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Microsoft Envision

August 4, 2022
Gavin Brown, National Government Industry Executive

This article is part of Microsoft Envision, a digital series exploring critical business and technology trends.  

Here’s what makes the industrial metaverse impossible to ignore

The industrial metaverse is full of world-changing potential. But if you really want to unleash its power, you need a solid foundation of data, connectivity and sensors to establish digital twins. Let’s talk about how you can make use of the metaverse, and then what can you do with it. 

Laying the foundations of the industrial metaverse 

We’ve seen the metaverse coming at us for a while, through the inevitable convergence of data-trained models, IoT, digital twins, AI and simulations. When we think of interacting with the metaverse, we tend to imagine things like walking through an immersive 3D environment. But that visual environment can’t actually do anything useful unless it’s connected to IoT sensor data and programmed to replicate conditions and events.  

In other words, you need to prepare all the unglamorous yet crucial data and technology underlay that makes any visual manifestation powerful and meaningful. And that’s the industrial metaverse. 

It begins with establishing and connecting sensors across your entire physical infrastructure. Sure, seems overwhelming, so break it down, project by project. Connect your data from one facility or sector and take those learnings into the next. 

Once your data is connected, you need to flow it into a digital twin technology, such as Azure Digital Twins. By blending that raw information into a cohesive whole, you can start to simulate the real world.  

What’s the use of a digital twin? 

If you’re looking to futureproof your organisation, I’m sure you’ll want to understand the impacts of a variety of scenarios – from the very likely to most far-fetched (but potentially with severe consequences). For example, what if the city of Fukushima had really understood the result of 14-metre waves, rather than planning only for the 10-metre swells they’d experienced in the past? Digital twins let us play out future scenarios just like this. 

The science goes back to the 1970s, when companies like Boeing were simulating the build quality of their aircraft in various conditions. But where we once used millions of dollars of on-premises equipment to run statistical modelling, today we can spin up a hyperscale environment and spin it back down again as soon as we’re done with it.  

And because of the time compression provided by that processing power, we can play out so many more scenarios and extrapolate on the result, try again, experiment again. The industrial metaverse gives you the power to do this kind of ‘what if?’ planning through digital twins layered with an environment that is enabled and event driven, so it can evolve as conditions change. 

For example, a water corporation might build a digital twin of its pipe infrastructure and waste treatment plants. Then, it can test the potential impacts of climate change forecasts. Let’s say there’s ongoing heavy rain that has saturated the ground (sound familiar already?) then a storm front causes flash flooding. What might occur? Perhaps the inability to process the volume, causing pumping station failure. But at which station? When? And how much more capacity might be required? With a comprehensive digital twin, this company can model the impacts and then accurately predict what they need to do to mitigate the risk.  

So how does this better serve citizens? 

Rethinking service delivery that’s seamlessly connected by the metaverse will completely change what’s possible and what customers expect. 

For example, I can see how this technology could radically streamline regulatory services. When it comes to building regulations, why have separate inspectors doing different types of inspections over a period of months? A single inspector could perform several tasks in one day, supported by augmented reality. If an inspector is gathering appropriate evidence through video and receiving guidance on what to look for through AI object recognition within a HoloLens display, governments can acquit their duty with less friction to customers as well as reduced operational cost.  

This requires a rethink of internal process – it’s about retraining inspection staff as well as supporting them with augmented information, automation and experts they can connect in as they work. It cuts red tape while creating a more satisfying cross-jurisdictional work experience for staff and better services delivery. 

The most common stumbling block in both government and enterprise these days is skills shortage. But let’s flip that into a great opportunity to build knowledge and diversify internal talent, by taking people out of operational teams and giving them the skills to develop smarter tools they can then use to do their jobs better. 

The industrial metaverse could have a profound environmental impact 

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) is leading the charge to develop this technology with Microsoft, in a new pilot project focusing on two defined WA regions, both with significant economic activity. 

Microsoft has been working on Western Australia’s Shared Environment Analytics Facility, which is a ground-breaking technology for streamlining environmental impact assessments.  

The project aims to use digital twins to undertake environmental impact assessments in far less time. It’s a fundamental shift in how impact assessments have been performed and unlocks far more powerful insights into the pressures and cumulative impacts on the environment from future development. 

By partnering with WAMSI to apply this technology to Cockburn Sound, an area of enormous industrial growth and investment, this approach addresses the need to apply careful planning, management and scenario testing to protect the highly valued marine environment. 

A metaverse digital twin will be able to simulate, for example, how a proposed uranium mine will impact the environment for the next 10,000 years. And then remodel that data based on the introduction of other mines. Or the identification of nearby traditional sacred sites that might be affected. 

Because it’s now possible to model, Western Australia has changed their legislation so that it requires understanding the cumulative impact of a project. Even while producing so much additional detail and analysis, the digitisation of all the elements of the impact assessment into a digital twin could shave three months off getting a mine approved in the Pilbara region. That translates to $150 AUD million in GDP. It’s those sorts of bottom line opportunities that make the industrial metaverse impossible to ignore.  

For more on how the metaverse is arriving in both predictable and unexpected ways, watch this segment from Microsoft Envision with Jessica Hawk Corporate Vice President, Data, AI & Mixed Reality, Microsoft Corporation 

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This post was written by Gavin Brown, National Government Industry Executive