A digital version of Mark Zuckerberg playing cards with friends in a spaceship. For example, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, introduced the metaverse in late 2021. As a fun, Second Life-style world for meeting people virtually.
But the metaverse is more than that. Companies are already fully applying the underlying technology to communicate more efficiently and streamline processes. The metaverse is serious business.
What is the metaverse?
The concept of metaverse is not new. The term was coined by Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel. snow crash from 1992. In it, the hacker and pizza delivery man Hiro Protagonist performs heroic acts in a virtual world.
Thanks to Facebook’s name change, the metaverse is back in the spotlight. There is no standard definition. In a general sense, the metaverse is a shared digital 3D environment, often in virtual or augmented reality, that can be accessed over the Internet.
The exact interpretation differs by company. For example, Meta focuses on the social component with Horizons Worlds and Microsoft focuses on business communication with Mesh. Chipmaker Nvidia is targeting industrial work with its Omniverse platform.
Zuckerberg describes the metaverse as a “built-in internet that you actually sit on rather than just look at.” Microsoft calls it “a digital world full of digital twins of people, places, and things.”
Regardless, experts hope the metaverse will soon be indispensable. By 2026, a quarter of the population will spend at least an hour a day in virtual environments, research firm Gartner predicts.
Metaverse Capabilities for Business
Even now, in 2022, the metaverse already has specific applications in business. This goes beyond virtual meetings. Virtual reality and digital simulations have been used for years. We list three specific use cases.
1. Digital copy to test the design
You have spent hours designing your ideal kitchen with Ikea software. L-shaped, with ceiling-to-ceiling furniture and integrated extractor hood. It has been delivered, installed and connected. Full of illusion you throw yourself into the first recipe. And then you find out that the design is not convenient. You run out of space and a carousel would have been helpful for easy access to all your trays.
BMW has tried to overcome this problem for the design of the production line. The automaker has made a digital copy of its Regensburg plant on chipmaker Nvidia’s Omniverse platform. The entire manufacturing process is recreated one by one in a virtual environment. This is also known as a ‘digital twin’.
BMW’s production process is complex. The company makes about 2.5 million cars a year at 31 plants around the world. It is not a question of a model, but of ten variants, each one with up to a hundred different options: reversing camera, heated seats, a special color, etc. Customers have more than two thousand options to personalize a BMW to their liking.
How do you set up a factory so that all these cars are as efficient as possible? This is where the 3D environment comes in handy. BMW can endlessly test which setup is best and how a change in the production process affects the rest of the chain.
This is done by running simulations and applying artificial intelligence to them. But also by employees with VR glasses who are virtually at their workplace later. In this way, they can already check if the parts and tools are in the right place. BMW also uses the virtual factory to train robots, and designers from around the world can exchange ideas on the Omniverse platform.
2. Train staff
How do you prepare store associates for the Black Friday madness? Walmart uses virtual reality to train staff. The American chain is working together with the company Strivr for this.
Strivr started in the world of sports. VR software is used by quarterbacks in American football. Playmakers have to make decisions at lightning speed as athletes weighing over a hundred kilos come at them. In virtual reality, they can train their brains to work better under that pressure.
Walmart uses the same software, for example, in the run up to Black Friday. In this way, the store staff can already practice with the hectic pace of the shopping day. How do you stay focused with the noise around you? Who are you looking at? And what do you tell customers?
Another app is explaining the new gadgets in the store. For example, Walmart used Strivr to instruct staff on how to use special lockers to collect online orders from the store. That’s more effective than a boring PowerPoint in a stuffy room with no natural light.
Strivr software has improved the knowledge of more than 1 million Walmart employees.
Other companies also use a virtual reality environment to train staff. Courier company Fedex explains the best way for employees to stack boxes on trucks and telecommunications provider Verizon teaches store employees how to handle an armed robbery.
3. Assistance with installation or maintenance
A Boeing aircraft consists of millions of parts. It is a complicated machine that has to work perfectly: one mistake can be fatal. The American aircraft manufacturer therefore uses augmented reality in assembly to limit errors. When installing the wiring, to be exact.
In the past, employees were constantly looking at the laptop to check if everything was connected properly. Electricians now see through smart glasses how wiring should work. They can give orders through voice commands. Other employees can also watch.
Boeing wants to go one step further in the future. The company plans to design and build its next device entirely in the metaverse. Boeing will invest $15 billion in the necessary digital transformation over the next decade.
Like BMW, Boeing wants to make a digital copy of a plane to streamline the production process. All information about a device, including the origin of parts and thousands of certification pages, is linked to the 3D model. A completely new plane should be on the runway in four or five years. Now it takes twice as long.
And not without importance: the virtual environment must also increase security. In this area, Boeing has failed in recent years.
However, the metaverse is not a panacea. Boeing also needs to review its organization and change its corporate culture, insiders told Reuters. Or as analyst Richard Aboulafia told the news agency: ‘Is it worth pursuing? Absolute. Will it solve all the problems? New.’
read also: The metaverse is becoming mainstream, here’s how companies are responding