greater need to keep heat to a minimum.
  • The metaverse will see that communications protocols evolve, meaning companies will have to be flexible enough to make quick changes. This could slow systems down, which in turn would create more heat and increase their processing needs. It's important to plan for these changes from the beginning for companies to remain competitive and to protect consumers.

Overcoming these will be momentous challenges—but with many working on metaverse substructure, we might be in good hands.