At Nvidia's annual GPU Technology Conference most of the focus is — understandably — on various technical aspects of the increasingly diverse group of chips designed by the company's engineers.
This year, things are a little different.
During the kickoff event Tuesday, Nvidia plans to launch the enterprise version of the Omniverse platform. Previously available in a beta version, Omniverse represents a key part of its growth plans over the next several years, and CEO Jensen Huang has described it as an extension of the company's strategies around artificial intelligence and high performance computing.
Omniverse is — or will become — the foundation of its strategy to tackle the metaverse.
"Omniverse is essentially an overlay of the internet, an overlay of the physical world," Huang said on a recent earnings call. "It's going to fuse all these different worlds together long term."
Last month Nvidia said it will start selling the tool on a subscription basis for $9,000 a year for two licenses, and that it thinks there are roughly 20 million engineers and designers who might be interested in using it now that it is coming out of beta. According to Wells Fargo chips analyst Aaron Rakers, Omniverse could incrementally grow into a $10 billion business over the next five years.
Omniverse is quite a bit different than anything the company has attempted in the past. It's a tool that can simulate physically accurate 3D scenes, allowing real-time collaboration in shared virtual spaces. Engineers located anywhere in the world can work on projects like building a bridge or designing a car. It uses Nvidia's chip technology such as real-time ray tracing, and is optimized to run on the company's workstations — the desktops, laptops and servers it sells.
The software connects with commonly used design tools from Autodesk and Unity, as well as tools made by Bentley Systems, the infrastructure design software business. One of the most important pieces of technology in Omniverse is Universal Scene Description, which is used to define virtual environments. USD was developed by Pixar in 2012 for its films, and released as open source in 2016.
"In much the same way the early internet was inconsistent between browsers and platforms, HTML solved the plumbing and now all the website experiences are consistent," Nvidia Vice President of Omniverse Platform Development Richard Kerris said in a briefing with reporters ahead of the announcement. "We believe that USD is doing the same for 3D worlds."
Kerris and Nvidia believe Omniverse will be useful to engineers and designers, who can use it to construct physically accurate digital twins of buildings or products. Making an accurate digital copy helps designers and engineers determine whether there are problems with a product design before manufacturing it, and it can also help test how a building would fare in the event of an earthquake.
Nvidia has said BMW is using Omniverse to make a digital twin of a factory. Volvo uses it to design vehicles prior to making the actual car, and Ericsson uses it to optimize its 5G network deployments.
What's less clear about Omniverse is what exactly it will get used to build once the metaverse arrives.
Part of the issue is that the metaverse isn't easily defined — tech executives such as Meta's Mark Zuckerberg have called it the next major evolution in computing, similar to the widespread adoption of mobile devices. With tech companies such as Meta and Microsoft working on their own versions of the metaverse, even its boosters aren't sure exactly how it will unfold or what it will look like.
Whatever lies ahead for the metaverse, Nvidia is positioning itself to make and sell one of the key tools companies will need to construct the various virtual components in any version used by the enterprise.
"Long-term, Nvidia market opportunity looks much more significant — spanning an expanding list of applications and verticals," Rakers wrote. "Nvidia has the opportunity to establish a significant first mover advantage in building out the infrastructure to power the Metaverse."