To be everywhere at once thanks to the metaverse

At the last CES, the South Korean company Hyundai wanted to impress with the concept of metamobility, that is, the fact that tasks are accomplished remotely in the real world through the metaverse. A technology that is not ready for its democratization among individuals. explanations.

In France, the CNRS PPrime Institute, attached to the Faculty of Sciences in Poitiers, has a robotics laboratory that has been working for several years to manipulate machines remotely (remote operation) thanks to virtual reality and digital twins. We visited.

Metamobility, a term used by Hyundai, is a form of remote operation. It is about using virtual reality and the metaverse to accomplish tasks that will be replicated remotely in the real world. For example, the PPrime Institute was able to design a machine and control it from the other end of the building. Scientists use digital twins for this: “It is a virtual version of a physically realistic physical environment, i.e. it can reproduce the behavior of a robot or a production line. We can then go there and run the tests », explains Celestine Briault, an engineer and postdoctoral researcher at the institute. As these examples show, this type of technology is designed above all for industry: before setting up a factory, companies can order the creation of a digital twin to explore in virtual reality.

A person sees the device in virtual reality and can control it remotely.

Pedagogical use is also studied: the use of the digital twin of the laboratory environment makes it possible to train students on devices that they do not have in the classroom or have more students. Celestine Briault gives the example of chemistry students: They had to conduct an experiment on hazardous materials, such as sulfuric acid, which required a lot of preparation and examination. We got very good feedback from the teachers because after doing the experiment on the digital twin, the students were less apprehensive when they had to do the experiment in real life. »

Transformation is also considered in order to explore places hostile to humans. Hyundai has raised the possibility, in the future, of sending robots into space instead of astronauts. Kathleen Belhossein, a psychology researcher who specializes in human-robot interaction, thinks it’s not much different from the relationship NASA pilots already have with vehicles like curiousity And perseverance : “These people have to learn how to be wanderers, that is, to imagine how they can move and imagine the location of cameras, solar panels and sensors.” At the PPrime Institute, there is not a project related to space exploration, but a prototype of a robotic hand designed for fine motor skills. Its goal: to make it possible to carry out underwater archeology at depths inaccessible to humans.

During his presentation, Hyundai went even further with using metamobility even in our homes: being on vacation, thanks to the metaverse and using an avatar robot, feeding and petting his dog who stayed at home. We are still so far from it, that Kathleen Belhossein and Celestine Priolle cannot give a timeline for the democratization of this type of technology. “I hope we survive to see it!” Kathleen’s reaction to Hussein. There is still a lot of work, especially on an ethical level, to be done on this topic. » Celestine Briault also: “You have to remember that for virtual reality, it started in the mid-90s for physical research, and it’s only finished now…” Metamobility is already a very recent research topic, and has been around for about five years, so it will likely take several decades to evolve. Especially since there are many obstacles.

Why isn’t that done now?

The first hurdle is of course technology. In industry, robots are usually in cages to avoid accidents, they are not designed to share the same space with a human and cooperate directly. Even if controlled by a human remotely, the robot will move and have a different “body language” than humans, which can make it difficult for humans and robots to understand each other and thus be able to collaborate on tasks. Currently, it is more efficient to either have an automated production line or to have humans work together.

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

The legal and ethical aspect also raises questions, especially in the event of an error or accident: who will be responsible? the user ? Android Maker? The people who invented the digital twin? This type of problem is not new, as it is already being considered for self-driving vehicles. Last month, the United Kingdom and the Scottish Law Commission, for example, recommended that a manufacturer be held liable if a self-driving vehicle is involved in an accident. By doing actions remotely, for example in the metaverse, individual responsibility is also viewed differently, which raises ethical questions: We’ve already seen this with the military and drones, Kathleen Belhussain explains. We tend to think that their responsibility is not very high because there is a barrier between human and action. It’s a “clean war”: the soldier gets killed, but he doesn’t really realize it. This is not at all true, and even worse for him, because he knows that he was killed, but social ties and the ability to empathize were taken away from him. These soldiers have completely invisible shockwaves. »

Finally, there is a particular psychological obstacle for individuals. There is the issue of the machine accepting us and the loss of social ties. We also create other issues after that, Kathleen Belhussain warns. Especially in the West. In Asian cultures, robots are perceived differently, they like them. To individuals, service bots will look a lot like humans, which we wouldn’t accept in the West. There is a kind of mistrust and fear about this. »

In order to overcome these various obstacles, the researcher emphasized the importance of multidisciplinarity: “Why are we now starting to have the humanities and social sciences that fit into these fields of engineering and robotics? It’s to set limits. Naturally, researchers and engineers always want to move forward. This is where interdisciplinarity and dialogue with experts in psychology or ergonomics comes into play.” or philosophy is important. We come to our knowledge of the human spirit, to prevent prejudices and transgressions.”

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