The writing has been on the wall for many years. Digital technologies and the digitisation of social media, primarily through the path breaking work of Facebook, now Meta Platforms, has led both investors and technologists to expectantly look at the next disruptive platform after the Internet. The result has been efforts to digitally recreate and integrate, the physical, industrial, and social worlds as we know it, into what is called the metaverse.
Enter the metaverse
According to Wikipedia, the metaverse is a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal and immersive virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets. A metaverse is therefore a network of three-dimensional virtual worlds focused through a business, industrial or social connection.
Today, the development of the metaverse is tightly linked and integrated to the advancement of virtual reality technology due to increasing demands for immersion. Recent interest in metaverse development is also influenced by Web3, a concept for a decentralised iteration of the Internet.
Some components of metaverse have already been developed within online video games. The 2003 virtual world platform Second Life is often described as the first metaverse, as it incorporated many aspects of social media into a persistent three-dimensional world with the user represented as an avatar.
In 2019, Facebook launched a social VR world called Facebook Horizon. In 2021, Facebook was renamed Meta Platforms and its Chairman Mark Zuckerberg declared a company commitment to developing a metaverse. However, many of the virtual reality technologies advertised by Meta Platforms are yet to be developed.
Digital twins in parallel
In parallel to the above, digital technologies, namely Internet of Things, data threads, predictive behaviour modelling, analytics, big data, connectivity, cloud, augmented reality, virtual reality, have also driven the ability to recreate industrial products, processes, and plants into their digital counter parts, known as digital twins.
According to Wikipedia, a digital twin is therefore a virtual representation that serves as the real-time digital counterpart of a physical object or process. Digital twins are the result of continual improvement in the creation of product design and engineering activities.
The digital twin concept consists of three distinct parts: the physical product, the digital-virtual product, and connections between the two products. The connections between the physical product and the virtual product is data that flows from the physical product to the virtual product and information that is available from the virtual product to the physical environment.
Convergence of two worlds
Integration of digital twins into the metaverse is accelerating the digital recreation of real-world objects including the industrial and associated ecosystems, and is bringing them into the various metaverses, that will soon flourish. In other words, digital twins are at the centre of where the physical world and the virtual world are colliding and converging today.
While the metaverse can help create virtual worlds and experiences beyond present day dreams, it also has the business use case of reconstructing digital replicas of industrial and physical real-life objects and systems. In the future days to come, we are likely to witness investments into building replicas of all real-life assets, what we can call being meta-tagged.
By integrating digital twins into a metaverse, many of the positive functions of digital twins can be leveraged across the entire industrial metaverse ecosystem.
Benefits inside metaverse
A digital twin is a fully working virtual copy of a real-world system. It combines data sets across multiple sources, from design data to Internet of Things data. Feeding this data into digital twin software built on top of a real-time 3D platform, can create a digital system to simulate the behaviour of a physical system, exactly as it would perform in the real world.
A digital twin is used across the entire lifecycle of a product or infrastructure project, from research, production, construction, training and maintenance. It provides a single source of truth across every department, from design to training to marketing.
A digital twin can reduce time to market by 20 per cent and reduce costs by up to 25 per cent. Having better designs from the start pays dividends over a project’s lifetime, as 80 per cent to 90 per cent of costs incurred during production, usage and maintenance of the facility, are determined at the design stage.
Once a product is manufactured or project completed, design teams have little visibility into actual usage of their creations and whether the real-life behaviour is following the initial design.
A digital twin bridges this gap between the design team and usage of the product or system in real-time, giving them access to insights. These insights can help to design better products and update and upgrade existing products and services remotely.
Use cases inside metaverse
The convergence of digital twins and metaverse platforms are expected to give benefits in multiple industries through prediction, monitoring, tracking, resource management, allocation, optimisation, and quality control.
This has significant potential across multiple industries including, manufacturing shop floors, medical services, automotive design and production, retail and e-commerce platforms, smart architecture and urban design and industrial internet of things.
The next stage in the integration of metaverse and digital twin platforms is to bring in more advanced tools for data generation, generation of insights, and predictive behaviour. This includes 3D vision cameras, computer vision, stereo depth cameras, object cameras, 4K colour cameras, and 3D data generators in real-time; high speed computing platforms and data tool kits; control systems for industrial robotic equipment; blockchain, machine learning and artificial intelligence platforms.
With these systems it is possible to rebuild the actions of real-world objects and predict their performance and actions. The convergence of metaverse and digital twin platforms allows us to do predictive design and building strategies using various world class products, avoiding the probability of making expensive mistakes.
A more connected future with a unified virtual and human world is the logical next expectation.
Bhaskar Raman is the regional business unit head at Omnix Engineering