Major tech companies around the world talk frequently about the concept of the metaverse — a virtual environment in which people can find new ways to meet and interact online.
Building such a digital world, however, is easier said than done. Croquet Corp., a startup based in downtown L.A., is building a new type of operating system that the company says will provide essential capabilities to developers creating and connecting the digital spaces of the future.
“I think of it as an augmented conversation,” said David A. Smith, the company’s chief technology officer. “You and I can be engaged in this world and can explore it, extend it and really kind of redefine the nature of how we communicate.”
The browser-based operating system runs on what the company calls a “bit identical shared virtual machine” which allows web users to link up in a shared virtual environment. Croquet is also working on a developer toolkit for “microverses,” or individual applications that can be integrated into a larger metaverse.
One early client is Hitachi, and Smith said the Japanese conglomerate is looking to the operating system as a means to building software tools for industrial management.
“You can imagine a factory floor,” said Smith. “What we want to do is to project information (from the factory) into the virtual world so that if you’re out somewhere you can actually see the current state of the floor and you can engage with it and modify it.”
Smith, a veteran computer scientist and influential video game designer, said Croquet’s operating system is based on a concept he began developing years ago in collaboration with pioneering computer scientist Alan Kay.
“Our goal since the beginning of this was to provide a true platform for next-generation communication and collaboration,” said Smith.
The company was formally established in 2018 and announced the launch of its new operating system on May 17. The system is built on open standards and designed to support a broad range of functions on a host of platforms, from computers to mobile devices to 3D headsets.
Chief Executive John Payne said the company had until recently been operating in stealth mode, but that recent buzz around the metaverse concept —accelerated by the recent name-change of Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc. — had given Croquet incentive to publicize its technology.
Payne said the company’s revenue would eventually come from small charges to users of Croquet’s technological infrastructure, which includes a network of small servers that the company refers to as “reflectors.”
Croquet is still perfecting its operating system and developer tools, but Smith said the technological capabilities of what the company is developing could have a transformative effect on everything from live events to gaming.