Virtual Reality

Beyond controversies, where the real world merges with the digital world

A visitor checks out Metaverse equipment during the 5th China International Import Expo in Shanghai in November. [Photo/Xinhua]

Since the concept of the metaverse began to take hold of the global tech industry last year, some of my colleagues and friends have been concerned that children are becoming increasingly dependent on a seemingly omnipotent virtual world.

Children born in the 2000s are already playing virtual games, staring all day at the screens of various consumer electronics. What will they do if the metaverse, which loosely refers to an immersive virtual world with realistic experiences, becomes commonplace?

A range of issues surrounding the metaverse include digital “land rush” speculation, virtual currency scams, and copyright disputes, which are fueling fears that such a digital realm of the future may is not desirable.

The worries are completely understandable. The concept of metaverse is still in its infancy and there is not even a universally accepted definition of the term. But hype already exists, with speculators as well as cheaters trying to cash in on the metaverse craze. The potential indulgence of children is also a primary cause for concern.

Despite all the controversy, however, it’s worth noting that the Metaverse isn’t just about creating a virtual world. The real idea behind the tech buzzword is a future where the virtual and physical worlds are inextricably interconnected. This is an inevitable trend, thanks to rapid technological advancements, which will bring not only changes in lifestyles, but greater opportunities for industrial upgrading, especially the integration of real and digital economies.

Instead of currently focusing on its entertainment uses such as virtual games and social media platforms, the metaverse’s greatest potential lies in the industries that form the backbone of our economies, such as manufacturing, transport, education and infrastructure.

For example, companies can use virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, which are important aspects of the metaverse, to train their employees. A series of companies have already started to train their employees in the use and maintenance of equipment through the use of VR headsets instead of making them use physical equipment which can be dangerous or difficult to use in a training status.

Meanwhile, the concept of immersive learning – which combines the sense and presence of virtual reality with learning theory, data science and spatial design – enhances the learning experience of employees and students, rather than having them sit in a classroom all day.

Instead of just looking at pictures, students can have an immersive 360-degree experience of the Egyptian pyramids and even virtually “enter” inside the pyramids to explore their structure while wearing virtual reality glasses. It might be a more effective way for them to master new information.

This is also the case in manufacturing. Digital twins, or a digital representation of real-world physical products, can combine the real and digital worlds to accelerate the planning of factories, buildings, and entire city districts. By connecting digital twins to their real-world counterparts and leveraging their data, we can improve operations across the entire lifecycle.

For example, BMW used the simulation for six months at a new factory, building virtual cars at individual scale in the metaverse before rolling out the final factory configuration. In those six months, the company changed about 30% of the design from the original based on simulation results, according to Richard Ward, senior virtual reality expert at consultancy McKinsey.

Such cases only offer a glimpse of how the metaverse will reshape the future. Of course, there is still a long way to go before these early explorations turn into full and extensive applications, as long-term efforts are needed to mature the technologies, application scenarios and business models to support the development of any concept.

Controversies abound for the metaverse today, which I suspect will also continue for a long time to come, but it’s essential to understand that the buzzword goes far beyond creating a virtual world. Bridging the digital world with the real world is its essence.

Leave a Reply