Ali tastes the Metaverse

Ali Metaverse, hidden in e-commerce.

Remember the trademarks “Ali Metaverse” and “Taobao Metaverse” applied by Ali in the midst of the Metaverse boom in September last year?

In May this year, these Metaverse trademarks were rejected by the State Intellectual Property Office, in fact, it is not only Ali that has been rejected, more than 10,000 “Metaverse” trademarks in domestic applications have not been really approved so far.

However, this did not delay the rise of the Metaverse craze, nor did it delay Ali to “do things” in the Metaverse.

Just during this year’s Double 11, “Taobao Metaverse” appeared on the Taobao App under the name “Future City”, where people can do tasks in the first person, receive crystals, draw prizes, find shopping discount coupons, and most importantly, people can directly change clothes and try clothes here to experience 3D shopping.

At this year’s largest online shopping event in the world, Alibaba began to taste the Metaverse.

What few people know is that Alibaba’s “Taobao Metaverse” dates back five years, when they would not have imagined that the project developed by the team would be swept into a wave called the Metaverse a few years later.

01 Face pinching frenzy 2018

At the end of 2018, a face-pinching software ZEPTO developed by South Korea’s SNOW exploded in the Apple App Store, once rushing to the top of the APP Store, in addition, it has also been in a high position in the Android software rankings for a long time, at that time, this software also developed a Chinese version for the Chinese market, named “cub”.

The so-called “pinching face” is a funny expression of generating an avatar for each person through software functions, and unlike the various anime avatars with simple drawing styles in the early years, the resulting 3D image is a vivid 3D image.

IN ZEEPETO, IN ADDITION TO GENERATING 3D AVATARS, YOU CAN ALSO DECORATE ROOMS, TAKE PHOTOS WITH FRIENDS, AND EVEN PARTICIPATE IN ONLINE GAMES AND SOCIAL EVENTS.

Ali tastes the Metaverse

This software has developed at an unimaginable speed, four years after its launch, it has 340 million users, and the monthly active users are 15-20 million, if only measured by the number of users, ZEPTO is already a good Metaverse.

Since the explosion of this software, a wave of “pinching face” has quickly emerged in China, especially when the Metaverse became a vent, most people in the Internet circle have their own virtual image, and a newer wave at that time was called Avatar.

Under this trend, Taobao has also set up its own face-pinching project – “Taobao Life”. “Taobao Life” was approved in February 2019 and officially launched in June.

At that time, “Taobao Life” was similar to most face-pinching software, combining various elements such as face pinching, dress-up, and games that were popular at that time, but as a part of the Taobao e-commerce system, the shopping attributes of “Taobao Life” were more intense, at that time, Taobao introduced some more avant-garde clothing brands including Rakucho and Sketch, and tried the development of online trial installation functions in “Taobao Life”.

Of course, the fitting is performed through a 3D image that you pinch your own face, not yourself.

With the rise of the Metaverse concept, Ali has developed many social functions based on “Taobao Life”, including the “Future City”, which is regarded as the “Taobao Metaverse” this year’s Singles’ Day, which is also a module with social attributes. At the same time, more and more popular brands have begun to put on the “display cabinet” of “Taobao Life”.

Ali tastes the Metaverse

Looking back, the reason why “Taobao Life” took only 4 months to quickly launch in that wave of face-pinching frenzy is that it has seized most of the domestic high-quality programmer talent resources as a domestic Internet head manufacturer, there are two other key factors:

First of all, Ali has developed some such social game attribute products in the early years, such as Alipay’s Ant Manor;

Secondly, Ali has been secretly laying out digital humans for many years on the key technology in this product.

02 Ali Digital Human Origin

In October 2017, Ali Dharma Academy was established, as Alibaba’s global cutting-edge technology research institute, DAMO Academy has a reputation, however, what few people know is that before the establishment of DAMO Academy, Ali had established a technology research institute with Zhejiang University – Alibaba-Zhejiang University Frontier Technology Joint Research Center (AZFT).

On April 26, 2017, Zhang Jianfeng, then CTO of Alibaba, and Chen Chun, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, inaugurated the establishment of AZFT, officially announcing the official establishment of AZFT, and virtual digital humans also became one of the first three laboratories of AZFT in this year, a research project of the computer vision laboratory.

Alibaba’s first generation of digital humans appeared at the Yunqi Conference in October 2017, when it was mainly based on adversarial neural network generation technology, and Alibaba’s first generation of digital humans mainly solved cross-domain problems from TTS to live video generation.

Facial capture has been the key to digital human generation technology in the past five years, according to Zhu Jianke, professor at Zhejiang University and director of the AZFT computer vision laboratory, recalled at this year’s Alibaba Yunqi Conference, from the perspective of facial capture technology evolution, the core technology of Alibaba digital human has mainly undergone two iterations and three versions:

The first generation mainly integrates face capture technology, based on the “handwriting” optimization algorithm, through face detection, facial landmark stabilization, three-dimensional face rapid reconstruction to achieve real-time face tracking;

The second generation mainly adds neural network technology, which detects faces through detectors, corrects by correction algorithms, learns and reconstructs faces;

Ali tastes the Metaverse

The third generation still takes neural network technology as the core, and realizes real-time multi-person reconstruction through face detection and reconstruction of shared coding features, improving the efficiency of face reconstruction.

It is reported that Alibaba’s third-generation facial capture technology has been realized in 2020.

Nowadays, in the face of the new trend of full-body motion capture, Ali has also begun the research and development of full-body digital humans.

According to Zhu Jianke, based on the large model question answering system, Ali now only needs a single photo to capture faces, to achieve the classic “bullet time” in “The Matrix”, through the current neural network rendering technology, only need to use 8 cameras, 10 minutes can be realized, and the cost can be controlled within 50,000 yuan.

Ali tastes the Metaverse

In addition, in the full-body motion capture technology system, AZFT has carried out a series of technical research and algorithm optimization for expressions, hands, and human bodies, which has led to a series of digital people such as Alibaba’s digital employee Xiao Mo and Winter Olympic digital human Dong Dong.

Today, digital humans have become an important undercard for Alibaba’s layout of XR and the layout of the Metaverse.

03 E-commerce Metaverse, not enough Metaverse

As we all know, Ali started with e-commerce, which is not only the most critical business of Ali’s business empire, but also the foundation of Ali’s business resource pool, so all of Ali’s technical layout will more or less take e-commerce business as the starting point.

For example, e-commerce has more and more demand for server resources, and Alibaba has hired Wang Jian to build its own cloud computing business; The demographic dividend gradually peaked, logistics costs began to rise, and Ali found Chen Junbo and Wang Gang to lay out automatic driving. These are all extended from Alibaba’s e-commerce business.

Playing well with the main business and laying out non-main business through investment or acquisition is the basic logic of domestic Internet giants.

Therefore, when XR technology made a breakthrough and the Metaverse was hot, the first question that Ali thought of was naturally how to combine with its own e-commerce business.

This leads to the two questions raised by Bo Liefeng, the new head of the XR laboratory of Ali Dharma Institute, at this year’s Yunqi Conference: What kind of changes can the development of XR technology bring to e-commerce? What will be the forms of XR e-commerce in the future?

Recently, “Future City” launched the Taobao mall, appearing under “Taobao Life”, becoming another virtual space in addition to the home under “Taobao Life”, which Ali calls a “3D world”.

Ali tastes the Metaverse

The idea of “Future City” looks grand, as if it is to replicate a commercial street on Taobao, and you can try on clothes online, and after trying on, some clothes can be directly clicked into the corresponding store to buy the same model.

The specific construction of “Future City” can be glimpsed from the user side and the brand side:

On the user side, in addition to trying on clothes, users can also collect crystals, lotteries (store coupons, red envelopes, virtual clothing, etc.), and can also set off fireworks, obviously, “Future City” has a certain degree of interactivity.

On the brand side, “Future City” has set up a brand wall, built-in display screen with live broadcast and carousel advertising screen, and also pulled Xiaomi, Honor, Estée Lauder, Coca-Cola and other brands to open brand stores.

However, just as Bo Liefeng said at the Yunqi Conference, “to achieve the same effect as offline, it still takes a lot of effort“, the current “Future City” will not only have a crash due to congestion, but most of the products on display, such as watches and mobile phones, can not be tried on or experienced.

Ali tastes the Metaverse

Taobao’s e-commerce Metaverse is far from taking shape.

04 The Metaverse also needs to “reduce costs and increase efficiency”

In the logic of e-commerce, there are three elements: people, goods, and venues.

In the Metaverse, the people in the three elements of e-commerce are virtual people, goods are virtual things, and fields are virtual fields.

As far as these three elements of building the e-commerce Metaverse are concerned, it is no longer a problem to take out any one element alone.

Nowadays, virtual humans have appeared in various live broadcast rooms and gradually integrated into our lives; There are also many companies in the virtual field to develop presentations, concerts, and multiplayer games in the virtual space they have built; Virtual objects have also been initially realized in Taobao’s “Future City”.

So, why does the experience still feel like there is a big gap?

Of course, technological maturity is still one of the reasons, how to build high-precision models, how to achieve high-mimicry interaction, so that objects or scenes are realistic enough for people in them to have a 1:1 restoration of the real world feeling, this is a problem to be solved by the construction of a higher-dimensional Metaverse, and it may take a generation to overcome.

Ali tastes the Metaverse

In order to solve the problem of rough experience now, what is actually needed is technical cost reduction, computing power cost, model cost, only these technical costs have been greatly reduced, so that the watches and mobile phones displayed in Taobao “Future City” can also be tried on like clothes in the main display area, and the anchor with goods can walk off the screen to interact with users in depth with virtual images.

Speaking of which, these are also in a hurry, after all, chip process iteration, algorithm optimization and popularization are not overnight.

At least Ali has crossed over from VR shopping “Buy+” in 2016 to today’s Metaverse shopping “Future City”, at least we can now see the appearance of the street scene in the e-commerce Metaverse, and even set off a firework to help the fun.

Ali tastes the Metaverse

If the Metaverse is a cosmic space, then, at least, we have now found the wormhole to this space.

And time travel in the Metaverse has just begun.

Posted by:CoinYuppie,Reprinted with attribution to:https://coinyuppie.com/ali-tastes-the-metaverse/
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