Editor’s note: Each week WRAL TechWire focuses its Innovation Thursday report on companies, people and technology that could make a big difference in our collective future.

This week’s report comes from one of the Research Triangle region’s top innovative thought leaders” Tom Snyder, executive director of RIoT, the fast-growing internet of things organization that’s based in Raleigh.


RALEIGH – We stand at a time when emerging technologies are enabling us to create a digital twin of the world that we live in, one with more accuracy than ever before, maintained up-to-date in real time, and with the ability to experience and interact with that digital simulation in immersive 3D.

Throughout human history, we have aspired to create and document versions of the world we live in.  From the earliest cave paintings, we rendered copies of our activities and the things around us.  As new technologies evolved, we documented our world with painting and sculpture and writing.  In more recent history, we captured our world with photographs and sound recordings and later with video.  And even more recently we create simulations with software.

Tom Snyder. Photo by Sarah Glova.

This ability to document what was happening in the world, as well as to imagine the possibilities of what can happen, spawned massive industries.  Industry today starts by simulating what could be – then making it real.  Engineering and architecture use 3D software renderings in the creation of new products.  Manufacturing and construction rely heavily on drawings and diagrams as a foundation for new infrastructure.  Medical professionals capture imagery with x-ray and MRI to prescribe positive healthcare outcomes.  Banks and financial services simulate markets with software algorithms in the design of new products.

Every industry will be fundamentally different, as we move from the Information Economy into the Data Economy.  Manufacturers have long wanted to build an exact engineering model of their assembly lines, to optimize performance, and then to monitor every single variable to detect anomalies and prevent failures.  Distributors want the same for their supply chains.  Cities aspire to monitor, control and optimize traffic flow.  Farmers want to maximize yield from every plant in the field and everyone wants accurate weather prediction.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been the preamble for the Data Economy.

For the past decade, IoT sensors have been deployed in increasing quantities in our homes, cities and fields as we make everything “Smart”.  This proliferation of sensors lays a foundation for high resolution data capture that can be used to render an accurate digital simulation of the world we live in.  The high bandwidth and low latency of 5G connectivity assures that we can keep that digital copy up to date in real-time.  The power of cloud computing, and new edge cloud technology provides the processing power to visualize this digital version in the most realistic ways yet possible, through the use of augmented and virtual reality and holographics.

The Information Economy was powered by the Internet, and our user interface was a keyboard and a 2D screen.  The Data Economy will be powered by the Metaverse.  The Metaverse provides much more human-like interaction with voice and gesture interfaces and immersive 3D visuals.  The internet provided access to stored information.  The Metaverse will be continually powered with real-time data.

We do not yet have the experience or technology capabilities to render a real-time, photo-accurate 3D simulation on a planetary scale.  But we can do this today for smaller systems, useful for solving specific use-cases and market needs.  And there are many companies that are building components of a future, full-capability Metaverse.  Epic Games, right here in the Triangle is a great example.

Most industries require accurate simulation of our world, in order to drive high quality business decisions.  Until enough sensors are deployed to capture all the necessary data inputs, they may be able to fill in some data gaps with educated guesses, and use machine learning to verify those assumptions.  But the entertainment industry provides a platform where we can experiment without worrying about data gaps.  We simply fill those gaps with make-believe data, allowing us to fully simulate a make-believe world.

In this world, we can do the important work of testing new human-machine interfaces and advanced rendering technologies and distributed computing systems and cybersecurity tools.  We create all the tools and building block technologies that enable an ever improving Metaverse.

Games drove a lot of the early adoption of the internet, and the Metaverse is proving no differently.  The good news for the Triangle is that we have many of the early adopters right here in our backyard.  The smartest data analytics companies like SAS and IBM.  The strongest visualization rendering technologies like Epic’s Unreal Engine platform.  Connectivity researchers at the Wireless Research Center.

There is a great deal of talk about why Google and Apple and Meta are moving to the Triangle.  Yes, there is a high quality of life.  Yes, there is great talent and strong universities.  But also, our region has become a global center of excellence for IoT.  IoT is the foundation layer for data capture, transport and analysis.

The World Wide Web was our early understanding of connected computing that led to the Internet as we know it today.  IoT is similarly a transient term leading to the massive opportunity of the Metaverse that will drive the next several decades of the Data Economy.  I’m thankful we have a front seat to this evolution right here in the Triangle.