When AR Meets the Metaverse in the Manufacturing Industry

Why augmented reality is the catalyst for the metaverse in manufacturing

The metaverse is a terminology that is bandied around within consumer and business applications quite freely, but precisely what it is and entails is still far from freely understood. And exactly how the metaverse's future in manufacturing is still far from established. In fact, the term can be traced back over 30 years to a science fiction novel by Noel Stephenson called Snow Crash. In this cult book, an amusingly named Hiro Protagonist runs around in an artificial cyber world, trying to stop a virus that wipes minds, aided by his hacker friend YT. The definition from McKinsey is as good as any. They define the metaverse as the emerging 3D-enabled digital space that uses virtual reality, augmented reality, and other advanced internet technology to allow people to have lifelike personal and business experiences online.

Why has industry not needed the metaverse until now?

However, only in the past decade has the term gained traction amongst the mainstream population. It rose to prominence with Roblox, an online game platform and game creation system developed by Roblox Corporation that allows users to program and play games created by other users. Two years ago, Facebook changed its name to meta to reflect its focus on building the metaverse. In the latest PTC Talk, Kyujin Jung, IoT Presales Technical Specialist at PTC, discussed augmented reality (AR) 's impact on creating the metaverse for the manufacturing sector more particularly how AR technology gives reasons for manufacturing companies to adopt metaverse technology into their digital transformation journey using an industrial metaverse platform called MXspace.

Jung explained that metaverse content is nothing new to us. Every online multiplayer game can be considered metaverse and has been around since the birth of the internet. But what role does AR play here, and why is it essential to industrial organizations? According to Jung AR is the gateway to the metaverse and is the simple answer to a simple question. Metaverse was envisaged as a tool for individual customers. It was never intended for industry because industrial users do not traditionally need a virtual space to collaborate or do things together. They already have much better and simpler Zoom, Teams, or WebEx solutions. These have been better options for them because the problems industrial users are dealing with are in the physical world. This is where AR comes in. AR connects the physical world with the virtual world and installs the user's information about the physical world within a device. This is why AR is a gateway to the metaverse.

Why do we need the metaverse in manufacturing?

Take a manufacturer who has worked hard to develop a fascinating design that will place the company far above your competitors. The first product has been manufactured, and it is time to review it to check that it has been produced according to the design. Traditionally this would have taken the form of a detailed quality inspection of your product. However, you can quickly check for differences by overlaying an AR version of the design over the actual product. Using AR technology, operators or inspectors will no longer need to carry 200 pages of specification documents, design blueprints, or work orders to verify accuracy or compliance.

Bringing AR technology to the metaverse required a platform, which PTC has created in collaboration with the Korean IT organization ITian in the form of MXspace – short for metaverse space. There are two main reasons why this project was conceived. Firstly was the requirement to combine AR and remote support. Over the past years, the industrial sector has seen numerous examples of increasing efficiency of field workers through AR. However, customers have been asking for technology to allow the field worker to communicate with someone remotely if they require assistance.

The second reason was the interest of many companies in the metaverse. Many manufacturers viewed the metaverse as 'cool' but questioned what they could do with it and where it could deliver business value. According to Google, the interest in the metaverse spiked in 2022 as metaverse platforms such as Roblox, ifland, and Zepeto were hugely successful. Based on this, it was decided to create an industrial Metaverse platform for businesses utilizing PTC's AR technology. We expected to be able to respond to the metaverse market and provide a commercialized solution for our customers. In this new Metaverse solution, PTC provides AR and IoT technologies with Vuforia Studio, and ThingWorx and ITian develop Unity-based Metaverse applications and servers.

What is MXspace?

MXspace made it possible to deliver many business use cases that can utilize AR, such as quality inspections, employee training, and connected work, as well as remote and group collaboration that can be provided by the metaverse as a platform. This solution allows customers to quickly adopt and extend AR and the metaverse to their work and expand the digital transformation strategy.

In the high-level architecture of MXspace, both PC users and mobile users are connected to the metaverse platform hosted in the cloud. There is a middleware in the backend that provides P2P services and a media streaming server that is used for multiplayer games. ThingWorx contains all the meta information about virtual rooms, users, or avatars to synchronize the metaverse with the AR content. In addition, IoT data and other enterprise systems are also orchestrated by ThingWorx that can be utilized simultaneously in both the virtual and physical worlds. A media streaming server shares a mobile device's screen and voice with other users on the metaverse, and Agora, the real-time voice and video platform, was used for this part.