A team at the University of Waterloo is working on research described as “the evolution of the internet,” in part through a grant from Meta, the parent company of Facebook.

Inside a third floor lab at the Davis Centre on campus, third year software engineering student Daekun Kim showed off a system that allows him to drag a computer mouse from a hardware screen onto a projected screen -- dragging a virtual file from a computer desktop to a physical printer in the room, where the system then responds to print it.

Kim compared some of the work to what is seen in Marvel’s Ironman, where superhero Tony Stark swings his arm to physically throw virtual trash into a virtual bin.

“Like for example, if your phone is out of battery, then maybe it will have like little rippling effects from the other side of the room,” Kim explained.

He described it as “essentially blurring the line between the virtual and the physical world.”

Computer science associate professor Daniel Vogel believes it’s projects like this one that attracted Meta to invest in their lab.

Vogel and the department recently received a $30,000 grant from Meta, the parent company of Facebook.

The grant is meant to encourage research that could help build the so-called “metaverse” – a new concept combining physical and virtual experiences that’s been described as "the next version of the internet.”

“Currently we use browsers, it’s very much stuck to a screen,” Vogel said.

“The idea is the metaverse will be, very immersive, much more like the real world in terms of what it looks like and how you use it,” he said.

Vogel cited the 1980s as a comparison - when people had no idea what the internet of today would be like.

His team is hoping to shape the as-yet-unknown internet of 50 years from now.

Vogel says the school didn't even apply for the grant. Instead, they were given it based on their reputation.

“Anytime a company is willing to give an unrestrictive gift, to let us do research guided by ourselves, but knowing that it's work that they are interested in, it's really exciting,” Vogel said.

The Waterloo team plans to use the funds to continue their research in augmented reality.

“We're interested in a future where all surfaces, everything, the floor, the wall, plants, your clothes, is coded in some material that can display pixels, digital information,” Vogel said.

He describes it as a whole new system, much like virtual reality “but without the clunky headset.”

It’s an opportunity that excites not only students and professors, but Kim hopes, the rest of the world, too.

“This is a very state of the art system. Very few places in the world, have this level of fidelity and technology,” Kim said.