The metaverse will fundamentally change the way the economy works. The major financial players have understood this well. AXA Investment Managers launched its metaverse thematic fund a few weeks ago. It consists of about 250 titles divided into four categories: play, socialization, work and technology enabler. Much of the attention that the metaverse has so far concentrated on the first two categories (play and socialization). But it is as a technology facilitator that the benefits in terms of value creation and innovation will certainly be the most significant. Some speak of an “industrial metaverse”. It’s the same idea.
Numerous industrial applications
The goal is to simulate experiences or phenomena in the virtual world in order to provide an answer to the problems of the physical world. The most emblematic example is certainly that of Nvidia, an American listed company specializing in graphics processors, artificial intelligence and which has a foot in the metaverse. Last December, the group’s CEO, Jensen Huang, announced plans to create a digital twin of the Earth that can predict climate change using artificial intelligence. This is not a project that could be successful in the short term. It may take at least ten to fifteen years of research and investment. But let’s assume Nvidia is successful. This could make it possible to anticipate and prevent the climate changes that will occur in the physical world, to allow companies to adapt, insurers and all economic actors.
Other applications are possible. At Oceans.ai, we aim to create a metaverse in a few years that can help anticipate and predict the impact of corrosion on energy infrastructure, for example. Corrosion in the broad sense (including gas pipelines, gas pipelines, road infrastructure, etc.) cost France nearly 84 billion euros in 2019, the equivalent of 3.5% of GDP. If we could better anticipate the degradation of materials due to the environment, this would reduce the costs generated, as well as the risks and strengthen the safety of goods.
Likewise, Boeing is creating its own digital twin-based internal metaverse to avoid design errors on its aircraft. Boeing is also looking to improve maintenance and inspection of its aircraft. The American group uses current and historical maintenance data and has developed a machine learning algorithm that, if the project is successful, could prioritize the weaknesses to be monitored on the planes. However, this is not an easy task.
Regulation and complexity of data processing
The metaverse is based on the following technologies: augmented reality (e.g. 3D objects entering a room), virtual reality (simulation of a 3D environment existing in the physical world), blockchain, 5G, IOT (connection of physical objects to the Internet), industry 4.0 (which corresponds to the convergence of the virtual world with real objects) and artificial intelligence. Access to data is the key to success for the latter. It is customary to say that large volumes of data are needed in artificial intelligence. It’s true. But what is often not highlighted is that the quality of the data (continuous and consistent data, for example) is even more essential. This allows in particular to create operating systems that act as a framework for the digital twins we mentioned.
Data quality is not an end in itself. It is also important to keep in mind all the data privacy needs and still disparate regulations that apply here and there in this industry. Contrary to what we might believe in Europe, we are in luck. Regulations are moving in the right direction. In early April, the European Parliament adopted more flexible rules to facilitate data sharing (neutral intermediaries in aggregating data, incentive for public actors to share their data, etc.). This should help foster the climate of innovation around artificial intelligence and therefore around the metaverse. Finally, this system should soon be complemented by a law on the use of data generated by connected objects (currently under discussion at Member State level). This is also a crucial point for the industry.
Funds of the canal
The challenge now is to channel the funds from the private equity more towards the themes of innovation in the sector. This is a challenge in France, where fundraising is essentially dominated by the fintech segment and, to a lesser extent, by medtech. In many cases, only the corporate venture capital (funds held by large industrial groups) with the support of the Public Investment Bank (BPI). This is insufficient if we want to reindustrialize France and multiply sectors of excellence. We hope that the current tenant of the Elysée will also address this topic.