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Feature Articles: Research and Development of Technology for Nurturing True Humanity

Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 29–36, Apr. 2024.

Project Metaverse: Creating a Well-being Society through Real and Cyber Fusion

Naoto Abe, Hiroshi Chigira, Kenta Ogo, Takayoshi Mochizuki, Yoko Ishii, Shin-ichiro Eitoku, Lidwina Andarini,
Katsuhiro Suzuki, Narichika Nomoto, and Atsushi Fukayama


NTT Human Informatics Laboratories is researching and developing the “metaverse of the IOWN era” in which the real and cyber worlds converge on the Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN), NTT’s next-generation communication infrastructure featuring ultra-high capacity, ultra-low latency, and ultra-low power consumption. This article introduces the latest research and development initiatives at NTT Human Informatics Laboratories, which are divided into space and humans (avatars), the main components of this metaverse.

Keywords: metaverse, Another Me, XR


1. Background

The word “metaverse” that appears in the title of this article originally appeared in the science-fiction novel Snow Crash published in 1992 as the name of a fictitious communication service in virtual space. It went on to become a commonly used noun as a variety of virtual-space services made their appearance with advances in technology. Today, it is a word that generally refers to virtual-space services on the Internet in which people can interact with each other via their alter egos called “avatars.”

Metaverse-like virtual-space services have been quite diverse, beginning with chat services offering interaction via two-dimensional (2D) virtual space such as Fujitsu Habitat constructed in 1990 and extending to services such as Second Life (Linden Lab) that include sales of land and items and close-to-reality economic activities through currency in virtual space. More recently, they have come to include multiplayer online games such as Fortnite (Epic Games) and Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo) as well as business-oriented Horizon Workrooms (Meta Platforms) and Mesh for Microsoft Teams (Microsoft).

The metaverse concept and metaverse-like services have existed for some time, but there is still no uniform definition. To date, leaders of big tech companies and experts have offered a number of definitions and opinions, but after the American venture capitalist Matthew Ball compiled and presented the core attributes of the metaverse and features that it should provide in 2020, a single set of guidelines began to take shape [1, 2] (Table 1).

Table 1. Seven features that the metaverse should have [1, 2].

It has been pointed out that “several decades will be needed to build an infrastructure along with an investment of several tens of billions of dollars” before an extensive metaverse equipped with these attributes and features can be realized. Nevertheless, implementation of the metaverse in society is progressing as reflected in (1) the evolution and reduced cost of technologies related to virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and cross reality (XR), the core technologies of a metaverse, and (2) growing expectations of virtual space even closer to reality due to the enhanced and enriching means of communication and diverse experiences that became possible during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Project Metaverse

At NTT Human Informatics Laboratories, we aim for a society in which everyone is in a state of well-being. Our mission is to “research and develop technologies that nurture true humanity” and our vision is to “enable information-and-communication processing of diverse human functions based on a human-centric principle.” One of our initiatives toward making this vision a reality is Project Metaverse. As touched upon above, the main objective of most metaverse-like services had been to provide experiences different than those of the real world. It has therefore been difficult to directly apply experiences on a metaverse to the real world. While a variety of metaverses have come to provide services, the number of metaverses that can be used by a single user is limited due to physical constraints, which makes it difficult to enjoy a variety of experiences.

Against the above background, we would like to provide users with a wide array of experiences equivalent to those of the real world on multiple metaverses by achieving (1) ultra-real virtual space and cyber/real intersecting space and (2) avatars with identity and autonomy. Therefore, it should be possible to overcome not only space-time and physical constraints but also cyber/real barriers while increasing the opportunities of encountering the values of others. These achievements should lead to a state of well-being not just on an individual level but also for society as a whole.

In this article, we introduce specific Project Metaverse activities and related technologies from the following two perspectives:

  • “Spatial representation and spatial fusion” to seamlessly connect the cyber and real worlds
  • “Another Me” to enable diverse experiences in the cyber world

3. Spatial representation and spatial fusion

3.1 Spatial representation: constructing virtual space sensed with all five senses

Efforts at reproducing actual buildings and structures, historic sites, and landscapes in virtual space that can be experienced as a real metaverse have thus far been centered on tourism mainly with regional development and revitalization in mind. With these endeavors, a variety of methods have been considered from the research level to commercial services. However, it can be said that disparity between the real and cyber worlds with regard to a sense of presence is a common problem hindering a state of enjoyment and immersion in such a metaverse. In particular, in an experience such as enjoying scenery and nature while moving through a broad area, it would be costly to reproduce such a visually detailed, extensive space. It would also be difficult to reproduce the experiences and bodily sensations that would occur when actually visiting that location solely on the basis of visual information. For these reasons, it has thus far been difficult to provide a high sense of presence.

In light of the above, we undertook the construction of a virtual space that can be sensed with all five senses targeting Ogijima Island, a small island in the center of Japan’s Seto Inland Sea [3]. In this project, we constructed a visually detailed, extensive virtual space while keeping costs down as much as possible by adopting (1) point cloud data obtained from a sensor technology called light detection and ranging (LiDAR) that can extensively and easily measure and grasp actual space and 3D point cloud media processing technology for analyzing and integrating that data, both of which are also used in self-driving systems, and (2) photogrammetry technology for creating realistic three-dimensional computer graphics (3DCG) from multiple photographs taken from a variety of angles (Fig. 1). In combination with the above, we used stereophonic acoustics technology and a newly developed walking-sensation presentation technique based on sounds and vibrations (Fig. 2) to faithfully reproduce and integrate sensory information “at that location” to stimulate other senses such as hearing and touch in addition to sight. Thus, we made it possible to provide users with the sensation of “actually being there” via the five senses. We consider that making experiences in virtual space equivalent to those in the real world as described above will make it possible to seamlessly use those experiences in the real world.

Fig. 1. Example of spatial reproduction using point cloud data (Ogijima Island).

Fig. 2. Presentation of walking sensation using sounds and vibrations (experiencing scene).

3.2 Spatial fusion: constructing intersecting space spanning two worlds

An avatar that acts as one’s alter ego in a metaverse generally exists within a closed virtual space, and the range of its communication is likewise limited to virtual space. A user in the real world is therefore unable to confirm the state of such an avatar, which may give rise to a phenomenon called “echo chamber” or “filter bubble,” which may generate division or discord between the cyber and real worlds.

We have therefore been researching technologies that will enable users (avatars) active in the cyber world and those in the real world to overcome the barriers between the two worlds and communicate with each other. One of these is High-precision VPS, which draws a positional correspondence between information in the cyber world (content and avatars) and the real world. Another is Glasses-free XR AISEKI system, which enables communication with avatars and virtual characters in the cyber world without having to wear special equipment such as VR goggles.

The former technology uses the same technology that has recently come to be used in AR services, but by combining virtual space finely and extensively reproduced by point cloud data, as described above, with a smartphone or AR glasses equipped with a camera, it becomes possible to position users in the cyber and real worlds correctly in mutual space and enable them to communicate freely in the same space (Fig. 3). The latter technology will achieve intersecting space, enabling users in the real world to sit next to or share a table with an avatar, etc. in the cyber world through a multilayer 3D arrangement design of a half mirror, display, and a group of physical objects such as a desk or sofa. This technology will enable natural bidirectional communication between multiple users existing in both worlds without having to wear VR goggles or other equipment.

Fig. 3. Communication using High-precision VPS (image).

A Glasses-free XR AISEKI system was introduced at the Cho-Kabuki Powered by NTT event in April 2023 in the form of a shared-seating magic lantern tea house where conversation with virtual diva Hatsune Miku could be enjoyed while sitting alongside her in the same space. Visitors and experiencers evaluated the system highly giving comments such as “I could see Hatsune Miku in 3D!” and “Being so close to her gave me a thrill!” [4] (Fig. 4). We plan to achieve a more compact and frameless system that will make it even easier to use with a more immersive experience.

Fig. 4. Glasses-free XR AISEKI system (Experience sitting next to a hologram. Just like a sci-fi movie).

4. Another Me

4.1 Identity, autonomy, and oneness of Another Me

We aim to achieve a society in which everyone can overcome constraints such as time and space and even handicaps and expand the opportunities in their lives. Another Me simultaneously possesses “identity” that reproduces not only a person’s appearance but also behavior and internality, “autonomy” whereby Another Me acts on its own in the metaverse beyond the constraints of the real world, and “oneness” in which the results of such activities are shared with the real person as an actual experience (Fig. 5). To achieve a level at which one can share their identity with their avatar to the point of feeling that the avatar is “me,” we have undertaken research even from a philosophical point of view and have found that this sense of identity includes a desire to connect with other people and society. We can envision a variety of use cases in this regard such as consulting with an avatar in place of the real person using that person’s specialized knowledge or carrying out work in collaboration with that person. On the basis of such use cases, we have been researching and developing elemental technologies for Another Me and working to implement Another Me in society using those technologies. In this article, we focus on three of these technologies—body-motion-generation technology, personality extraction technology, and personality reproduction and dialogue technology—and introduce our activities in applying them.

Fig. 5. Another Me (identity, autonomy, oneness).

4.2 CONN for expressing natural body motion

We have been linking the facial expressions and full-body motion of the digital human “CONN” (Fig. 6), a virtual personality co-created by NTT Communications Corporation, NTT QONOQ, INC., and Toei Company, Ltd., with the body-motion-generation technology of Another Me and conducting experiments.

Fig. 6. Digital human CONN.

Body-motion-generation technology enables the generation of natural and human-like facial expressions and full-body motion while speaking from a small amount of data [5]. Generating a model from body motion, and the speech and its content uttered during such motion makes it possible to automatically generate body motion from uttered speech only. The model is trained to generate body motions in accordance with the meaning of the utterances made, smooth out body motions that reflect semantic coherence, and generate not only body motions that appear regularly but also those that appear in special contexts.

In the digital human CONN, human-like, natural body motion has been achieved by collecting and modeling the body motions of people acting as models and the speech uttered during those motions and generating motions tailored to the utterances made by CONN.

4.3 Personality extraction and reproduction by meta-communication service MetaMe

With the aim of enabling anyone to have Another Me as one’s alter ego, NTT Human Informatics Laboratories is testing and implementing personality extraction technology and personality reproduction and dialogue technology in MetaMe*, a meta-communication service developed by NTT DOCOMO [6].

Personality extraction technology trains a vector for each individual that embeds information from that person’s behavior log concerning personality and values that affect behavior [7] (Fig. 7). This technology enables behavior in tune with that person’s values to be reproduced in Another Me. Therefore, similarity between values could be compared to find people with similar viewpoints or create a group with a diversity of viewpoints.

Fig. 7. Personality extraction technology.

Personality reproduction in dialogue technology reproduces dialogue of a specific individual from a small amount of training data. This technology achieves this by combining persona-chat technology that reproduces dialogue according to the user’s profile and adapter technology that learns personal features (tone, phrasing, etc.) from a small amount of dialogue data (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8. Personality reproduction in dialogue technology.

Using these technologies, we developed a prototype of a non-player character (NPC) as an alter ego. An alter ego NPC communicates beforehand with another user on behalf of oneself so that communication between those two users becomes activated when they actually come to meet on MetaMe, which can lead to the creation of new encounters or other opportunities. We are currently conducting a proof-of-concept experiment with NTT DOCOMO to see whether new social connections can be established between users.

* “MetaMe” is a trademark of NTT DOCOMO, INC.

5. Conclusion

As described in this article, most metaverse-like services provided thus far have been confined to virtual spaces with the result that the experiences provided have been different from those of the real world. However, as touched upon in Matthew Ball’s “Seven Features that the Metaverse Should Have,” user experiences in the metaverse of the future will span both the real and cyber worlds by seamlessly linking and merging these two worlds.

In our Project Metaverse initiative introduced in this article, we aim to merge real-world and cyber-world experiences, enhance the “connection” between people and people and between people and society, and create an enriching and prosperous society that embraces diversity. Please look forward to future progress in these efforts.


[1] M. Ball, “The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find It, Who Will Build It,” 2020.
[2] The Japan Research Institute, Limited, “Metaverse Overview and Trends—Toward Use in Business Scenarios” (in Japanese).
[3] Press release issued by NTT on Nov. 15, 2022 (in Japanese).
[4] Press release issued by NTT on Apr. 29, 2023 (in Japanese).
[5] C. Ahuja, D. W. Lee, R. Ishii, and L. P. Morency, “No Gestures Left Behind: Learning Relationships between Spoken Language and Freeform Gestures,” EMNLP: Findings, pp. 1884–1895, Nov. 2020.
[6] Press release issued by NTT on Jan. 17, 2024 (in Japanese).
[7] A. Otsuka, K. Hama, N. Nomoto, R. Ishii, A. Fukayama, and T. Nakamura, “Learning User Embeddings with Generating Context of Posted Social Network Service Texts,” Social Computing and Social Media, pp. 106–115, 2023.
Naoto Abe
Senior Research Engineer, NTT Human Informatics Laboratories.
He received a Ph.D. in engineering from Hokkaido University in 2006 and joined NTT the same year. He is engaged in research and development regarding the metaverse. His research interests include information systems and applications for communications, accessible maps, and behavior change.
Hiroshi Chigira
Senior Research Engineer, NTT Human Informatics Laboratories.
He received a B.E. and M.E. in engineering from Waseda University, Tokyo, in 2007 and 2009 and joined NTT in 2009. In 2016, he joined the 2020 Epoch-Making Project, where he has been engaged in several creative research projects combining technologies, design, and art to enable creative live sports viewing and artistic performance production for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Kenta Ogo
Research Engineer, NTT Human Informatics Laboratories.
He received a B.E. from the University of Tokyo. He is engaged in research and development of IP streaming, video recommendation service, 360-degree VR telepresence with CAVE, 3D Social Metaverse, and machine learned AI chatbot service. He invented the “XR AISEKI” system that enables XR hologram experience with no VR headset required. The super natural fusion of real and cyber worlds is his research interest.
Takayoshi Mochizuki
Senior Research Engineer, Group Leader, NTT Human Informatics Laboratories.
He received an M.E. in human science from Waseda University, Tokyo in 2001 and joined NTT the same year. He is engaged in research and development aimed at creating a co-creation space (hyper-realistic cyberspace) where people can play an active role through free movement between real space and cyberspace.
Yoko Ishii
Senior Research Engineer, NTT Digital Twin Computing Research Center.
She received an M.S. in information systems from the University of Electro-Communications, Tokyo, in 2004 and joined NTT the same year. She received a Ph.D. in engineering from the University of Electro-Communications in 2009. Her research interests are human computer interaction and augmented reality.
Shin-ichiro Eitoku
Senior Research Engineer, NTT Digital Twin Computing Research Center.
He received an M.E. and Ph.D. in information science and technology from the University of Tokyo in 2006 and 2013 and joined NTT in 2006. His research interests include information systems and multimedia systems for communications.
Lidwina Andarini
Research Engineer, NTT Digital Twin Computing Research Center.
She received an M.E. from Nara Institute of Science and Technology. Her research interests include system platform development and human computer interaction technology. She is also involved in global business partnerships efforts within NTT labs.
Katsuhiro Suzuki
Senior Research Engineer, NTT Digital Twin Computing Research Center.
He received an M.S in engineering from Keio University, Kanagawa, in 2017 and joined NTT the same year. His research interests include virtual reality and human computer interaction technology.
Narichika Nomoto
Research Engineer, NTT Digital Twin Computing Research Center.
He received an M.S in media science from Keio University, Kanagawa, in 2007 and joined NTT the same year. His research interests include natural language processing.
Atsushi Fukayama
Senior Research Engineer, Group Leader, Another Me Research Group, NTT Digital Twin Computing Research Center.
He received an M.S. in informatics from Kyoto University in 1999 and joined NTT the same year. After working on media recognition technology, research and development of human computer interaction technology, and practical application development of network services, he began leading the Another Me Research Group at the NTT Digital Twin Computing Research Center in 2021.