As the industrial metaverse evolves into a critical enterprise tool, spatial technologies are increasingly gaining prominence in industrial applications. Leveraging the power of data and artificial intelligence, these technologies are adeptly replicating real-life processes, revolutionising the way industries operate and unlocking new dimensions of efficiency and innovation.
Frequently, innovative technologies generate excitement among early adopters and consumers, only to gradually fade from the public eye. However, these technologies often reemerge months or years later, having transformed into valuable and productive business tools.
In the current year, we’ve witnessed the evolution of certain metaverse capabilities as they advance into new dimensions, specifically within the expansive realm of spatial computing. Transitioning from being consumer-centric novelties to essential enterprise tools, spatial technologies are gaining significant traction in industrial applications. Companies are increasingly prioritising digital twins, spatial simulation, augmented work instructions, and collaborative digital spaces. These applications not only enhance safety but also contribute to heightened efficiency in factories and businesses.
Now: Simulating the enterprise
In recent years, technological progress has laid the foundation for the industrial metaverse. Strategic investments in digital twins, the enabling power of 5G, cloud computing, edge technologies, and artificial intelligence have collectively delivered substantial value, effectively addressing persistent challenges and enhancing overall operational efficiency.
Executives consistently emphasise process simulation and digital twins as the most prevalent use cases. In intricate industrial environments characterised by complexity, high costs, and precision requirements, robust simulations play a pivotal role. When seamlessly integrated with real-time data and models via the Internet of Things (IoT) and advanced networking, simulations significantly enhance the likelihood of successfully establishing a new operation or optimising an existing one. Notably, analysts project a substantial growth trajectory for the global digital twins market, foreseeing a leap from US$6.5 billion in 2021 to an estimated US$125.7 billion by the year 2030.
Spatial operations are in their infancy, with ongoing advancements in enabling technologies. Imagine a scenario where robust satellite networks seamlessly integrate with IoT sensors in a distant factory, constantly processing real-time data on output and performance. As technology progresses, a forthcoming era of digital twins emerges, featuring photorealistic simulations grounded in physics and empowered by AI. Moreover, these simulations are intricately linked to company ecosystems, exemplified by platforms like BMW’s Omniverse. This transformative evolution is set to influence various facets of enterprise operations, ranging from space planning and design to overall operational processes.
New: The spatial web is under construction
The imminent arrival of the spatial web, often referred to as Web 3.0, holds the potential to erase the demarcation between digital content and physical objects, seamlessly merging these two realms into a singular experience. Leveraging next-gen interfaces like smart glasses, the spatial web empowers users to engage with real-time information seamlessly triggered by their physical surroundings. This interaction is made possible through advanced technologies such as geolocation, computer vision, and biometric commands like voice and gestures. Considering the vast possibilities, the market for spatial computing is anticipated to surpass earlier estimates for the metaverse, with some forecasts projecting a staggering valuation of over US$600 billion by the year 2032.
While the full realisation of the spatial web’s potential lies several years ahead, forward-thinking innovators are currently laying the groundwork for its infrastructure. Over the next 18 to 24 months, businesses are advised to closely monitor the emerging value opportunities associated with embracing spatial operations. Providing employees with cutting-edge technology that enhances their capabilities should be a strategic focus during this pivotal period, setting the stage for the transformative impact of the spatial web soon.
As the adoption of AR/VR tools gains momentum among workers in industrial settings, companies are experiencing a range of advantages, notably in terms of enhanced efficiency and effectiveness in several critical areas:
- Increased monitoring. With the advent of AR devices and spatial immersion, employees can seamlessly inhabit multiple locations simultaneously, enabling a reduction in the number of experts required to monitor an expanded network of facilities. As an example, Nokia’s real-time eXtended Reality Multimedia offers 360-degree views, 3D audio, and live streaming capabilities, empowering human operators to virtually immerse themselves in a physical space located miles away. This technological advancement enhances preemptive maintenance, security protocols, and quality control measures.
- Reduced onboarding time. Fresh hires can seamlessly integrate into their roles by utilising simulations embedded with standard operating procedures and visual cues. This approach allows them to learn organically within the workflow, eliminating the need for a distinct separation between learning and practical application. As an illustration, newcomers at a prominent global carmaker’s manufacturing plants leverage AR devices to engage in real-time collaboration with experts throughout the United States. Through shared visual and auditory experiences, seasoned line workers can provide precise instructions on where and how to execute tasks, such as striking a hammer on a door.
- Reduced safety risk. As we explored in our previous discussions, companies are increasingly equipping their workers with AR/VR technologies to enhance readiness for challenging environments. Stanford Medicine is currently testing a VR system that integrates images from various medical imaging techniques, including MRIs and CT scans, to construct a comprehensive 3D model of a patient’s body before surgery. This innovative approach allows surgeons to interact with and manipulate this anatomical digital twin not only during training but also in the actual operating room, providing a more detailed and informative guide compared to traditional 2D images. Early reports indicate improved accuracy and enhanced safety in some of the most intricate medical procedures, such as brain surgeries.
Product design, development, and sales
Spatial operations extend beyond enhancing the bottom line; AR technologies also contribute to top-line revenue growth. Notably, prominent AR companies are facilitating the integration of AR technology into the platforms of clothing retailers, spanning apps, websites, and physical stores, offering a unique edge in their product offerings. Leveraging generative AI, these retailers can soon transform 2D images into immersive 3D models using AR technology, expanding the array of digital assets available for customer engagement within the spatial web. This innovative approach holds the potential to elevate customer experiences and drive increased revenue for the retail sector.
The capabilities of AR technology extend far beyond merely overlaying images of clothing onto a shopper. As brands strive to maintain relevance in the realm of spatial computing, AR companies are envisioning broader impacts extending beyond retail. These effects are anticipated to permeate various sectors, including education, entertainment, and travel.
Another avenue to harness the potential of spatial operations lies in the design and testing of products within simulated conditions, offering significant enhancements in agility, time to market, and sustainability. For instance, rather than subjecting vehicles to numerous physical crash tests, automakers can leverage initial data to simulate thousands of tests, even incorporating scenarios like natural disasters that are challenging to replicate in the real world. Pharmaceutical giant GSK has applied these principles to use simulations in vaccine production, drastically reducing the time needed to conduct experiments from three weeks to just a few minutes. In industries with heavy assets, such as mining, simulations prove valuable in refining machine movements for efficiency, reducing emissions, and preparing for the transition to more renewable energy sources.
Space planning and simulation
In the era of spatial computing, the proverbial “measure twice, cut once” has evolved into a dynamic process, allowing companies to employ advanced simulations before making significant investments. Spatial computing enables meticulous visualisation and testing of facility layouts, exemplifying the paradigm of “measure 3,000 times, cut once.” Architects leverage this technology to design precise replicas of spaces, predicting human-machine interactions. Hyundai Motor’s partnership with Unity for a full-scale factory simulation exemplifies this approach, aiming to optimise operations and spacing virtually before physical implementation. Siemens follows suit, planning an entire digital-first factory in Germany. Beyond new spaces, spatial computing enhances the optimisation of existing locations; GUESS’s retail planning team digitally mapped in-store updates, resulting in a 30% cost reduction and decreased carbon footprint through virtual testing, showcasing the transformative impact of spatial planning and simulation in diverse industries.
Next: Let’s get digital
The imminent debut of the Apple Vision Pro has thrust “spatial computing” into the limelight, signaling a potential shift in digital interaction. Historically, technology has thrived on simplicity, and spatial computing may represent another breakthrough by seamlessly translating our natural gestures into the digital realm. As technology transcends computer science into the natural sciences, brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) emerge as the pinnacle of simplicity. While current BCIs focus on restoring human capabilities, future advancements could amplify these abilities, reshaping how we engage with digital and physical tasks. This vision hinges on technological foundations like 6G networking and the Internet of Things (IoT), which enable seamless machine coordination and automation. Yet, this exciting prospect requires a careful balance as companies navigate privacy, cybersecurity, and data protection concerns. Embracing spatial computing may revolutionise industrial processes, making remote work the norm and rendering language inefficient compared to the speed of human thought, marking a transformative era in digital interaction.