The metaverse is poised to change every part of the automotive industry, from how engineers design, test and develop new products to a consumer’s path to purchase. While the metaverse itself is still in its infancy, its foundational technology is already being adopted in the form of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Digital twins, which are a key part of the metaverse in automotive, are also now being widely adopted in car design, providing engineers with a virtual twin of a physical car to simulate each step of the design and construction process.
The companies openly embracing the metaverse could see a huge uptick in profits. According to MarketsandMarkets research, the automotive metaverse is predicted to rise in value from US$1.9bn worldwide in 2022 to US$16.5bn by 2030. But with highly valuable intellectual property and customer data being transferred and therefore potentially at stake, it’s crucial that the automotive metaverse is built to be secure from the very start.
The potential for the automotive metaverse
Within this virtual world, car manufacturers and engineers will be able to move beyond traditional 2D and 3D sketches, which are still the starting points for today’s car design. OEMs will be empowered to experiment and test new models and services in a computer-generated environment, without physical commitments. BMW is leading the charge when it comes to design and production in the metaverse, recently unveiling the world’s first virtual factory. Based on Nvidia’s Omniverse platform, the digital twin factory will enable manufacturers to plan, design and optimise the layout of new cars years before the start of production, speeding up the production processes and improving time to market and sustainability.
Once a car has been designed, produced and is ready to be sold, consumers can also use the metaverse to try before they buy. Through VR showrooms, consumers can get a feel of the car in terms of its look, size and features in a much more immersive way when compared to pictures or videos. They can also customise their car in real-time, enhancing their shopping experience and enabling car dealerships to increase personalisation and, in-turn, sell more vehicles. Manufacturers from Audi to Jaguar Land Rover are experimenting with VR, with consumers even able to take a virtual test drives of the vehicles without leaving the physical showroom. A key part of these virtual test drives will be the capacity to generate data which can be analysed, improving the future of car designs and potentially the development of autonomous vehicles.
In the virtual world, different designers, engineers and technicians working on separate details of a car can work from anywhere in the world simultaneously, hence saving time, and offering opportunities for shared inspiration. In a market where individuality and customisation are essential, metaverse technologies hold the potential to energise the creativity of designers, while also significantly cutting prototyping costs.
Security from the beginning
Despite the potential the metaverse can bring to the automotive industry, there are risks. Increasingly, the sector is being built on software and data. At every touchpoint, from the initial stages of design, through the point of sale, or even during maintenance, data is collected. This data could face the threat of unauthorised access, data breaches or even remote exploitation in the metaverse. Unless cyber security is a priority from the conception phase, there is a major risk of vulnerabilities.
It’s down to the platform owners to work together to enforce security rules for all businesses to adhere to. Not only will this put the spotlight on the cyber security challenges that lie ahead, it will ultimately help drive platform adoption. Automotive companies need to ensure they educate themselves on cyber security best practices related to the virtual world on which they are hosted, examine the services they are building and using on the platform, and take steps to ensure the security of those services.
Securing every touchpoint
On top of defining who is responsible for securing what data within the metaverse, OEMs will also need to focus on the vehicles themselves. Manufacturers need to ensure that the myriad of software tools that are involved in the development of new cars are constantly up-to-date in order to guarantee top performance and access to the latest security patches. In addition, by automating these processes, they can quickly address and get ahead of any potential software, operating system or application vulnerability.
The car of the future will live in the metaverse, and cyber security will be the key to keeping the door safely locked
The cars of the future will be connected, so manufacturers also need to consider the systems within the cars once they are on the road, as well as the external systems to which they are connected. This requires cyber security measures in the vehicle itself and beyond, ensuring that the vehicle backend, the infrastructure and the mobile network are secure. Carmakers also need to guarantee the security of their embedded software and hardware. All of this requires specific skills and expertise, across several different domains, working together.
The flexibility of open source approaches will be key here, allowing car manufacturers to share identified vulnerabilities and fixes in a transparent fashion. A culture of collaboration will enable all OEMs and Tier1s involved to work together to deal with the challenges of automotive cyber security.
The cars of the future
The metaverse is only going to grow in importance as the car market evolves. With autonomous driving in particular, progress will increasingly rely on metaverse technologies. For autonomous driving software to truly take shape, it needs to be tested over thousands or even millions of miles. The metaverse will be a game-changer here. Digital twins, 3D simulations and realistic environments will be the building blocks to create road-ready autonomous driving software, allowing manufacturers to test and experiment safely. Data sourced from real cars and fed back into their digital twins, will help enrich these simulations, and artificial intelligence will help monitor these simulated environments.
Metaverse technologies might also find applications within the cars of the future, with AR information such as navigation or feedback from autonomous driving systems projected onto the windscreen. This will mean that passengers can see the vehicles and lanes that the car’s autonomous systems identify. In fully autonomous cars, VR and AR entertainment systems could also be used, so that passengers can fully “switch off”, and perhaps zoom down the motorway while flying over a beautiful forest in VR.
The automotive industry is moving towards a period of enormous and profitable change. By embracing the metaverse, it can streamline and boost every aspect of the sector, from car design and production to marketing. To ensure the automotive metaverse is secure from the beginning, both the solution providers and automotive companies themselves have a role to play. This will not only increase metaverse adoption but also drive a more personalised and immersive experience for consumers. The car of the future will live in the metaverse, and cyber security will be the key to keeping the door safely locked.
Bertrand Boisseau is Automotive Sector Lead at Canonical