be everywhere at the same time thanks to the metaverse

At the last CES, the South Korean company Hyundai wanted to amaze with the concept of metamobility, or the fact of carrying out remote tasks in the real world through the metaverse. A technology that is not ready to be democratized among individuals. Explanations.

In France, the CNRS PPrime institute, annexed to the Faculty of Sciences of Poitiers, has a robotics laboratory which for several years has been dealing with the manipulation of machines remotely (teleoperation) thanks to virtual reality and digital twins. We visited it.

Metamobility, a term used by Hyundai, is a form of teleoperation. It involves using virtual reality and the metaverse to perform tasks that will be replicated remotely in the real world. For example, the PPrime Institute was able to model a car and take control of it on the other side of the building. Scientists use digital twins for this: “It is a virtual copy of a physically realistic physical environment, that is, capable of reproducing the behavior of a robot or a production line. We can then move there and do some tests “, explains Célestin Préault, an engineer and postdoctoral researcher at the institute. As these examples show, this type of technology is primarily intended for industry: before setting up a factory, companies may require the creation of a digital twin to explore it in virtual reality.

The person sees the machine in virtual reality and can control it remotely.

Pedagogical use is also studied: using a digital twin of a laboratory environment allows students to train on devices that they do not have in the classroom or to have more students. Célestin Préault gives the example of chemistry students: “They had to experiment with dangerous substances, such as sulfuric acid, which require a lot of preparation and control. We received great feedback from teachers because, after doing the experiment on a digital twin, the students were less worried when they had to do the experiment in real life. “

Metamobility is also considered for the exploration of places hostile to the human being. Hyundai had raised the possibility, in the future, of sending robots into space instead of astronauts. Kathleen Belhassein, a psychology researcher specializing in human-robot interaction, believes it’s not that different from the relationship NASA pilots already have with rovers such as Curiosity And Perseverance : “These people have to learn to ‘be’ the rover, which is to imagine how it can move and visualize the position of cameras, solar panels and sensors. “ At the PPrime Institute, no project related to space exploration, but a prototype of a robotic hand designed for fine motor skills. His goal: to make underwater archeology possible at depths impossible to reach by man.

Lors de sa présentation, Hyundai était allé encore plus loin avec une utilization de la métamobilité jusque dans nos foyers: être en vacances et, grâce au metaverse et à utilization d’un robot-avatar, nourrir et caresser son chien resté à la home. We are still far from it, to the point that Kathleen Belhassein and Célestin Préault are unable to give a time scale for the democratization of this type of technology. “I hope we’ll still be alive to see it!” Kathleen Belhassein reacts. There is still a lot of work to be done, especially on an ethical level, on this. ” Célestin Préault also tempera: “You have to remember that, for virtual reality, it started in the mid-90s for materials research and is only now breaking through …” Metamobility is indeed a very recent research topic that appeared about five years ago, so it will probably take several decades to see it develop. Especially since there are a lot of blocks.

Why isn’t it right away?

The first obstacle is obviously technical. In industry, robots are usually caged to avoid accidents, they are not made to share the same space as a human being and cooperate directly. Even if controlled remotely by a human, a robot will move and have a different “body language” from that of humans, which could make it difficult for humans and robots to understand and therefore their ability to collaborate on tasks. Currently, it is more efficient to have a robotic production line or humans working together.

The financial aspect is also at the heart of the problem. Researchers will certainly get more funding thanks to the growing interest of large companies in the metaverse, but this type of technology will remain costly to individuals. The humanoid robots that exist today cost several thousand euros and one of the haptic joysticks (which reproduce the sense of touch) from the PPrime laboratory also costs several tens of thousands of euros. This type of investment may be possible for large companies, but not for most individuals.

The legal and ethical aspect also raises questions, especially in the event of an error or accident: who will be responsible? The user ? The robot manufacturer? The people who created the digital twin? This type of problem is not new, as it has already been considered for autonomous vehicles. Last month, the UK and Scottish Law Commission, for example, recommended that the manufacturer be held liable in the event of an accident with an autonomous vehicle. By doing actions at a distance, for example in the metaverse, individual responsibility is also perceived differently, which raises ethical questions: “We already see this with the military and drones, Kathleen Belhassein explains. We tend to think that their responsibility is not that high because there is a screen between the human and the action. It is a “clean war”: the soldier kills, but he doesn’t really realize it. That’s not true at all, it’s even worse for him, because he knows he’s been killed but has been deprived of social ties and the ability to empathize. These soldiers have completely invisible trauma. “

Finally, there is a psychological block, especially for individuals. “There is the question of the acceptability of the machine for us and the loss of social ties. We also create other problems later, Kathleen Belhassein warns. Especially in the West. In Asian cultures, robots are seen differently, they like them. For individuals, service robots will look a lot like humans and, in the West, we won’t accept that. There is a certain mistrust and fear surrounding this. “

To overcome these various obstacles, the researcher emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinarity: “Why are we now starting to have human and social sciences that fit into these areas of engineering and robotics? It is to set limits. It is normal for researchers and engineers to always want to go further. This is where interdisciplinarity and dialogue with experts in psychology, ergonomics or philosophy are important. We come to bring our knowledge of the human spirit, to prevent prejudice and excess. “

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