For a technology billed as the “next big thing,” the metaverse has been around for a while. Find out who’s really building it, and why you’ll be benefiting sooner than you think. [by Matt Bulow]
Neal Stephenson dreamt up something he called the Metaverse for his novel Snow Crash. That was way back in 1992. Thirty years later, several companies are now investing, in some cases heavily, to actually build the Metaverse. Or, more accurately, “a” metaverse. Various players are currently developing virtual worlds, each according to their own unique visions. Some are more well-known and well-funded, but most revolve around virtual reality (VR) spaces accessed through VR headsets.
Current day metaverses also share some basic similarities with their fictional forerunner. At its core, a metaverse is just a virtual environment that is separate from our normal physical reality (or “meatspace” in the entertaining slang of the novel). In the metaverse, beings and things exist and interact as digital representations.
Once inside, users can hold meetings, hang out with friends, or go shopping, all as avatars they create themselves. There are big advantages to shedding the limitations of physical reality. Physical distance becomes irrelevant. You can meet with anyone, anywhere in the world. All without the hassle, expense, and delay of travel.
Time to Escape from Reality?
We might wonder, if this place is so great, why aren’t people already spending most of their time in the metaverse? Is it all just hype, the latest digital fad? Or will virtual worlds soon replace the internet and change the very nature of human existence?
That last bit still seems unlikely. A virtual caffè latte might look good in the metaverse, but how could you smell or taste it there? For now, the physical world will continue to demand of us many things we can only accomplish — or truly enjoy — as good-old-fashioned flesh-and-blood.
Which is why technologies that combine the best of virtual and physical worlds are so useful. Augmented reality (AR), for instance, can be used to project digital information or graphics onto real-world scenes or objects. And with mixed reality (MR), you can manipulate virtual objects — like a coffee cup — just like you would do with physical objects.
At TeamViewer, we don’t see the metaverse as “VR only.” AR or MR is in fact frequently the better method of building and accessing the metaverse, depending on the application.
What Do People Think about the Metaverse?
TeamViewer recently commissioned a survey to find out what the public in Germany knows about the industrial metaverse. 2,500 randomly selected people familiar with the term “metaverse” participated in the study. Around 70% of the respondents reported that they have only a poor understanding of what the metaverse is all about.
When asked about the significance of the metaverse, people said it is relevant for gaming and entertainment. One in four, however, recognize the significance of industrial applications, for instance for virtual collaboration, training, and onboarding.
Some of the most interesting insights from the study revolve around how particular groups think about the metaverse. Blue-collar workers and executives, for example, were most likely to agree that it could potentially trigger an industrial revolution — like the assembly line or robotics has. White-collar workers were most likely to have used metaverse technologies at least once. Blue-collar workers were least likely to have experienced them first-hand.
While most fail to recognize the full potential of the metaverse, awareness of industrial applications is already present to a degree.
You Don’t Need to Wait for the Metaverse. It’s Already Here
Recently, there has been a great deal of media coverage concerning plans for VR-powered spaces aimed at office productivity and entertainment. Yet it’s important to realize that 80% of the world’s workers aren’t sitting in an office. They’re out in the world, operating and interacting with equipment, machines, and other humans.
It just so happens the factory floor is uniquely suited to metaverse technologies. Because the benefits are magnified here. Existing industrial infrastructures also provide the ideal foundation to build a metaverse on. The industrial internet of things, for instance, connects equipment and devices on a massive scale. Big data is generating vast quantities of information.
Adding augmented reality and mixed reality to these existing technologies enables workers to interact with objects and data in extremely useful ways. They can get things done faster, better, and crucially, more safely with this potent combination. In this way, AR and MR serve as the point of entrance for frontline workers into the metaverse. All the while, AI works behind the scenes to solve problems and enable better decisions.
A manufacturer of electrical generators, for example, can now offer instantaneous technical assistance anywhere in the world. Smart devices and an AR-enabled support platform from TeamViewer are the pieces of the puzzle that lets technicians and customers interact. Elsewhere, warehouse pickers are benefiting from smart glasses that guide them to the correct pallets and automatically scan QR codes. This is how, instead of building an entire world from the ground up, the industrial metaverse marries the best parts of both physical and virtual realities.
Sure, a fully virtual metaverse with people walking around as avatars has a big “wow” factor. But trying to implement a grand VR vision will take time and extraordinary amounts of resources. A piecemeal approach that includes augmented and mixed reality may have the larger long-term impact. Because deploying AR use cases that actually work, one at a time, delivers value right away. Adoption is organic.
TeamViewer has already been doing this across countless industries and use cases for years. And who knows, building one application at a time may get us to that grand vision sooner than trying to construct a massive, fully immersive world that will replace the internet and reality itself.
How We’re Already Using the Metaverse
AR smart glasses can display directions in your field of vision as you walk down city streets. Pokémon Go showed us how augmented reality can make for a very entertaining gaming app. At TeamViewer, our focus is of course on the working world. The potential applications for AR and MR in an industrial context are nearly infinite. We already offer professional AR solutions for the digitization of countless workflows and processes in industry, logistics, production, and medicine.
Take digital twins, for example. Companies are now using TeamViewer to conduct mixed reality-based employee training on virtual robots or equipment. So, if you want to teach engineers how a new system works, all you need is a digital twin of the machine and some good data glasses. Mixed reality is enabling quality control, for instance in the final inspection of new vehicles.
So for TeamViewer, the metaverse is nothing new. We’ve been building it for quite some time. Our customers have also made big progress in creating the industrial metaverse — but without calling it that. For us, what matters most with new technologies is delivering value to our customers. And the metaverse is already helping us do that in ways that nothing else can.