The metaverse that’s already here

POLITICO – The “industrial metaverse,” a term companies like Microsoft, Nvidia, and Siemens use to describe VR and other augmented reality in manufacturing, is arguably outpacing its more hyped, social-and-games counterpart.

Nvidia, one of the leading graphics companies in the world, is building a virtual “Omniverse” to allow companies to collaborate on 3D designs and true-to-life simulations of a factory or plant floor. Microsoft is pushing to be dominate the software landscape for workplace VR. Other companies are investing big money in virtual training tools to streamline training and give workers experience before they take on live machines — think a factory worker performing precision work on a piece of machinery like a lathe, wearing goggles that provide a visual overlay and expert advice.

But heavy industry is one of the most expensive and heavily regulated areas of the American economy, with billions of dollars, global economic competitiveness and actual lives at stake. If not done with care, introducing as nascent a technology as extended reality to the equation could cause as many problems as it might solve — especially when it comes to the training materials that provide some of the flashiest examples of its use in the workplace.

“Sometimes I refer to this as ‘whack-a-mole,’ where you’re proposing a solution but it could be creating other issues,” said Emily Whitcomb, the director of the National Security Council’s “Work to Zero” initiative aimed at using tech to eliminate fatalities in the workplace.

She’s bullish on augmented reality tools as means to avert exactly such disasters, however, saying the NSC is currently developing a risk assessment for augmented reality training tools. (The government has gotten in on the action, too, with OSHA funding a recent Purdue University experiment in VR training for fall safety on construction sites.)

Seattle-based Taqtile designs software that clients from SpaceX to UPS have used to build AR or VR work-assistance tools, and especially training, for pretty much anyone who doesn’t work at a desk — from heavy-duty machinists to technicians servicing cell towers.

Dirck Schou, the company’s founder and CEO, described to me a recent case where a factory used their technology to train employees to use a lathe in three days, a process he said normally would have taken weeks. Their website features a tank mechanic repairing an M1 Abrams with HoloLens assistance; an employee of the pharmaceutical company Novartis receiving step-by-step virtual guidance for sterilizing equipment; maintenance workers being guided via headset up cellular towers of dizzying heights.

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