Microsoft partners with Kawasaki for industrial metaverse

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Microsoft partners with Kawasaki for industrial metaverse

Microsoft’s HoloLens 2.

Andreas Evers | CNBC

You might not be ready to jump into the metaverse for fun, but it might get to work faster than you think.

Microsoft announced on Tuesday that Kawasaki is a new customer for the tech giant’s so-called “industrial metaverse” — a fancy way of saying factory workers will wear a HoloLens headset to help with production, repairs, and managing supply chains. It will use the headsets to help build robots.

First launched in 2016, HoloLens lets the wearer experience augmented reality that overlays digital images in a real-world environment. For Microsoft’s industrial metaverse, that means merging many of the company’s technologies, like cloud computing, to help factory workers and managers build products faster and more efficiently.

The idea is to create what Microsoft calls a “digital twin” of a workspace that can speed up processes like repairs and the launch of new assembly lines. For example, instead of calling a repair worker who comes into the factory to fix a broken part, a HoloLens can be used to chat with workers on site and guide them through the repair process with visual cues from augmented reality. Also, managers can use the digital twin to ramp up new production if needed ⁠ – something Microsoft is offering as a way to combat supply chain issues.

Kawasaki joins Heinz, which recently announced it would use Microsoft’s industrial metaverse in ketchup factories, and Boeing as a manufacturing partner.

While it may sound like a gimmick, it’s something Microsoft’s customers have been asking for as the metaverse concept continues to gain traction. Jessica Hawk, corporate vice president of mixed reality at Microsoft, said in an interview with CNBC last week that the industrial metaverse gives a taste of what technology can do today before it becomes fully immersive in the future.

“So I think you see a lot of energy in this room,” Hawk said. “These are real issues these companies are struggling with… so having a technology solution that can help solve the supply chain challenge, for example, is incredibly powerful.”

Microsoft’s burgeoning business says a lot about where things stand with the metaverse. While we’ve heard promises of a sci-fi future where everyone will work, play, and socialize in virtual reality, today’s uses have more to do with business-related applications than the needs of the average consumer.

For example, Meta’s upcoming mixed reality headset will be more expensive than its $299 virtual reality headset and marketed to people who want to feel “present” while working remotely. In fact, one of Meta’s first Metaverse products was an app that lets you hold meetings in virtual reality.

But the difference is that Microsoft has a head start and is actually selling its mixed reality technology to companies today, while giving developers the tools they need to create their own Metaverse experiences.

“We’re really seeing differentiation in the way we’re executing our strategy here, which recognizes that people will experience the metaverse across a variety of devices and platforms,” ​​Hawk said.

That means Metaverse products that also work on 2D screens, like new features Microsoft added to its Teams chat app last year where people can appear as digital avatars. These types of features may be ported to headsets and other platforms in the future.

“We are very excited about this moment that unleashes so much innovation,” said Hawk. We understand some things today. And we realize many, many more things that we haven’t fully realized yet. So it’s a very exciting time for us.”

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