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Robotics in the real world and metaverse: A Hyundai vision

05 January 2022

Hyundai Motor Company shared its vision for pioneering the use of robotics in both the real world and metaverse at CES 2022.

Under the main theme of ‘Expanding Human Reach’, Hyundai Motor’s presentations reflected how the company’s robotics business will drive the paradigm shift towards future mobility, going beyond the traditional means of transportation to fulfil unlimited freedom of movement for humankind.

Robotics is an essential part of Hyundai Motor’s transformation into a smart mobility solution provider. Having acquired Boston Dynamics, an innovator in the field, Hyundai Motor has sharpened its focus on advancing robotics to enhance people’s lives through a range of mobility solutions. The company sees robotics and mobility as complementary in that one accelerates development of the other, and vice versa. Together, they form a synergistic combination that will add value to the business and drive progress for humanity, starting with a robotics-based Mobility of Things (MoT) ecosystem.

In support of its future vision for robotics and mobility, the company revealed its new concept of ‘Metamobility’, with the goal of pioneering a smart device-metaverse connection that will expand the role of mobility to virtual reality (VR), ultimately allowing people to overcome the physical limitations of movement in time and space. Hyundai Motor also shared its vision of how robots will act as a medium between the real world and virtual spaces, enabling users to make changes in the metaverse to be reflected in reality. 

The company envisions that the distinctions between future mobilities will be blurred through the further development of robotics technology, such as AI and autonomous driving. Diverse mobilities, including automobiles and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) will also serve as smart devices for access to the metaverse platform.

“At Hyundai, we are harnessing the power of robotics to achieve great things. We envision future mobility solutions made possible by advanced robotics — even expanding our mobility solutions to Metamobility,” said Euisun Chung, the Group’s Executive Chair, during his presentation. “This vision will enable unlimited freedom of movement and progress for humanity.”

Connecting real-world movement with the metaverse via robots and ‘Metamobility’

During Hyundai Motors’ CES presentation, Hyundai Motor Group President and Head of Transportation-as-a-Service (TaaS) Division Chang Song and Microsoft Corporate Vice President Ulrich Homann joined Boston Dynamics’ Marc Raibert to discuss the metaverse and Metamobility.

With the metaverse set to become a daily space for people in the future, the company expects the possible emergence of a new type of metaverse platform in which the distinction from reality could disappear, breaking away from the concept of VR as the world knows it today.

What only used to be a virtual experience due to technological limitations can now be reflected in the real world through the connection of smart devices, enabling users to have unlimited freedom of movement between the two worlds. Hyundai Motor defines the concept of such experiences as Metamobility.

Hyundai Motor expects that mobilities, such as automobiles and UAM, will serve as smart devices to access virtual spaces, while robotics will act as a medium to connect the virtual and real worlds. For example, an automobile that connects to virtual spaces can allow users to enjoy various in-car VR experiences. Depending on the user’s needs, a car can be transformed into an entertainment space, a meeting room for work or even a 3D video game platform.

Unlike the current incarnation of VR where user experiences are not reflected in the real world due to technological limitations, future metaverse users will be able to affect changes in the real world through robotics and digital twin technology, a virtual representation of a physical object, place or process that will be made possible by further advancements in sensors and actuators.

For example, when a user accesses a digital twin of their home in the metaverse while away from their physical home, they will be able to feed and hug a pet in Korea through the use of an avatar robot. This will allow users to enjoy real world experiences through VR.

Through Metamobility, robots will help people overcome the physical limitations of time and space, providing a means for connecting and interacting in the metaverse. Hyundai Motor envisions a metaverse using robots as a medium between the real and virtual worlds, enabling people to actually change and transform things in the real world through a metaverse and robot connection.

This metaverse-robot connection will allow the user to guide a robot in the real world, such as in a smart factory. This will enable a next-generation digital model for plant management and manufacturing by enabling remote specialists to connect to all machines and assets within the factory, and perform remote tasks through a direct physical connection using robots and VR. For example, a worker would interact with a robotic avatar in the metaverse via VR interface and hand controls to manipulate things in the real world using a proxy robot at the remote work site.

“The idea behind Metamobility is that space, time and distance will all become irrelevant. By connecting robots to the metaverse, we will be able to move freely between both the real world and virtual reality,” Song said. “Going one step further from the immersive ‘be there’ proxy experience that the metaverse provides, robots will become an extension of our own physical senses, allowing us to reshape and enrich our daily lives with Metamobility.”

Ulrich Homann, Corporate Vice President and Distinguished Architect Cloud+AI at Microsoft added how Microsoft helps unlock metaverse experiences: “As virtual and physical environments merge, Microsoft is bringing people, places and things together with the digital world. Across the Microsoft Cloud, from Azure IoT to Azure Digital Twins, Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces and Microsoft Mesh, we’re building a metaverse platform for organisations, enabling a new perspective on the way how people move and interact in physical spaces like factories.”

Robots that move people and things beyond imagination and limitation

Hyundai Motor also revealed its Plug & Drive (PnD) and Drive & Lift (DnL) modular platforms as all-in-one solutions for its unlimited Mobility of Things (MoT) ecosystem, wherein traditionally inanimate things, from small objects to community spaces, will gain mobility using the company’s robotics technologies.

Dong Jin Hyun, Vice President and Head of Hyundai Motor Group Robotics Lab, highlighted the new PnD module, a single-wheel robotics platform that combines intelligent steering, braking, in-wheel electric drive and suspension hardware that can be scaled up or down, for any purpose, size or application. LiDAR and camera sensors allow a PnD-enabled object to move autonomously.

With infinite flexibility and scalability, the PnD module can provide mobility to normally inanimate things, from small objects to community spaces. Its applications seem limitless, providing freedom of movement for people with disabilities, automated logistics, reconfigurable interior space and public transportation with individual compartments for social distancing and last mile mobility.

“In the world to come, we will not move our things, but things will actually move around us with the PnD module making traditionally inanimate objects mobile,” Hyun said. “We are directing all our ambitious robotics engineering and creative efforts towards realising an even bigger vision than ever — the unlimited Mobility of Things ecosystem.”

Hyundai Motor also exhibited the MobED (Mobile Eccentric Droid) small mobility platform that uses the DnL module, an eccentric wheel mechanism, combining the drive, steering and braking systems in one structure. With DnL mounted on each wheel, MobED can lift the platform up and down, so the body can stay level as MobED traverses uneven terrain or low barriers such as steps or speed bumps.

Boston Dynamics Founder and Chairman Marc Raibert also joined the presentation to show how Hyundai Motor and Boston Dynamics are already taking mobility beyond human physical limitations using current robotics technologies. Together, the two companies envision a future in which people and robots work together, improving safety, productivity and quality of life.

For example, Hyundai’s wearable robots, the Vest Exoskeleton (VEX) and Chairless Exoskeleton (CEX) as well as Boston Dynamics’ quadruped Spot are supporting industrial work, and hold promise for other applications, even search-and-rescue missions.

“We see a future where robots become more than just task-oriented tools, more than just machines,” Raibert said. “We believe in a future where robots become useful, trusted companions in our everyday lives.”


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