Six trailblazing use cases for the metaverse in business
There are many potential enterprise and industrial applications for the metaverse.
At the BMW Pilot Plant in Munich, the future of automotive design is here today. Engineers wearing augmented reality (AR) headsets gather around the engine bay of a new prototype vehicle. Their aim: to check the fit of newly designed parts.
But while the vehicle is real, the parts are not. They’re composed of detailed 3D graphics streamed live to the engineers’ headsets from a data platform in the cloud. Engineers use hand gestures to move them around, to understand where and how they fit. By conducting this validation work in augmented reality, BMW says it can evaluate design concepts by up to 12 months.
Six use cases from the dawn of the industrial and enterprise metaverse
Fast-tracking product design is just one potential use case for what’s becoming known as the industrial metaverse. Rapid technological advances combined with the growing acceptance of virtual working mean companies of all kinds are starting to use metaverse technologies to work faster, more efficiently, and at lower costs.
And while some of the emerging use cases are valuable for specific industries, others have wide, cross-industry appeal. Here are six that are already in – or close to – commercial usage today.
1. Product design and engineering
BMW isn’t the only manufacturer using augmented reality (AR) to accelerate the design and prototyping of new products. Luis Bollinger, co-founder of extended reality (XR) streaming company Holo-Light whose solution BMW is using to stream and work on 3D graphics - says it’s an increasingly attractive option for companies keen to reduce product development costs and improve time to market.
“Our Augmented Reality Engineering Space AR3S allows engineers to visualize their own 3D CAD models and work collaboratively on them,” he says. “You visualize your data in an AR space, and people come together to interact on that model. They do design reviews, they make assembly checks, they use it for training.”
Bollinger says that one of the main cost savings comes from not having to build and ship so many real prototypes. That means engineers can evaluate designs earlier, and they don’t have to get together to do it, either. “For BMW, it means they can collaborate between different locations,” he says. “It saves travel time as they can get together in this virtual space.”
He also cites the durability of 3D graphics as a driver of cost savings. While physical prototypes can break if they’re handled too many times, their virtual counterparts can be used repeatedly with no degradation.
2. Hands-on training
One of the clearest and most widely applicable uses for metaverse technologies is training. (It also came out top in our survey of the most compelling metaverse use cases - see graphic). Virtual reality (VR), in particular, can bring people together without the expense and downtime associated with traveling to a central training location.
It’s a strategy Nokia has been employing since 2021 - when we began to see VR as a natural progression from bringing people together on video conference tools. While training on video conference can be quite one-way, VR makes learning a much more practical, hands-on experience.
Gilberto Serra, Head of Digitalization at Nokia People Services, has led the development of the Nokia Learning Space, a VR training environment built with a 3D engine for developing video games.
“It’s a creative room where people can learn under the guidance of an instructor,” Serra explains. “The first program we delivered was to learn how to install Nokia equipment. Participants go through the whole process, from unpacking the equipment to attaching the power cable, mounting it in the rack, switching it on and installing the software. And they get their certification at the end.”
And training in the Learning Space isn’t just a matter of virtualizing activities that used to take place with physical objects in a physical space. VR and AR training can go one step further and make the invisible visible for training purposes.
Serra gives the example of a 5G base station: while in the real world the radio waves propagating from it are invisible, in VR and AR they can be made visible, so trainees can better understand capabilities like antenna beam-forming.
3. Surgery planning and support
In August 2022, a stunning VR-guided operation to separate Brazilian conjoined twins Bernardo and Arthur Lima showed the potential for metaverse technologies in healthcare.
While we’re still a way off from surgeons being able to operate remotely, surgery-focused VR and AR solutions, such as those offered by Holo-Light customer Enhatch, are starting to prove their value in the operating theater.
Holo-Light’s Luis Bollinger explains: “Enhatch has an AI software solution that takes 2D scans of bones and body parts and turns them into 3D objects. They use AR and VR to visualize these 3D scans and use them for training, so surgeons can better prepare for surgeries.”
While Enhatch uses VR to provide a virtual training room, Bollinger says that when regulations allow it, AR will deliver value in live surgery. By having a virtual image of the relevant body part overlaid on the real one, surgeons can follow the incisions and movements they’d planned when preparing for the surgery.
Streaming the VR and AR data from Holo-Light’s platform in the cloud offers many advantages, including the ability to comply with data protection regulations. “With streaming, the data always stays on the server side,” Bollinger says. “It’s never stored on the access device, so it can’t be lost or stolen with the device.”
4. Employee onboarding
Another pandemic-inspired use case for the metaverse is employee onboarding. With more teams now operating on a remote and geographically dispersed basis, it’s getting harder to make new employees feel welcome and included.
Nokia’s Gilberto Serra thinks it’s an area where VR can help. “It’s very difficult to create connections between people when the team is spread all over the world,” he says. “This is where different types of metaverse experience, beyond the standard Teams or Zoom experience, can bring benefit.”
Serra’s own team already runs a 30-minute VR-only learning session every Friday: a metaverse update of the “lunch and learn” concept already popular at many companies. They’re now working on expanding the concept for company-wide use.
Unlike desktop-based video conferencing applications, this will be a much more immersive experience. Participants use VR headsets and see other participants as avatars, while the presenter’s hologram is there with real facial expressions and movement. As 5G-Advanced networks roll out, Serra says, full 3D holograms can be projected on to AR glasses so that participants will really feel as if they are all in the room together.
5. Virtual services for hands-on work
One very powerful use case for AR, in particular, is the provision of virtual guidance for people faced with unfamiliar and technically-challenging hands-on work – such as rescue workers, field technicians, or firefighters. Virtual overlays can provide them with vital information on what to look for, where to focus, and how to complete the task successfully.
Bosch, for instance, has developed an AR application that guides its after-market workshops on how to perform specialist maintenance and repair tasks on vehicles - such as readjusting driver assistance sensors after replacing the windshield. It estimates that guided assistance like this can reduce the time taken to carry out certain tasks by as much as 15%.
6. Networking, socializing and creating
As we discovered during the pandemic, work means more to us than simply getting on with the task at hand. Many of us found we missed the social side of the workplace - from serendipitous encounters at the coffee machine to the chance to just hang out with work friends. Could the metaverse make work-based socializing more meaningful?
One company that thinks so is Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, the internal think-tank of global marketing agency Wunderman Thompson. Global director Emma Chiu told the Nokia podcast: “One thing that was neglected [during the pandemic] is this sense of social presence. Platforms like Microsoft and Meta are trying to create working environments that offer this social presence.”
To test out the social capabilities of the metaverse for itself, Wunderman Thompson developed an “immersive metaverse activation” called Inspiration Beach for the 2022 Cannes Lions Festival. Built with the Odyssey platform, it featured a networking lounge, interactive shopping space, and DJ booth, as well as a showcase of some of Wunderman Thompson’s most inspiring pieces of work.
Futurist Bernard Marr adds that the metaverse offers sustainability benefits as well as better ways to network and collaborate. “Pre-pandemic, I was getting on a 12-hour flight to deliver a half-hour keynote, then flying 12 hours back,” he told the Nokia podcast. “You can do this online today. And there are no limitations in terms of audience. There's no impact on the environment, so it is better all around.”
Get ready for the revolution to come
The use cases above show that the metaverse is no longer something we’re heading towards. It’s here today and already delivering benefits like lower costs, faster time to market, and a greater sense of inclusion.
And the most businesses are waking up: two-thirds of the B2B companies we surveyed said they’re currently educating themselves about its possibilities, while 5% revealed themselves as early adopters, already investing in metaverse technologies and expertise.
With new use cases emerging all the time - and the enabling technologies of the metaverse rapidly evolving, it may not be long until AR glasses are as ubiquitous in the workplace as notebook computers and smartphones are today. For enterprises and CSPs that want to be ready for the metaverse revolution around the corner, the time to start planning is now.