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Environment / Events / Health tech / Web3

The industrial metaverse is changing the world in these 4 key ways

The World Economic Forum held a panel on the rise of the metaverse within industries such as healthcare and manufactruing.

The metaverse is changing the surgical operating theater. (Photo by Pexels user Vidal Balielo Jr via a Creative Commons license)
The metaverse’s image problem started in October 2021, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would henceforth be called Meta.

The rebranding marked a focus on “the metaverse,” a virtual world that Zuckerberg failed to explain in a way that most people could get excited about. Maybe people were still sore that this was the company that a British court found responsible for allowing illegal data harvesting of 87 million people by another company that interfered in the 2016 US election. Many Americans want nothing to do with Facebook/Meta, and falling sales of the Quest VR headset after Meta acquired Oculus reflect that — at least anecdotally.

But no matter how much people want the metaverse to fail so they can watch Zuckerberg crash and burn, it’s not likely to happen — at least the metaverse failing part. That’s because the metaverse is not synonymous with Zuckerberg: Meta can fail and the metaverse can still grow.

And it should. Not because virtual arcades are vital to the future, but because aspects of the metaverse truly have the potential for future vitality, especially in industries like medicine.

The World Economic Forum, as part of its Defining and Building the Metaverse Initiative, recently addressed these and related topics at a hybrid panel session called “Deployment in the Industrial Metaverse.” Featured speakers included Abdullah Alswaha, minister of communications and information technology of Saudi Arabia; Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap; Bernd Montag, CEO of Siemens Healthineers; Åsa Tamsons, senior vice president of Ericsson and Jeremy Jurgens, a managing director with the World Economic Forum.

The industrial metaverse is the part that uses virtual and augmented reality to design, manufacture, train and collaborate. It’s making an impact somewhat under the radar, beneath the consumer metaverse.

Here are four key takeaways from the panel:

The metaverse is innovating healthcare imaging

“To take an example from [Siemens Healthineers], our signature business is medical imaging,” said Montag. “One way to look at imaging is, instead of producing slices, producing a digital copy of the patient, and you can interact with this digital copy.”

While “metaverse” isn’t the terminology currently used in healthcare, he said, the metaverse is where health tech is heading.

“One of our customers is using cinematic rendering to illustrate disease, and instead of sending a report and texting with a patient, a link to that 3D graph. We see people replacing anatomy education, instead of using human bodies, switching it to virtual exploring with 3D animations, and health care teams will be able to work remotely on a given patient.”

The metaverse is also changing the surgical operating theater, according to Johnson.

“[Magic Leap has] been working with a company that does heart catheterization, so ahead of a heart surgery, they have to wind a catheter through the vessels,” Johnson said. “Previously, a surgeon was looking at a 2D screen with a CT scan of the heart. …Now, they’re putting the image in front of the surgeons’ eyes. You can open [the patient] up and because there are cameras there, you can actually see. The accuracy of the catheterization is much higher, the outcomes are much greater, it’s safer for the patient.”

“I think we’ll look back and say, ‘Do you remember when we used to do surgery without augmentation?'” Johnson added.

It will be a game-changer for construction

Where language barriers present communication issues for international companies, architects, project managers and construction workers, the metaverse can help by using immersive visualization.

“[Ericsson] had an amazing case in Australia by a construction company,” said Tamsons, who is based in Sweden. “With a real-time digital twin while they’re working, they improved efficiency, reduced the lead time and improved the quality. There actually were found errors, but once they saw it, they could walk through it.”

Johnson noted an additional relevance to worker training in this field.

“We’re seeing a lot of activity in industrial settings, and we have companies now who used to train their employees in a classroom with manuals and put them out on the factory floor after a few weeks, Johnson said. “With the headset technology, they can bring them onboard much more quickly. They reduce their training costs by 80%. But what I found the most promising is that the engagement that the employees had made them feel more empowered.”

The metaverse can be good for the environment (with caveats)

Alswaha, as minister of communications and IT for a country, works with project partners overseas and already uses digital twin tech. It has allowed involved parties to meet environmental standards that were once next to impossible.

“Prove it to me in a digital twin first — so, prove it to me in the metaverse first,” Alswaha said. “[During one project], we promised them they were going to deliver zero waste to landfill. And he was able to show it to me on the design phase, the build phase, the optimization phase, and we were able to collaborate with those top-line integrators to showcase it. We made a promise that we’re going to preserve 95% of the environment, and we were able to do that.”

On the downside, the metaverse itself is currently less efficient than necessary.

“I think we have a paradox, which is: A lot of the metaverse stack is really built up by AI capabilities, and that requires a lot of power,” said Tamsons. “On the other hand, you want the devices to be smooth and easy to use, so they’re easy to adopt. And you have a very clear conflict there. Ericsson is trying to improve the quality and capability of network, but I don’t think that will be enough. I think you have to cut them off together with more edge capability, because then you can actually offset a lot of the computing from the device itself.”

The metaverse could be used to increase industry inclusion

“What I’m really excited about, if we take a bit longer perspective on use cases, is how we can bring more inclusiveness,” Tamsons said. “How can you use this to onboard new employees faster? Include more people in the workforce? Rescale people faster, include everyone in that meeting and have the same experience. You can speak the same language — we have a lot of generative AI where we can actually have a conversation in our respective languages, and I have that experience in Swedish. So many people are not included in every conversation. And I think that’s really where I’m excited about what we can realize if we use this capability.”

Watch the full panel

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