January 12, 2023
The metaverse was thrust into the public zeitgeist by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who rebranded the company Meta to signal a shift in focus to this digital environment. While the metaverse might have shades of meaning, it generally refers to a virtual and augmented reality environment where users can not only mimic but exceed the activities they do in the physical world.
AI Business recently sat down with Jasmeet Singh, the global head of manufacturing at Infosys, a major business consulting, IT and outsourcing services company in India. Infosys recently debuted a metaverse foundry to help their clients enter, navigate and launch products and services in this realm.
Here is the podcast AI Business did with Singh and an edited transcript of that conversation.
AI Business: One of the most exciting things in manufacturing is the concept of digital twins. How do you think the metaverse plays into that? And what is the metaverse?
Jasmeet Singh: There are a lot of definitions going around the metaverse. It's a new concept, but also it's been around for a long time. The digital twins part is just one aspect of the metaverse. The way I look at it is the metaverse is nothing but (a way to provide) an immersive virtual experience. It is an amalgamation of a number of technologies: It's augmented reality, virtual reality, IoT, and of course, digital twins. So all of these things are coming together. It speaks to a digital-first mindset with collaboration on steroids. And collaboration is very, very key in this.
That’s the way we should look at what is a metaverse. Digital twins is nothing but the embodiment of a physical product or process in the digital world. It is made possible because ultimately, it’s a mathematical model and it relies on data to actually make the digital twin of the physical.
AI Business: You mentioned there are several definitions of metaverse going around and certainly there's one that NVIDIA is promoting − the Omniverse, which is more pertinent to you in manufacturing. But there's also one that Mark Zuckerberg of Meta is promoting, which is a consumer type of metaverse. Can you differentiate between the two and which one will have more traction?
Singh: First of all, the metaverse is going to be all of those things. It's going to be much more than just the B2B world; it is obviously going to be also driven by the consumer world. So there is not one person, product or company that is going to be at the crux of it. It's actually a coming together of many, many things.
What you cited on the NVIDIA Omniverse, there's enough that is written about how BMW used it and it’s going to be very successful. On Meta, obviously they are betting big on this being the next (stage) for them as a company. For consumers, if you look at the amount of time children and even adults are spending on gaming as an example, on being in digital or the social media, it is bound to happen that we will start participating so much more than what we are already doing.
As technology, computing power and all of these things evolve, and as other companies start collaborating in this digital medium, you will find traction across all of these areas. I think we are at the cusp of (further acceleration). It accelerated through the pandemic and it’s going to accelerate more because I believe that we are hitting that tipping point.
AI Business: There are two things that could actually hamper the growth of the metaverse or accelerate it if they solve it. One is obviously the headset issue. Do people really want to wear the headset? Maybe for industrial uses there's a reason to do it. But for consumers, most people don't even own a VR AR headset.
The second is standards. You said that the metaverse isn't just one company. It's a bunch of companies coming together. And obviously you need interoperability. So what would you say about those two things?
Singh: What you touched upon are some of the challenges. But we will overcome these challenges. Already, there is a lot of evolution that is happening. The way I would at it is (through the acronym) ADAPT. A is for affordability … in both the business world as well as the consumer world.
The second I would say is desirability. And in many ways, this is probably the most important aspect of it. Across industries, it is what we refer to as use cases. Are there good enough use cases where you can deploy these, that will find traction and provide the benefit?
The next A in ADAPT is for availability. Right now it needs to be available, both from a technology and also from a computing power perspective. There’s a lot of progress that is being made here. The privacy and security aspect is also extremely important. This is also one of the challenges or hurdles that one has to overcome to see the potential that exists in this coming together of technologies.
Lastly, I would say talent. Of course, a lot of the kids today are spending a lot of time in this kind of a medium and are experimenting there. They're in many ways learning things a whole lot better. But there is a whole aspect of training and talent that is also going to be very key for this to be successful.
AI Business: How would businesses get started in the metaverse?
Singh: A lot of the companies have actually experimented here. … What is next here is in terms of collaborating across various partners, the supply chain itself in manufacturing, for example. That's what the metaverse is. It's not only in terms of what you do privately, but you enable people to be able to create as well as consume on a platform, and you are going to be able to interoperably transfer across these. And when you actually realize that potential, then you are truly in the metaverse. That's a distance away, but we are making good progress.
We actually jumped on this quite early, and we have a metaverse foundry that has an entire repository and use cases across industries, where we are able to accelerate right from the incubation to the innovation aspect, and then the scaling and industrialization of this as well. … We have set up innovation centers of excellence, virtual living labs, where people can experiment with us. And we can bring in partners as well to create and see what use cases make sense.
AI Business: Is it necessary to be in the metaverse? How critical is it for businesses to be engaged in this?
Singh: I think it is the future. If your consumers are going to be spending a whole lot of time in the digital medium, then you have to find, as a business, a way to engage them. … The time is now to actually start by putting dollars as well as investing time and people and energy into this area.
AI Business: Can you give us a few examples of use cases that really resonated with people?
Singh: In aerospace, you can create the digital twin of an entire engine and actually do predictive modeling on it see where a fault could occur and how you can actually repair it. … In terms of product design itself, people actually create the digital piece first and then get into the physical. So the cost is much less (this way), you get better designs, and you can actually look at things like carbon footprint reduction before you actually go and build it. You can test drive it. In the retail store, you can try out clothes, see how it looks on you and then take it from the digital world into the physical to actually purchase it.
AI Business: How do you monetize the metaverse?
Singh: The ROI is already here. If your consumers are spending a lot of time in the digital medium, and you create something that they are able to go and buy it − or (you wish) to further your brand − then the ROI is there. It's no different than what you're doing right now with physical storefronts.
AI Business: How about the cost of getting started in the metaverse?
Singh: The affordability aspect … is obviously key here. It's not only affordability in terms of the cost of these technologies and the virtual world, … it is also the talent that is required to be able to do this right. These are some of the things that one has to weigh in one’s mind. … Also, the evolution of the hardware and the software itself, the VR goggles, or the AR devices that need to be there, those are things that one has to factor in. And then there is the cost of change management as well for employees to actually adopt this new way of collaboration.
AI Business: How does one get started in the metaverse foundry?
Singh: The way we would do it is we come together, and, depending on the industry or client that we are working with, see what use cases already exist because we have a huge amount of domain expertise or understanding across industries. We work together, bring in an understanding of the client, do it in almost like design-thinking workshops to come up with what makes sense for them, so that they can experiment with us.
We can bring in the startup ecosystem, we bring use cases that we already have, as well as artifacts or reusable components to be able to accelerate some of the things they want to do. It's important to understand that the reusability aspect is key. Because we are ahead of the game and have done many use cases, and some of them are in the public domain, … there is applicability that is there across the use cases people may be thinking of.
AI Business: When one of your clients uses the foundry, what do they leave with? And is that a scalable model?
Singh: The metaverse foundry is a mechanism for us to bring together things for the client − all our knowledge, the entire partner ecosystem, all the reusable assets that we have, to give them whatever they want, faster. Ultimately, it will go into production. … It is not merely a concept that we are working on; it is a concept that leads to actual implementation or to production.
AI Business: What are some challenges that companies can encounter when they start to tiptoe into the metaverse?
Singh: With so many organizations actually launching or looking to launch metaverse initiatives, they're bound to be a surfeit of metaverses if you will. And this aspect can create challenges in terms of how a manufacturer would interact with, say, a metaverse auto supplier. That's where the friction can come in. You have different tools that each company uses.
Privacy is another one that I talked about that is a big concern. … The other thing I would say is the compute and transmission capacity that is needed. It is at a different level altogether. And lastly, the skill sets that are required to design and create, to constantly keep these virtual workspaces updated. Those are the things that people need to grapple with as they go further along in this journey.
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