The metaverse image problem began in October 2021, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would henceforth be called Meta.
The rebranding marked a focus on “the metaverse,” a virtual world Zuckerberg couldn’t explain in a way that would excite most people. Maybe people were still upset that this was the company a British court found responsible for enabling the illegal collection of data from 87 million people by another company that interfered in the 2016 US election. Many Americans want nothing to do with Facebook/Meta, and the drop in sales of Quest VR headsets after Meta acquired Oculus reflects that, anecdotally at least.
But no matter how much people want the metaverse to fail so they can watch Zuckerberg crash and burn, it’s not likely to happen, at least the part of the metaverse that fails. This is because the metaverse is not synonymous with Zuckerberg: Meta can fail and the metaverse can still grow.
And it should. Not because virtual arcades are vital to the future, but because aspects of the metaverse really do have the potential for future vitality, especially in industries like medicine.
The World Economic Forum, as part of its Defining and Constructing the Metaverse Initiative, recently addressed these and related topics in a hybrid panel session called “Deployment in the Industrial Metaverse.” Featured speakers included Abdullah Alswaha, Saudi Arabia’s minister of communications and information technology; Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap; Bernd Montag, CEO of Siemens Healthineers; Åsa Tamsons, Senior Vice President of Ericsson and Jeremy Jurgens, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum.
The industrial metaverse is the part that uses virtual and augmented reality to design, manufacture, train and collaborate. It’s having an impact somewhat under the radar, below the consumer metaverse.
Here are four key takeaways from the panel:
The metaverse is innovating healthcare imaging
“Taking an example of [Siemens Healthineers], our core business is medical imaging,” Montag said. “One way of looking at the images is, instead of producing slices, you produce a digital copy of the patient, and you can interact with this digital copy.”
While “metaverse” isn’t the terminology currently used in healthcare, he said, the metaverse is where healthcare technology is headed.
“One of our clients is using film rendering to illustrate the disease and instead of sending a report and texting a patient a link to that 3D graphic. We see people replacing anatomy education, instead of using human bodies, switching to virtual scanning with 3D animations, and healthcare teams will be able to work remotely on a given patient.”
The metaverse is also changing the operating room, according to Johnson.
“[Magic Leap has] been working with a company that does cardiac catheterizations, so before heart surgery, they have to thread a catheter through blood vessels,” Johnson said. “Previously, a surgeon would look at a 2D screen with a CT scan of the heart. …Now, they are putting the image in front of the surgeons’ eyes. you can open [the patient] upstairs and because there are cameras up there you can really see. The precision of the catheterization is much higher, the results are much better, it is safer for the patient”.
“I think we’ll look back and say, ‘Remember when we used to do surgery without augmentation?’” Johnson added.
It will be a game changer for construction.
When language barriers present communication challenges for international companies, architects, project managers, and construction workers, the metaverse can help through the use of immersive visualization.
“[Ericsson] I had an amazing case in Australia from a construction company,” said Tamsons, who is based in Sweden. “With a digital twin in real time as they work, they have improved efficiency, reduced lead time and improved quality. In fact, bugs were found, but once they saw them, they were able to review them.”
Johnson pointed to additional relevance for worker training in this field.
“We’re seeing a lot of activity in industrial settings, and now we have companies that used to train their employees in a classroom with manuals and put them on the production floor after a few weeks,” Johnson said. “With headset technology, they can onboard much more quickly. They reduce their training costs by 80%. But what I found most promising is that the employee engagement made them feel more empowered.”
The metaverse can be good for the environment (with caveats)
Alswaha, as a country’s communications and IT minister, works with project partners abroad and already uses digital twin technology. He has enabled the parties involved to meet environmental standards that were once nearly impossible.
“Prove it to me first on a digital twin, then prove it to me first in the metaverse,” Alswaha said. “[During one project], we promised them that they would put zero waste in the landfill. And he was able to show me in the design phase, the build phase, the optimization phase, and we were able to collaborate with those frontline integrators to show it. We made the promise that we are going to preserve 95% of the environment, and we were able to do it.”
On the downside, the metaverse itself is currently less efficient than it needs to be.
“I think we have a paradox, which is: a lot of the metaverse stack is actually built by AI capabilities, and that requires a lot of power,” Tamsons said. “On the other hand, you want devices to be fluid and easy to use, so they’re easy to adopt. And there you have a very clear conflict. Ericsson is trying to improve the quality and capacity of the network, but I don’t think it’s enough. I think you have to separate them with more edge capability, because then you can offset a lot of the compute in the device itself.”
The metaverse could be used to increase industry inclusion
“The thing that really excites me, if we take a bit of a broader view of the use cases, is how we can achieve more inclusion,” Tamsons said. “How can you use this to onboard new employees faster? Include more people in the workforce? Get back to people faster, get everyone in that meeting, and have the same experience. You can speak the same language – we have a lot of generative AI where we can have a conversation in our respective languages, and I have that experience in Swedish. Many people are not included in all conversations. And I think that’s where I’m really excited about what we can achieve if we use this capability.”
See the full panel
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