A lot of conversation in business and leisure around the metaverse focuses on its entertainment and commerce possibilities. But that’s the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to monetizing the metaverse. The market for industrial applications is nascent, but promises explosive growth as metaverse tech itself becomes more widely deployed and available. So, what is the industrial metaverse?
Futurist Cathy Hackl describes the metaverse to Ericsson as the “spatial internet,” a revisualization of internet data and connectivity using 3D rendering, virtual spaces and contextual information about your surroundings. It can be a mirror world, a cloud of Augmented Reality (AR) or Mixed Reality (MR) data, or live map content.
Like metaverse itself, “industrial metaverse” has become a catch-all phrase to describe similar technology deployed for industrial applications. The Industrial metaverse sits at the crossroads of industrial Internet of Things (IoT), AR, MR, and Virtual Reality (VR) for industrial use, the creation of “digital twins,” and the rich, blending of real-world elements with contextualized and meaningful data to help decision makers stay better informed and to keep business processes operating at peak efficiency.
It’s worth considering that the roots of the industrial metaverse go back long before the age of the Internet. The foundation of the industrial metaverse was laid almost at the dawn of the computer era itself. The term “computer-aided design” (CAD) was first coined in the 1950s, at about the same time early pioneers were developing the first graphical display systems for computers. The first CAD implementations were developed for defense, but CAD ultimately found its way into civilian use as computers found broader use in corporations. Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) followed suit.
At that point, it was possible to visualize and create in digital space something that you could manufacture in physical space. Conceptually, the industrial metaverse is no different: it’s a digital representation of the real. Just an enormously different scale. Rather than just individual objects, the industrial metaverse is a complete digital universe to occupy, with digital representations of the real.
The industrial metaverse as a digital twin
More businesses are finding the industrial metaverse useful as a digital twin proving concept. IBM explains: “A digital twin is a virtual model designed to accurately reflect a physical object. The object being studied — for example, a wind turbine — is outfitted with various sensors related to vital areas of functionality. These sensors produce data about different aspects of the physical object’s performance, such as energy output, temperature, weather conditions and more. This data is then relayed to a processing system and applied to the digital copy.”
Digital twins differ from conventional computer-based simulations based on their scale, according to IBM.
“While a simulation typically studies one particular process, a digital twin can itself run any number of useful simulations to study multiple processes,” said the company.
Another differentiator, according to IBM, is their interactivity.
“Digital twins are designed around a two-way flow of information that first occurs when object sensors provide relevant data to the system processor and then happens again when insights created by the processor are shared back with the original source object,” said IBM.
This two-way flow of information is predicated on the widespread use of object sensors, collecting and processing that data. This threads IoT into the industrial metaverse concept, for data collection, and it also creates a need for edge computing as a way to keep latency low, as well as to segment and manage network data traffic more effectively.
Nvidia’s staked an industrial metaverse claim with its Omniverse, originally developed as a collaborative 3D design environment. Collaborating with Ericsson, Nvidia created digital twin cities to populate with virtual 5G antennas to see how environments would impact wireless signals before they were deployed in real life.
Siemens AG may have the biggest recent footprint of any stakeholder in the still-nascent industrial metaverse market. The company’s collaboration with Nvidia pairs Nvidia’s Omniverse with Siemens’ Xcelerator, a business platform that includes a portfolio of curated IoT-enabled hardware, software, and digital services that Siemens AG sees as seminal to a new industry.
“Through this partnership, we will make the industrial metaverse a reality for companies of all sizes,” said Roland Busch, president and CEO of Siemens AG.
The industrial metaverse as an AI proving ground
That’s one aspect of the industrial metaverse, but another is its application as a finishing school for AI. The industrial metaverse can also be a safe environment for AI to better prepare for real-world deployments. By iterating real-world input over and over again in digital simulations and through constant testing and refinement, the industrial metaverse can help businesses build more resilient, responsive, performant, and ultimately safer autonomous devices. That’s the vision of Jensen Huang, CEO and founder of Nvidia. Huang outlined his ideas at Nvidia’s spring 2022 developer conference.
“That’s what Nvidia Omniverse is all about,” Huang said. “Digital twins, virtual worlds, and the next evolution of the Internet.”
Getting metaverse technologies to work properly also tie together many technologies which also power 5G Standalone (SA) and Mobile/Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC). Metaverse tech demands a low-latency environment with plenty of available bandwidth. So, it’s a long game, even longer than 5G SA, which is still largely the global exception to the 5G NonStandalone (NSA) rule.
In regions with the infrastructure, however, there is heat and light in this direction. Singaporean operator Singtel signed an agreement with Hyundai to deploy 5G at the Korean auto maker’s advanced research facility, the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Center in Singapore (HMGICS). The two companies are collaborating on 5G-based mobile robot management using cloud technology. For Hyundai, the end-game here is building a viable industrial metaverse platform.
“We believe that Singtel’s 5G solution will not only redefine the manufacturing process, but the partnership will realize Hyundai’s vision of becoming the first mobility innovator to build a Meta-Factory concept, a digital-twin of an actual factory, supported by a metaverse platform,” said Hong Bum Jun, CEO of HMGICS.