Metaverse & the world of tomorrow: Talking Techchnology with expert Peter Fintl
Supplier & entertainment companies pushing into the automotive industry. Car companies pushing into the robotics market. Abstract terms like the metaverse, billion-dollar deals in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) - the entire tech industry is on the move right now. No less was indicated at least at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Sony, for example, presented its second vehicle study, while Hyundai dedicated its appearance to its Boston Dynamics robotics division and the Metaverse already mentioned. Which direction is the development heading and what are the risks and opportunities? Peter Fintl, Director Technology and Innovation at Capgemini Engineering, gives us the lowdown.
Mr. Fintl, with Tesla and now also Hyundai at CES, two automotive manufacturers are pushing into the robotics market. The Koreans are already planning their own Metaverse. Is this just a flash in the pan or the big trend for the future?
I think we're actually seeing the start of a new trend. However, I don't see such robots being used in consumer electronics for the time being. Smart, humanoid robots will make their way into society via business applications. For example, in plant maintenance, in production - and of course in the area of health and care. Unlike years ago, systems can already interact intelligently, offering entirely new possibilities. But there is also potential in other areas - such as customer service in retail. Just recently, jd.com opened stores in the Netherlands that can be operated almost exclusively by robots, even if they are not humanoid. It will be exciting to see what use cases will link the analog and digital worlds. At Metaverse, all the tech giants are throwing their hats into the ring.
"I think we're actually seeing the start of a new trend."
What's behind it? What is the motivation for the two mobility companies to take this leap now?
Basically, robotics has a long tradition for the automotive industry. Industrial robots have been used in manufacturing since the 1970s. Their use in car body construction has led to a significant leap in manufacturing quality and efficiency. Low-cost mass production in automotive manufacturing would be unthinkable without the use of robots. Automakers and robotics share a common history. It used to be about repetitive tasks, but now the trend is toward adaptive and collaborative systems. This next step, to harness these capabilities away from car manufacturing, seems very logical in my view, especially in light of technological convergence. The investments that car manufacturers have made in autonomous driving can now help them to apply and monetize the skills they have acquired in other areas as well.
What opportunities and risks does the new market offer?
Unlike traditional industrial robots, these new projects stand out for their collaborative, adaptive elements. OEMs are drawing on relatively new expertise in the field of artificial intelligence. Also relevant are the significantly lower barriers to entry, thanks to more affordable 3D sensor technology and powerful open-source platforms. In addition, we have seen for several years that the need for adaptive systems is growing. One risk could be identified in the strong brand stretch: If manufacturers present cars, robots and consumer electronics under the same flag, this could have an irritating effect on consumers. It is also clear that the market is still at a very young stage. The visions of players like Hyundai seem futuristic - the term metaverse is still barely tangible for many consumers. It is far from clear to what extent investments can actually open up new profitable business areas.
What is the situation here in Europe - are the manufacturers well prepared or is there already a need to catch up?
European manufacturers were among the pioneers in introducing industrial robots. Internal robot projects - for example in material handling - are highly topical. Some of them are world leaders in this field. So far, unlike Hyundai and Tesla, for example, they are not targeting the consumer market, but it is safe to assume that the Europeans will take a very close look at these developments. Know-how in the field of mechanics and AI opens up prospects for OEMs.
"It is also clear that the market is still at a very young stage. The visions of players like Hyundai seem futuristic - the term metaverse is still barely tangible for many consumers."
On the other hand, electronics giants like Sony are now entering the car market - Apple is also said to want to build its own vehicle. Are we living in the age of the very big upheaval for tech companies?
We are certainly living in the age of technological convergence. Certain key technologies are shaping all industries. These steps make sense for electronics companies like Sony and LG in particular. The electronics giants already supply components such as battery technology, screens, speakers and camera technology. They also have years of experience in creating software and interfaces. They are also masters of the »content« aspects and also have established brands. All points that will be absolutely essential for the vehicles of the future. The mega trends in the automotive industry are simultaneously reshuffling the cards in the mobility ecosystem. Batteries and software are gaining in importance - new mobility solutions are called for. In the future, the vast majority of customers will no longer be concerned solely with physical equipment details or driving performance. Here, the electronic giants have an advantage simply because of their history. Another »door opener« is the competence of contract manufacturers. Their services enable low-cost entry into the so far relatively closed society of car manufacturers. Consequently, powerful alliances will emerge between service providers and the electronics groups.
And where is the technology sector heading in general? Can we talk about a strong tendency toward convergence in the mobility sector?
Definitely. Megatrends such as electromobility and digitalization are playing into the hands of both sides, and the moats of the established players are no longer impenetrable. The mobility industry is firing the imagination of many investors, and we are experiencing a brand explosion. It's no coincidence that the line of electronics giants with mobility ambitions is getting longer and longer.
Is it worth investing right there now? And if so, how?
The evolution is still in its early stages, of course. Trends such as the metaverse, robotics or mobility of tomorrow offer great potential, but who determines these trends in the long term is not clear across the board. Some companies that will play a role as tomorrow's »shovel sellers« can of course already be guessed at. Platform economies will also have a massive impact in these areas.