Twenty years ago, when the internet was still in its early growth stage, it was hard to imagine the way it would change the world. Today we’re seeing a similar phenomenon with the emergence of the metaverse—an immersive, virtual reality, interconnected, digital environment. Just like the internet, the metaverse is likely to bring about a transformation in the way that we live, interact, learn, play and/or do business. And, it will have a big impact on supply chains.
So what is the metaverse exactly? There are many different ways of defining it.
“At its core, the metaverse is a digital online world that goes beyond traditional websites,” explained Jason Schenker, president of Prestige Economics and chairman of The Futurist Institute. “It’s a broad range of non-physical digital interactions, which include next-level technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), in which people are interacting with each other through the use of avatars.”
Dean Peterson, a digital marketing and strategy evangelist and tech futurist, describes the metaverse as “a gateway to a collective, virtual shared space, made possible by the convergence of virtual worlds, augmented reality and online digital content that has been created by individuals, companies and even entire communities of people.”
Tuong H. Nguyen, senior principal analyst at Gartner, emphasizes that the metaverse is not a destination or a single technology. It’s a combination of many independently evolving techs and trends, including VR, AR, artificial intelligence and 3D modeling, which interact with each other to make the metaverse possible.
The metaverse will enable persistent, decentralized, collaborative, interoperable digital content that intersects with the physical world’s real-time content, Nguyen said. The persistence comes from the fact that the data doesn’t disappear; it remains in the metaverse for everyone to access. The metaverse is interoperable, because data generated in the virtual world can be accessed in the physical world, and vice versa. It is decentralized because no one entity controls the data in the metaverse or the way it is shared. It is collaborative because it enables people and companies to work together on a common project, to play games together or to transact business in the virtual environment.
The benefits of going virtual
As with the internet, businesses’ move to the metaverse would take place incrementally. Companies like Meta (formerly Facebook), Roblox, Nvidia and Nike have already started building out their space in the virtual world, and other companies are likely to follow suit if these early adopters are successful.
Some companies may begin to edge into the metaverse by using the technologies that would be prevalent there. Logistics operations, for example, are increasingly using VR and AR training for new warehouse hires. Instead of learning how to perform potentially dangerous tasks in the physical world, where the risk of injury may be particularly high for people unfamiliar with the setup, the newcomers can work in simulations of the specific warehouse environment. They have the opportunity to safely acclimate themselves to their new surroundings and to learn some of the basic job skills they’ll need. This helps them gain a degree of situational awareness before they ever set foot on site.
“You’re improving your training and increasing your safety, and in the end that can result in fewer work-related incidents or accidents,” said Schenker.
By placing these training programs in the metaverse, companies could easily share them with employees at locations throughout the country, and managers could review new hires’ progress and coach them as necessary.
Digital twins and virtual tryouts
Companies can create virtual representations in the metaverse of everything in the physical world, including buildings and equipment. These digital twins could provide companies with invaluable insights into their supply chain operations.
“One thing that could potentially change is the level of efficiency regarding the maintenance and upkeep of a piece of machinery; it could mean having more accessible information,” said Nguyen.