I envision a future where people, organizations and resources are connected to one confluence. The time-honored concept of the metaverse is seeing varied activity and popularization recently owing to advancements in extended reality (XR) technologies. Combine this with AI’s widely adopted problem-solving capability, and a world of immeasurable possibilities is opened to us.
With nearly two decades in the decision science sector, specifically leading the charge in designing AI and advanced analytics solutions, I have seen fresh use cases emerge from the unique needs of each sector. Today, the powerful combination of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR) and metaverse are well-equipped to drive the next phase of innovation in sectors like manufacturing, retail, healthcare and smart cities.
The origin of the term “metaverse” can be traced to a 1992 novel by Neal Stephenson, where he described the metaverse as a virtual reality environment with life-like elements such as 3-D buildings. This has manifested into reality through various technologies—AR, VR, MR—that come under the X-reality or XR umbrella.
Growth Of AI
I think the current rate of adoption of AI and the massive investments to improve the capacity and agility of AI are evidence of the limitless capability of AI to transform businesses. Combining AI and the metaverse, I’ve found we can classify most business use cases into the following key applications.
1. Data augmentation.
2. Simulation in the metaverse before execution in the real world.
There are infinite use cases that display the transformational potential of the metaverse-AI confluence across industries. Let’s take a look at some potential use cases in the manufacturing industry to understand these applications on practical grounds.
The Manufacturing Metaverse
Manufacturing is a complex and measured process with huge risks and costs associated with any change. This leads to many facets that could benefit immensely from the metaverse-AI confluence.
Production scheduling: The whole process could become logistically easier by building a detailed digital twin of the factory. Simulations that were once too hard to conduct in real factory settings because it would involve too much time and risk could now be executed seamlessly in a digital twin factory. The outcome of these simulations could then be communicated and accordingly reproduced in the actual factory.
Floor-worker guidance: Worker attrition is a serious reality, which brings along a resultant loss of knowledge and experience. Training and onboarding of new personnel are continuous and time-consuming processes. A speech and computer vision-based multimodal AI engine can understand the worker query (speech) and see the equipment (computer vision) to generate an AR response to guide the worker on operating a machine, executing a process or repairing equipment as needed.
Training robots for production and logistics: Production line robots or warehouse robots used for transportation have helped in saving time and money. Using reinforcement learning is a powerful yet iterative process, which again, like product scheduling, is hard to perform in a physical factory.
These are just a few use cases for how combining AI, and the metaverse can solve real-world problems in the manufacturing space. Many more aspects of manufacturing can be enhanced with this duo.
For manufacturing companies that are interested in leveraging the best that the combination of the metaverse and AI has to offer, I suggest these three best practices.
1. Find the right skills.
The metaverse is an emerging concept. While a lot has been written about the metaverse, not many in the industry have the foundational knowledge of the metaverse in order to leverage it in a real-world setting. I recommend that manufacturing companies looking to enter the metaverse find the right partners and employees who understand concepts like decentralization and their importance in the context of your business. (Disclosure: My company helps with this.) It is also important to have a deep understanding of AI to combine the two universes. Your employees should have a foundational understanding to follow the developments in the metaverse as it evolves in the coming years.
2. Develop a strategy that is rooted in your unique use cases.
The metaverse is a whole new ballgame! It is, therefore, important that you envisage metaverse and AI in the context of what your business wants to derive from this combination. Identify the gaps this technology can close and the long-term opportunities for metaverse and AI in your manufacturing setup. Develop a specific plan for each use case, as well as for security and identity.
3. Start small.
The metaverse is still in its evolutionary phase. So, before you go all-in, select key opportunities within the metaverse that can help your business. Start with low-risk use cases, such as the ones outlined in this article. Once these use cases are successful, diversify and extend your budget for higher-risk, brand-new use cases.
Ultimately, AI and the metaverse can power applications that transform how we approach problems in real-world industries.