If you’ve followed Facebook’s metaverse effort, you have probably concluded that it is mostly smoke with little substance. While this is true of the consumer-facing metaverse, the commercial metaverse has had significant success. Increasingly, it’s being used to not only virtually create buildings before they are built, but more recently it has been used to better manage large-scale projects long after they are completed.
Let’s talk about how the metaverse is being used to contain commercial building costs and create happier commercial clients.
When you are talking about the commercial metaverse market, you are mostly talking about NVIDIA’s Omniverse platform which has been used for several years now in the building of commercial office buildings like NVIDIA’s new headquarters and the huge recent BMW factory that has become an automation showcase.
Initially, these tools were mostly used to fully flesh out a project and allow a client to walk through it and make changes long before the foundation was put down. As technology improved, it was able to show lighting, shadows, views and more accurately reflect paint and finishes which resulted in an increasingly photorealistic virtual walk-through. The lighting effects alone are worth using Omniverse. They can not only show initial morning light but, depending on the building’s location and positioning, it can show how that light will transition during the day and across the year to assure it is beneficial and not annoying.
Changing a building virtually is far easier than changing it physically and significantly reduces the chance that the general contractor or architect will miss an important feature the client really wants or might otherwise have to eat because of a post-build mistake. In addition, once the plans are finalized after the virtual walk-through, the virtual prototype of the building can be used in real-time to assure what is built is exactly what was showcased in the prototype.
One of the more recent improvements to this technology is robotic training. Increasingly, robots are being used in warehouses and factories. But one of the problems in spinning up the site is that your robot training, which can take months to years, can’t really begin until the site is ready. Using Omniverse, you can now do robot training at machine speeds (think hours instead of months or years) and have them fully trained and ready once the site is.
This training takes into account human-to-machine interaction. While it isn’t uncommon during in-person training for a human to be injured, in virtual training there are no living humans to injure, so the risks are also far lower when using this tool.
The latest addition to the Omniverse platform is the creation of real-time synchronization between the real structure and what is inside it and the virtual twin of that structure that was created prior to it being built. Using an increasing number of sensors, the two elements now can be tied together electronically so that problems can be analyzed both during and after the fact by using the virtual tool to not only capture the problem but to provide a way to virtually go back in time to analyze what caused it. In addition, using an AR headset, the digital twin can overlay the actual part of the facility you are looking at but provide far more information using the real-time data feed by the sensors that surround it. For instance, a bearing that was overheating would show up as red or orange in the AR glasses even though you couldn’t see the heat coming off the bearing by looking at it unassisted by AR.
This would allow remote or on-premise technicians to better identify problems and, coupled with an AI assistant, better diagnose underlying problems and more rapidly correct them, often before the problem resulted in a productivity reduction. Finally, using this as part of your robotic training begins to lay a foundation for an AI-driven solution using robotics where this kind of maintenance could be performed automatically and reduce the administrative overhead for the site.
While the metaverse for consumers is falling short of expectations, the commercial metaverse is making huge inroads thanks to NVIDIA’s Omniverse platform, particularly in areas where there is high complexity and anticipated automation through robotics. I’ve personally used services like Matterport to help sell properties because they allow for better remote walkthroughs of potential buyers. Since that time, the tools have advanced significantly. You can now not only create a proposed project virtually and have it look like the real thing, including lighting effects as the final building will have, but also use it to program robotic elements and create connected digital twins to ease both human and robot maintenance solutions.
In the end, the contractors that know how to use this tool will likely have more projects come in at or below budget, and have clients that, on average, are far happier with the outcome of the project. So, while the consumer metaverse is still off in the future, the commercial metaverse has been made real through NVIDIA’s Omniverse in the present in the commercial space. Using it could be a key differentiator when it comes to bidding a commercial project.