The industrial metaverse: A game-changer for operational technology





How enterprises can unlock the full potential of the industrial
metaverse.

Even as technologists are trying to envision what the metaverse will
bring for businesses and consumers, the industrial metaverse is
already transforming how people design, manufacture, and interact with
physical entities across industries.


“The industrial metaverse combines physical-digital fusion and human
augmentation for industrial applications and contains digital
representations of physical industrial environments, systems, assets
and spaces that people can control, communicate, and interact with.”


Thierry Klein, president of Bell Labs Solutions Research at Nokia

While definitions abound and it remains to be seen how the industrial
metaverse will fully unfold, digital twins are increasingly viewed as
one of its key applications. Used for everything from creating
ecosystems when planning a new city to working out iterations of
manufacturing processes, digital twins were first proposed in 2002 and
later became a vital technology when the fourth industrial revolution
(Industry 4.0) accelerated automation and digitization across industries.

Simply put, a digital twin is a virtual replica of a product or
process used to predict how the physical entity will perform
throughout its lifecycle.
BMW, for instance, created a virtual twin of its production plant in
Bavaria before building the physical facility. Boeing is using a
digital twin development model
to design its airplanes. And
“Virtual Singapore”
is a digital representation of the Southeast Asian nation that the
government created to support its policy decisions and test new
technologies. The increasing buzz surrounding digital twins is fueling
expectations for the industrial metaverse.

Raghav Sahgal, president of the cloud and network services business
at Nokia

According to ABI Research, revenues for industrial digital twin and
simulation and industrial extended reality will hit $22.73 billion by
2025 as organizations use Industry 4.0 tools such as artificial
intelligence (AI), machine learning, edge computing, and extended
reality to accelerate digital transformation.

Virtual spaces revenue (global)

  • Consumer appeal driven
  • Reliant on trends and network effect
  • Fragmented monetization, with growth from 2026

Immersive collaboration and related cloud revenue (global)

  • Business value driven
  • Solution and device innovation
  • Good monetization potential, with growth from 2025

Digital twin and simulation and industrial extended reality revenue (global)

  • Operational results driven
  • Industrial automation focus
  • High monetization potential, with early traction

Source: ABI Research, Evaluation of the Enterprise Metaverse
Opportunity, Third Quarter, 2022

Experts say a convergence of maturing technologies is fueling the
growth of the industrial metaverse. Foremost among these, according to
Sahgal, is 5G. “This really is a very big inflection point in the
industry,” he says. As he explains, “5G creates interesting new
vectors of capability” that enable lower latency (delay) and more
precise exchange of data, both key for driving metaverse applications.

Creating digital twins is just one of the many advantages of the
industrial metaverse. Klein says the industrial metaverse can reach “a
much larger scale with increasing complexity by creating digital twins
of entire systems such as factories, airports, cargo terminals, or
cities—not just digital twins of individual machines or devices that
we have seen so far.” He points to Nokia Bell Labs’
technology-partnership
with indoor vertical farming company AeroFarms, started in 2020, as an
example of how the industrial metaverse’s immersive reality, sensing,
and machine-learning capabilities can be used to gain operational
insights. “It’s an early example,” he notes, “and you can see how some
of the key technological elements are being developed to build toward
a full-scale metaverse.”

By combining its AI-based autonomous drone-control solution and
advanced machine-learning capabilities with machine vision tools,
Nokia Bell Labs has created a technology that can track the growth of
millions of plants. “We have developed a completely autonomous drone
solution with multiple drones flying through this farm,” says Klein.
That allows the farm to monitor details such as the height and color
of its plants, spot poor growth areas, and predict the production
yield.

“We actually built a complete digital twin of the farm that gives the
growers a real-time picture of the entire production throughout the
farm,” says Klein. With data analysis, the farm can optimize its
water, energy, and nutrient consumption; speed up troubleshooting;
improve accuracy in yield forecast; and maintain a consistently high
quality.

The industrial metaverse could also bolster remote collaboration and
optimize processes, says Klein. Users could tap into its capabilities
as a dynamic, multistakeholder ecosystem, using intelligent analytics
to process datasets and gain deeper insights into problems. Nokia’s
collaboration with Taqtile is one example.

The companies joined hands in 2021 to offer an augmented reality
training and work-instruction platform, which leverages industrial
edge cloud computing, the internet of things, and 4G or 5G networks
and enables users to communicate in real time with experts. “It all
comes down to having access to more information and better
understanding that may not be visible to the naked eye, giving you
more insight about what that information means,” says Klein. The
platform enables users to extract the most useful information from
complex data, allowing them to make intelligent decisions, interact
with and control the environment around them, and go back to
collaborative design.


For skeptics, however, the industrial metaverse—with all its touted
possibilities—may sound extremely idealistic. Klein admits, “We should
cool the hype a little bit and take a pragmatic approach to solving
real-world problems by leveraging the enabling technologies of
physical-digital fusion and human augmentation.”

He likens the metaverse to the internet in the early 1990s. “I think
the metaverse will be similar where we cannot imagine all the
applications and its impact on our personal and professional lives
right now,” he says. “There are, however, already a lot of practical
examples and very concrete progress is being made.” Still, Sahgal says
certain obstacles need to be overcome. These include scalability,
which is one of the metaverse’s biggest challenges, making 5G
investments crucial because the metaverse “will be pretty immense in
terms of data and video consumption.”

For mission-critical industrial applications, the metaverse will
require low-latency, massive machine communications and high
reliability, in addition to fast network speeds. Edge computing is
another must-have because of the requirement for almost zero
latency—decentralized local edge data centers close to users will be
needed for people to interact with one another and use devices to
access the metaverse.


“It would be very difficult for people to carry intricate, heavy
headsets,” says Sahgal. “Edge compute will enable much leaner, lighter
headgear by offloading a large part of the compute from the device to
an edge infrastructure—while also providing superior speed and low
latency capabilities. Without edge computing, there will simply be no
metaverse.”

Getting to the metaverse will take more than sophisticated devices
though—it will need to be a collaborative effort. “Nobody will
actually own or dominate the metaverse,” says Sahgal. “It’ll be all
kinds of applications, devices, and other things coming together.” To
facilitate that, exposing the network as code will be an important
foundation. “The network’s capabilities are represented as a piece of
code to the application development community, which they can embed
into their applications and then consume those capabilities,” he
explains. “And hence, the network becomes very programmable by the
ecosystem.” In addition, software-as-a-service will help more
organizations access the industrial metaverse and in turn, facilitate
agility and rapid innovation.

Meanwhile, Klein compares building the metaverse to having the right
selection of blocks and interfaces to connect them in various ways.
“Imagine that you bought a Lego set to build a model plane,” he
explains. “Initially, you’re quite happy with building that plane, but
after a while you are bored and you want to build something else, say
a boat, or a car, or a house. How do you build something different
that matches your creative interest? It’s the same foundational
building blocks from the original Lego set that you reuse, but you put
them together in different ways.”

For the industrial metaverse, those building blocks are the enabling
modules, applications, and software assets. “You will connect them
together in different ways,” says Klein, “using application
programming interfaces to create new solutions that solve your
specific industrial challenges and match the business logic of your
use cases.” An ecosystem of partners, technology and network providers,
data producers and owners, and application developers will contribute
to these building blocks. Collectively, they facilitate a digital
marketplace and lead to new and unprecedented levels of innovation,
creativity, and agile and collaborative service creation.

As with any innovative technology, security is paramount, especially
because
cyberattacks
have surged in recent years, with criminals employing increasingly
sophisticated technology such as AI, ransomware-as-a-service, and
deepfakes. Sahgal says cybersecurity will become even more important
in the industrial metaverse: “That’s where you’re dealing with very
mission-critical data; if that gets compromised, it could have a huge
impact on that specific industry as well.”

Keeping people’s identities secure and protecting the data shared
within virtual collaboration will also be integral, especially across
a decentralized ecosystem of stakeholders who may not have
pre-established business and relationships with one another.

The greatest share of enterprises and communication service providers
believe the metaverse will be here within 10 years and the
organizations need to start preparing now, according to a joint survey
by Nokia and Gartner Peer Insights.

Communications service providers

Enthusiasm for the metaverse is intensifying

Believe it will transform the way we work

See the opportunity for new shared experiences and augmented reality

Believe it will benefit industry

Only…

Consider the metaverse as hype

Organizations must prepare now

Think the metaverse is already here

Think the metaverse is 5-10 years away but organizations must
prepare now

Think it’s a long way off and has nothing to do with them

Source: Nokia, 2022

While increased demand for performance, ultra-reliability, and
advanced cybersecurity need to be addressed before the metaverse can
be fully utilized on a global scale, experts say companies should not
wait to capitalize on this new wave of technology. “It starts with
awareness,” says Sahgal. “Acknowledging that this is not an experiment
anymore.” But awareness should also be accompanied by the right
technology—intelligent, autonomous, cloud-native networks with high
bandwidth and ultra-low latency. Industries will also have to
modernize their infrastructure to make it much more open and
accessible to participate in the industrial metaverse.

Both Sahgal and Klein say they believe early users of the industrial
metaverse will be concentrated in certain industries, particularly
those involving physical assets, such as manufacturing, logistics, and
transportation. The health-care industry could also benefit from
metaverse applications, specifically in avenues such as telemedicine
and robotic surgery. “The use cases are infinite, quite frankly,
because you can apply it almost to any industry,” says Sahgal. While
much about the metaverse remains unknown, its endless possibilities
seem to be the only certainty.



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