James Morris-Manuel, EMEA Managing Director of Matterport, explores why the metaverse: virtual replica of the built world, made up of billions of digital twins, will fundamentally change how we experience, interact with, and analyse the space around us.
The metaverse, a virtual world where people can work, play and socialise, is the latest evolution of interpersonal communications and is regarded by many companies including Microsoft and Facebook as being closer than we think. But how can it be accessed? A digital replica of the built world is a starting point.
3D digital twin technology creates an immersive 3D virtual and dimensionally accurate model of any building or space. This changes the way that businesses and consumers experience, interact with, understand and analyse the built world. It brings us incrementally closer to a fully simulated virtual reality, offering fully connected, immersive and engaging 3D experiences and presenting new opportunities for consumers and businesses alike. Coupled with extended reality technologies including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), digital twins are evolving to provide a next-generation internet that is overlaid on our physical world, a metaverse.
Just as every company a few decades ago created a webpage, we’re approaching a point where every company will have a real-time live 3D presence. With twice as many buildings as there are websites, the scale of a metaverse as an interactive, richly detailed evolution of the internet is considerable. And digital twins offer significant economic potential: EY recently estimated that digital twins will have a projected market size of US$48bn by 2026.
Business opportunities in the metaverse
Using digital twins, businesses can create dimensionally accurate replicas of physical locations, which operate as a separate entity – a virtual layer, the makings of a metaverse. By bringing a mass of traditionally analog data online to create a metaverse, organisations can also search and model virtual replicas of physical spaces and use the insights derived to improve both businesses and society at large, bringing tangible business value.
Initially, demand for digital twin technology boomed in the property sector during the pandemic, when lockdowns prevented potential buyers from viewing properties in person. Using digital twins of properties, estate agents could generate virtual tours, which enabled buyers to view properties virtually, driving the trend to purchasing properties without even having stepped foot inside. Similarly, commercial real estate firms are using digital twins to help organisations plan and optimise return-to-work initiatives, as more businesses return to the office.
Demand for digital twin technology is now spreading exponentially across multiple industries, driven by the increased need for convenient, engaging and digital-first experiences. The benefits are widely recognised in a range of sectors from engineering, construction, architecture, travel and hospitality, through to insurance and facilities. The business impact is both sizable and lucrative.
For example, even before the onset of the pandemic, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers were under pressure to stay competitive in a market increasingly dominated by eCommerce. Using digital twin technology, retailers can now remodel and reshape hundreds of stores remotely. The technology also enables retailers to provide more immersive experiences, which unify the experience of in-person and online shopping and provide a new channel for customer engagement and conversion. Consumers can use digital twin technology for everything from trying on clothes virtually or checking out a new shop before it opens, through to visualising and confirming whether new furniture would fit before making a purchase for the home, all from the comfort of their couch.
In the construction industry, engineers can virtually visit locations to plan challenging or potentially invasive construction work remotely, accelerating construction schedules through more streamlined project management and decision making. Engineers can also tap into the rich data in digital twins to identify building features and preserve their original character during renovation works. In the travel and arts industries, virtual replicas have been created of museums and historical sites such as Egypt’s heritage sites, that enable visitors to explore them through VR anytime, from anywhere, and at their own pace. Visitors can see sites as if they were there, without bringing physical foot traffic into spaces which could be thousands of years old.
Across the board, digital twin technology enables faster and more informed decisioning, and provides powerful spatial data insights and analytics needed to advance every aspect of the building lifecycle: whether during the design or build phases, promotion of a building or its operation, right through to insuring and repairing.
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Unlocking the Metaverse
Spatial data and computational photography that replicates the structural integrity of a space as a high fidelity photorealistic digital twin have the potential to create a visual, immersive metaverse. AI fully automates the 3D reconstruction process to allow businesses to scale millions of buildings and spaces, anywhere in the world with precision, which provides scale.
While the road to the metaverse is still being mapped, technology that makes real-world, physical scenarios available virtually and enhances enterprise offerings will play a role. Successful businesses will be those who include digital twins in their strategic planning, both to offer new experiences to consumers in the metaverse and to optimise their own productivity and operations. From the evolving worlds of property ownership or virtual gaming experiences through to the AI technology that will underpin it all, digital twins are creating a mirror world, a digital version of everything we see around us.