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Into the Metaverse: How Digital Twins Can Change the Business Landscape New businesses are emerging onto a playing field likely to be based, at least partially, in the metaverse. Digital twins powered by location intelligence will be a crucial foundation for companies navigating and working successfully within this space in the future.

By Katie Decker

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Even as we use our virtual reality headsets, outfit our avatars and step into an entirely virtual world, there's one more thing we'll need in the metaverse: a sense of where we are. Staying tethered to our very real geography will be essential if we want to capitalize on this new world's potential for conducting business, testing ideas and making predictions about the future.

Imagine, for example, seeing the view from the windows of your new offices before they're even built; sending your automated car or drone on a simulated delivery trip to ensure the best charted path before testing it in the real world; or experiencing the local effects of a future climate-related event.

Some estimate that the economic impact of the metaverse — which is sometimes called Web 3.0 — will approach $1 trillion in the next few years. Research and consulting firm Gartner has predicted that one out of every four consumers will be using the metaverse for at least an hour each day by 2026. Accessed through a variety of devices — including smartphones, tablets and augmented reality goggles — the metaverse is defined by Gartner as a "collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality."

Related: Why Executives Need to Take Note of 'Digital Twins'

Businesses of all sizes are already using location intelligence technology to build digital twins — virtual 3D replicas of objects, operations, assets, places and systems — to see more clearly when making decisions. The more the metaverse grows to reflect the real world, the more critical it will be for people, and especially new companies working within, to have a shared reality. That's why the metaverse will need a foundation connected to physical geography — specifically, geographic information system (GIS) technology — in order to be useful in the real world.

Here are three ways digital twins powered by location intelligence can provide that crucial foundation — the virtual building blocks — for businesses emerging onto a playing field likely to be based, at least partially, in the metaverse.

1. Seeing the otherwise unseen

The metaverse could be where we go to see what's normally hidden from view to peer underground or behind walls with the right geospatial technology. At least one city water utility in New Jersey has already been doing so, using a digital twin and virtual reality headsets to see what pipes lay underfoot. The company's workers see in vivid detail precisely what pipes are buried underground and where; this saves them from digging unnecessarily or damaging infrastructure below when performing maintenance. It may not seem as exciting as a video game, but it's the type of location precision that will come in handy for a variety of industries in the metaverse.

Professionals in architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), for instance, wanting to inspect the bones of a physical building, can see a mapped twin of its infrastructure and visualize a building's real-time health and performance with the help of sensors monitoring energy use and water flow. Land developers could pull back a curtain for investors and interested community members with a virtual walkthrough of proposed projects, allowing them to experience infinitesimal details — like the way shadows are cast by the buildings depending on the time of day, and the look of a project from street level.

Related: Digital Twins vs Simulation: Three Key Differences

2. Building hybrid workplaces

The same technologies powering the metaverse are supporting new ways for employees to show up for work, and new possibilities for leaders to start businesses and manage operations.

A metaverse virtual space, supported by a location intelligent digital twin of the workplace, could be a more immersive, connective bridge between home and office. For instance, virtual reality could be used to train employees in a replicated space or even to unite a geographically fragmented staff for real-time collaboration.

With hybrid work becoming the norm, the mapping technology to build and manage workplace digital twins could also make it easier for startups to enter the market. New businesses that would otherwise need to invest in corporate real estate can achieve virtual flexibility at a lower cost.

Because real-time mapping affords visualization of indoor assets, managers of airports or hospitals, for instance, can view multiple floors, entrances, stairwells and rooms to watch what's happening and where. We will likely see crossover in how this in-the-moment tracking of equipment and resources plays out in the metaverse and in the real world.

Related: Why Blockchain and Digital Twins Are Good Partners

3. Simulating what may happen

While the metaverse will likely represent an avenue of escape and entertainment for many, there's the potential for it to be a valuable business tool with the capability to offer real-world simulations.

It's something one consultant has been doing on such a scale as to mimic the effects of global warming and show how it will disrupt businesses and entire cities. Experiencing one's own replicated neighborhood relative to rising seas, encroaching storms and more, offers a visceral, relatable experience more likely to motivate action.

The resultant resiliency assessments from those simulations provide at least two important economic benefits. They illustrate the long-term profit potential for organizations that take preventative action, and they reveal a return on investment for communities planning sustainability projects.

For the metaverse to have utility in the real world — where we live and breathe — it will need to have a context there, too. The geography that underpins the real world and its maps will also apply to virtual worlds, and location intelligence will be foundational to navigate and make sense of those virtual replicas. In the metaverse, tying digital environments to physical ones will be key to doing business there.
Katie Decker

Global Community & Marketing Manager, Esri Startup Program

Katie Decker is global community and marketing manager of the startup program at Esri. Supporting startups engineering next-generation solutions, she works with the up-and-coming leaders in location intelligence and helps them use geospatial technology to understand and solve complex challenges.

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