anywhere at once thanks to metaverse

At the last CES, South Korean company Hyundai wanted to impress the concept of metamobility, which is the fact of performing tasks far from the real world through the metaverse. A technology that is not ready to be democratic among individuals. Explanations.

In France, the CNRS PPrime institute, affiliated with the Faculty of Sciences of Poitiers, has a robotics laboratory that has worked for many years on manipulating machines remotely (teleoperation) thanks to virtual reality and digital twins. We visited it.

Metamobility, a term used by Hyundai, is a form of telecommunications. It’s about using virtual reality and the metaverse to accomplish tasks that are remotely replicated in the real world. For example, the Pprime Institute was able to model a machine and control it from the other end of the building. Scientists use digital twins for this: “It’s a virtual copy of a physically realistic physical environment, ie it can copy the behavior of a robot or production line. We can immediately move there and do tests», explains Célestin Préault, engineer and post-doctoral researcher at the institute. As these examples show, this type of technology is above all designed for industry: before setting up a factory, companies may request to create a digital twin to test it in the virtual reality.

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

Pedagogical use was also studied: the use of a digital twin in a laboratory environment makes it possible to train students with tools they do not have in the classroom or to have multiple students. Célestin Préault gives an example to chemistry students: “They had to do an experiment with hazardous substances, like sulfuric acid, which required a lot of preparation and testing. We had very good feedback from the teachers because, after experimenting with a digital twin, the students are less afraid if they have to do the experiment in real life. »

Metamobility is also considered for exploring areas that are hostile to humans. Hyundai has 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 no different than NASA pilots ’relationship with rovers like Curiosity and ENDURANCE : “These people need to learn to ‘be’ rover, ie think about how it will move and imagine the location of the cameras, solar panels and sensors.» At the PPrime Institute, there is no project related to space exploration, but a prototype robotic arm designed for fine motor skills. Its goal: to make underwater archeology at a depth impossible for humans to reach.

During his presentation, Hyundai further advanced the use of metamobility even in our homes: vacationing and, thanks to the metaverse and the use of the robot-avatar, feeding and petting his dog that stays at home. We are still far from it, to the point that Kathleen Belhassein and Célestin Préault cannot provide a measure of time for the democratization of this type of technology. “I hope we’re still alive to see it!” reaction by Kathleen Belhassein. There is still a lot of work, especially at the ethical level, to be done about it. » Célestin Préault is also angry: “You have to remember that, for virtual reality, it started in the mid -1990s for material research and it’s now broken down …” Metamobility is actually a relatively new topic of research, showing up about five years ago, so it will probably take a few decades to see it develop. Especially since there are so many blockages.

Why not immediately?

The first hurdle is of course technical. In industry, robots are often in cages to avoid accidents, they are not made to share the same space as a human and interact directly. Even when controlled remotely by a human, a robot will function and have a different “body language” than humans, which can make it difficult for humans and robots to communicate and therefore their ability to collaborate on tasks. . Nowadays, it is more efficient to have a robotic production line or people working together.

The financial aspect is also the center of the problem. Researchers are sure to get more funding thanks to the growing interest of large companies in the metaverse, but this type of technology will remain expensive for individuals. The humanoid robots that exist today cost several thousand euros and one of the haptic joysticks (which changes the sense of touch) from Pprime’s laboratory even costs several thousand euros. This type of investment may be possible for large companies, but not for most individuals.

The legal and ethical side also raises questions, especially if there is a mistake or accident: who is responsible? The user? The robot maker? The people who do the digital twin? This type of problem is not new, as it is already considered for autonomous vehicles. Last month, the UK and Scottish Law Commission, for example, recommended that the manufacturer be held accountable if an autonomous car had an accident. By taking remote actions, for example in the metaverse, individual responsibility is also viewed differently, raising ethical questions: “We’ve seen it in the military and drones, explained by Kathleen Belhassein. We often think that their responsibility is not very high because there is a screen between person and action. It’s “clean warfare”: the soldier can kill, but he doesn’t realize it. This is not true, even worse for him, because he knows he has been killed but deprives him of social relationships and capacity for empathy. These soldiers have traumas that are completely invisible. »

Finally, there is a psychological block, especially for individuals. “There was the question of the acceptance of our machine and the loss of social relations. We also created other problems afterwards, Kathleen Belhassein warned. Especially in the West. In Asian cultures, robots look different, they like it. For individuals, service robots look like humans and, in the West, we don’t accept them. There is a certain mistrust and fear around it. »

To overcome these various barriers, the researcher emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinarity: “Why are we starting now to have the humanities and social sciences suited to these areas of engineering and robotics? It’s to set limits. It’s only normal for researchers and engineers to want to move on. Here’s where interdisciplinarity and dialogue with experts in psychology, ergonomics or philosophy are essential. We have come to bring our knowledge of the human spirit, to avoid prejudices and excesses. »

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