The metaverse has gotten a lot of attention since Facebook changed its name to Meta and decided to bet big on virtual reality.
But is this latest buzzword all hype or are there ways in which it is already changing the automotive industry?
HERE Product Marketing Manager for Connected Driving Ronak Amin told HERE360: “Aspects of the metaverse are closer than you might think."
It is already changing the way cars are engineered, designed, sold and driven.
Before we can understand how the metaverse works in the world of cars, we need to be clear about what it is. Concepts such as Hyundai's Metamobility can come across as hypothetical and almost science fiction.
“The term 'metaverse' describes a new way that we interact with the digital and physical world, built upon what we know of today as AR and VR," explained Amin.
The principles of augmented reality, such as facial recognition and motion sensing, and virtual reality can be combined to create this more expansive experience that allows you to interact with people or environments that aren't in the same physical space as you.
While Meta grabbed headlines recently, OEMs started talking about the metaverse and AR at major automotive shows back in 2019. And some of these use cases are already with us.
Those include heads-up displays and projections onto the vehicle's windshield, especially navigation information.
“They are not necessarily in mass production right now, but you will soon be able to see where the next exit is through a flashing arrow on the windshield or an alert to the driver that they need to change lanes in 300m, for example," said Amin.
Where location comes in is that we can eventually start to build in information about what is around the corner, that the driver might not be able to see. In the near term, drivers will be shown information related to traffic or safety such as hazards ahead.
“That is probably the most realistic way to look at it right now, because it is a tangible use case with obvious safety implications," Amin added.
On the other hand, the metaverse can be used by car manufacturers to create entertainment experiences. This is where it does get really exciting — or surreal, depending on your perspective. An example is Nissan's proposal to take a virtual family member with you in the car when you go on a trip somewhere or to take a virtual tour guide with you.
“Drivers will likely not participate in the full metaverse experience for some years when highly-automated driving systems are available to them, but passengers might be tapping into the metaverse in the meantime," Amin maintained.
When it comes to driving, an interesting way to think about the automotive use of the metaverse is through Operational Design Domain (ODD). The ODD comes into play when there are certain conditions and areas that the automated vehicle is allowed to drive in. These can be mapped out virtually long before the automobile hits the road.
There is another way the automotive industry is using the metaverse, and that is outside of the vehicle itself.
BMW's Omniverse is an example of how manufacturers are creating a virtual world for the car's production rather than the driver's experience.
"It allows the OEM to visualize their production line and make efficiency or design changes," stated Amin.
Engineers can test out scenarios in this Omniverse before bringing them into the real world.
Virtual reality has been used in this way for the past few years, “But if you bring that into the metaverse, engineers can actually view that vehicle in a real-time run environment.," Amin added. Aspects such as the ergonomics of the inside of the vehicle can easily be tested here before it is built.
Another place the metaverse comes into its own is in dealerships. Test drives can be conducted from the comfort of a prospective customer's own home. “It could help sell cars and broaden the dealerships' reach," Amin said.
People might feel more confident in taking a long trip to buy a car if they have already experienced driving it through a virtual connection. This approach could ultimately increase the customer base.
“Then on the service side, there are technician training opportunities," Amin added. The industry suffers from a shortage of qualified technicians. Learning in the metaverse could accelerate this process and help to upskill existing technicians.
They could also use the metaverse to diagnose problems with cars from a distance, making the process more efficient.
As strange as the concept of the metaverse might sound, the benefits are real, tangible, and happening in the here and now.
“From a driver perspective and for OEMs, there are real benefits," Amin said.
What can we predict for the near future for the metaverse? “There's so much investment going into this area that you would think, at a minimum, by five years that the major manufacturers will at least use the metaverse on their side of the business," Amin said. Production lines and simulations similar to the BMW Omniverse are likely to materialize in that time. “You can tie that back to R&D costs and conversion costs in the production facilities," Amin added.
He anticipates that the first driver-facing use of the metaverse will be those navigational screens and the heads-up display, with their safety benefits. Last of all will be those multimedia experiences that require the most ambitious technology.
“The technology already exists for a lot of this, but it remains to be seen if consumers want the entertainment piece as there is still some skepticism," Amin concluded.
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