The real future of the metaverse is not for consumers

The writer is chairman and chief executive officer of Nokia

If the metaverse were a person, it would be a 30-year-old still looking for his first job.

There has been a lot of hype around the phenomenon since Neal Stephenson coined the term in his 1992 novel Snow accident. Recent attention has been on virtual reality games and social interactions within the consumer version of the metaverse. But its older and often overlooked siblings, industrial and corporate metaverses, are already being used to test future scenarios in industries such as aerospace, logistics and manufacturing.

The future is one of the plural metaverses: consumer, business and industrial. If the consumer version is where you play, the corporate one is where you can co-design with your customers and the industrial portal is where you produce it.

While many of the industrial metaverse’s technologies are still evolving, one has already caught on: digital twins. With a digital twin, an exact virtual replica, businesses have real-time simulation that helps them manage their operations as they collect data to improve performance. Siemens has used digital twins to manage entire factories, while General Electric has built digital twins of jet engine components to predict their life and optimize maintenance schedules.

Appledore Research expects the digital twin market to reach $10 billion by 2025. At Nokia’s 5G manufacturing hub in Oulu, Finland, the use of a digital twin, along with automation and other digital, has helped us increase productivity by up to 30% in one year and reduce product defects by 50% in four years.

This view of the metaverse is the product of two larger trends toward digital-physical fusion and human augmentation. By 2030, every physical device that can be digitally connected will be. Eventually, every action in the digital world will have an effect in the physical world and vice versa.

So, the metaverse doesn’t depend on a virtual reality headset. Rather, it is the coming together of complementary technologies, including cloud and edge computing (close to the data source), artificial intelligence, blockchain, the Internet of Things, virtual reality, augmented reality, and digital twins.

There will be some fantastic experiences in the consumer metaverse, but the real opportunities will be in the corporate and industrial ones, where we can address global challenges like the energy transition, climate change, productivity and growth. Many of these solutions are in their infancy, but early signs are promising.

For example, the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory is using a digital twin as part of its research and development of a next-generation nuclear reactor. Geological data company Fugro has created a prototype digital twin for Australian power company, TasNetworks, that shows real-time fire risk to power lines from vegetation, a leading cause of wildfires. Scientists led by teams from the University of Florida and Indiana University are building a digital twin of the human immune system, which they say will be a major breakthrough for precision medicine and the treatment of diseases such as cancer and COVID-19.

Much of our research over the past decade has been on the technologies behind the metaverse. But it’s also about developing a collaborative advantage, which means working across multiple industries. As society transitioned from 3G to 4G, tech startups founded in garages took the world by storm. But as we move from 5G to 6G and digitalization enters every industry and every aspect of our lives, no company can create or own all of the necessary elements. We need collaboration to build a metaverse that works for everyone.

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