The Future of Work – Off in the Energy Metaverse …
- Mar 6, 2022 8:27 pm GMT
A few months before the word 'Metaverse' made the mainstream news thanks to the Facebook rebranding, I had proposed to the Enlit Europe team to deliver a session on "The Energy Metaverse". And on the 1st December last in Milan on the Inspire Stage during #EnlitEurope, I got my opportunity ...
My goal was to share what I see the Metaverse is all about, the characteristics of a Metaverse, the tools & technologies that are needed, the emerging platforms etc. And based on what we've been doing in the Energy Industry for years, why I am convinced we're already building the Energy Metaverse.
Any why do I think this is relevant to the Energy Industry? I am convinced that how we work, the tools we use in our day jobs will continue to change in the coming years. We have already seen huge changes in the past 2 years and the pace of this next wave of Digitalization is not going to slow down.
Here’s my logic;
As cool as all the tech is, in the Energy Industry like in any Industry there has to be a reason for investing in anything. Now while I can come up with all sorts of futuristic and very cool 'out there' potential use cases, conversations quickly come around to "OK, but what problem are we solving here?"
As I called out in my Enlit Inspire session, I honestly see the Metaverse simply being another stage along our 'Digitalization' journey that we are on already and it's not slowing down.
A. 'Dynamic' Digital Twins
Digital Twin tech has gone from hype and cool demos a few years ago to now everyone has one. Now like any tech, some are more mature than others.
And we're now seeing what I call 'dynamic' digital twins being used in production across many industries. As in the digital twin represents a digital representation of the real time state of the real world based on the real-time senor data. It's no longer about a static Digital Twin, as in this is what should have been built or this is what it looked like 6 months ago. Now it's a real time twin. And if you go look at any Digital Twin providers roadmap, they are all adding more and more capabilities, more and more simulation tools, more and more interoperability.
So it's a given we'll have way better Digital Twins. And what's a digital twin of a power station, a sub station, a wind farm, a oil rig ... it's a 'virtual world'. One of the key building blocks for any sort of Metaverse, be that in AR, XR or VR. And as everyone is investing in building better Digital Twins today, this leads on to the following;
B. We need more immersive collaboration tools.
One of the silver linings from COVID has been how companies the world over found ways to support their remote field workers, when others could not travel. Many companies deployed body cameras, heads-up display tech or simply using their phone camera to share what they are seeing in real time and get advice from a colleague back in the office. It's been impressive. But let’s be honest, we need better tools.
Now many companies are offering 'Mixed Reality' solutions today. Some sort of a HUD (like from Realwear) or Holographic display (say MS HoloLens) that allows the worker to get an augmented reality 'overlay' on what they are looking at, add in the ability to pull up instructions, specs etc exist today. And at CES, many more cool new 'Mixed Reality' technologies and solutions are on display, as there were last week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Now as per point 2 above, we can have an endless debate about the Metaverse around it being 100% Virtual Reality or not. Personally, I see Mixed Reality solutions being adopted way faster and more broadly than VR solutions in the next few years. We simply need better ways to collaborate with remote field workers.
And the same goes for us 'desk warriors'. While the use of Zoom/Teams etc has exploded, it's not the most immersive experience. For folks that know me, being a bit of a geek, I have been off trying out various virtual worlds, AR & VR for years. And I have to say being off at an event or having a Biz meeting in VR is a very different experience.
Having spatial sound, the ability to draw on a whiteboard with others, wander off into different rooms to have real-time audio conversations with folks. It is very different, it's very immersive. Now getting good at using any of these VR 'environments' has a real learning curve and will not be for everyone. There will be new ‘skills’ for us all to learn, just like we had to learn how to use Zoom or Teams …
But back to my point as to 'why invest in the Metaverse?' - if you are looking at some sort of Mixed Reality solution today, or having events or meetings in some virtual world, you are already off building a bit of the Metaverse.
C. We already have too much data to comprehend
As we gather more and more data from the real world, even as AI gets better, or as the next generation(s) of digital twins become real-time, you have to ask how will we be able to 'interact' with all the data, all the screens.
We already have information overload today. The likes of ABB and others offer a whole portfolio of control room systems today so that the system operators don't get tired, so info is displayed in ways folks don't miss something, or so they do not have to navigate through screens and screens of UI to find something. Add in noise cancellation tech, what colors to use in order to to eye fatigue etc, etc. It's a big challenge today and with next gen Digital Twins arriving every day, the challenge is not going away.
Now before you hit the comment bar below and tell me using VR or AR headsets is WAY worse, I agree. THEY ARE. I can use a VR headset for about 1 hour. After that, it's too much strain on my eyes, my brain, my neck etc... But again, think out a few years. We will have different 'display tech', holographic displays, potentially contact lenses with HUD's ... go 10+ years out and some folks are talking of neural implants.
And regardless how display tech evolves, remember we will have created the next generations of Digital Twins, which are basically virtual worlds. So we will have to find a way we can better comprehend all the information that's being served to us. So I'm thinking tech more like what Tom Cruise was using in 'Minority Report'. And many of the building blocks for such an immersive experience exist today.
Am I mad? ... maybe, but I'm convinced we have to develop better ways to visualize and thus comprehend what's going on in the real world given the impact of this next wave of Digitalization.
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