Hyundai envisions a metaverse that lets you send physical robots to any location

An artist's impression of a futuristic environment envisioned by Hyundai. PHOTO: REUTERS

LAS VEGAS - Automaker Hyundai Motor Group is dreaming big of a future where humans in the metaverse can control robots that can perform tasks for them in any location in real world.

The metaverse is a concept referring to a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection and has been called the next generation of the Internet.

On Wednesday (Jan 5) at CES 2022, the latest edition of the world's biggest tech show held in Las Vegas, the group's president Song Chang-Hyeon said advances in sensors, actuators and artificial intelligence (AI) will be the enablers for these robots, also known as physical "avatars" controlled by user accounts in the metaverse.

"Let's say I'm at a future CES show in Las Vegas. With my physical avatar robot in South Korea, I can hug and feed my dog, and feel all the joy of being right next to my dog back home in South Korea," he said.

Other applications include sending the robot avatars to perform system maintenance or repairs in radioactive areas of power plants, or search-and-rescue missions after an earthquake.

Hyundai, which acquired robotics company Boston Dynamics in 2021, said its Spot robot dogs could even be used to bring the experience of exploring locations like the surface of Mars closer to home through the metaverse.

This would work by using data and images collected by the robots to replicate the feeling of wind or the cold touch of space rocks for users on Earth.

Hyundai said its focus on robots and the metaverse this year is part of a new concept it calls metamobility, which is in line with its traditional strengths in mobility technology as an automaker.

"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," said Mr Song.

"Robots will become an extension of our own physical senses, allowing us to reshape and enrich our daily lives with metamobility."

Other concepts unveiled by Hyundai include a futuristic vehicle that could transform its interior into various types of spaces such as an office with virtual meeting rooms or an entertainment room with virtual reality gaming elements.

The idea is to bring metaverse content such as virtual meeting spaces and 3D video game worlds into a real space where users can interact with them.

LG also revealed a similar concept vehicle called the LG Vision Omnipod in its press conference on Wednesday.

Hyundai also announced a new "plug and drive" (PnD) modular system, which can turn inanimate objects into mobile robots with the addition of smart wheel-like robotic modules.

An artist's rendering of Hyundai's new "plug and drive" (PnD) modular system. PHOTO: PSYCOMA/REUTERS

The PnD devices combine steering and braking mechanisms with sophisticated sensors and software that can allow the object to move autonomously.

Examples include both large- and small-scale applications, such as a mobile pop-up store that can travel to different neighbourhoods, a personal "mobility cabin" for individualised transport or simple objects like tables.

While Hyundai shifted its focus away from cars, other companies paid more attention to electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles at CES this year.

Qualcomm, best known for making mobile processor chips, announced it had inked deals with automakers Honda, Volvo and Renault to add more functions to its "digital chassis" platform for cars.

This is on top of deals Qualcomm already has with other partners like BMW and Hyundai.

New features include upgraded driver assistance and automated driving capabilities, as well as souped-up connectivity modes and cloud services.

Farming equipment-maker John Deere unveiled its first fully autonomous tractor, while construction equipment-maker Doosan Bobcat showed off the world's first all-electric compact track loader.

One surprise announcement came from Sony, which revealed that it will launch a new mobility subsidiary to explore entering the electric car market.

It showed off a prototype of its Vision-S 02 sport utility vehicle (SUV), which it said has commenced road testing.

The prototype car comes equipped with 40 of Sony's sophisticated sensors on the inside and outside, as well as 5G-enabled cloud connectivity.

Sony also showed a video of a test conducted last month, in which an SUV physically located in Germany was driven remotely from Tokyo over a 5G connection.

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