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An Airbus for the metaverse could boost EU economy

The metaverse has been described as too big to ignore but with an uncertain future. A new report from LSE Consulting at London School of Economics says the metaverse could bring a significant boost to the EU economy. The report recommends  establishing an “Airbus for the metaverse”, training and retaining top talent, and fostering demand, scale, and open innovation across the EU Member States.

 BMW Group, Ericsson, Bosch Sensortec, STMicroelectronics, and IKEA Retail (Ingka Group) are among the European companies pioneering these technologies, and laying foundations for the region’s metaverse ecosystem, the report says. 

Establishing a mature ecosystem around Metaverse technologies – which enable immersive and virtual environments to converge with the physical world –  could curb economic trends and help establish Europe’s credentials as a global innovation leader, according to the report.

“Since 1990, the EU’s contribution to the world’s GDP has dipped from 25% to 14%. Moreover, the US had a net inflow of foreign direct investments (FDI) that was almost three times higher than the EU in 2022.”

The report says that according to interviews and observations from early adopter European firms and technology organisations, Europe has a lot of the existing ingredients necessary to unlock these opportunities, including access to a technologically adept global market that specialises in advanced manufacturing, strong value chains, and close cooperation between industry and research technology organisations.

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“However, it also faces several major impediments including limited venture capital funding, fragmentation of research networks, low industry awareness and misconception about the scope and growth potential of metaverse technologies.”  

The report’s three recommendations:

  • Establishing a European innovation network – an Airbus for the metaverse. Thanks to its research and development leadership and existing clusters in many related areas – including photonics, micro-LEDs, materials, semiconductors, and mobile infrastructure – Europe can become the global industrial hub to build the next iteration of the web. A pan-European industrial cluster for immersive technologies – an “Airbus” for the metaverse – would ensure speed and agility in deploying these technologies and help establish common specifications.
  • Ensuring access to skilled talent in Europe. Skills supply planning should prioritise training first-class researchers and engineers, as foundational research and commercialisation are critical for metaverse development. Besides creating separate silos with “metaverse degrees”, immersive technologies and their applications (like digital prototyping and twinning) should become integral parts of the curriculum for civil engineers, architects, and other technical degrees. Competitive industrial and services regions should aim to establish vocational, SME and on-the-job training for Web 4.0 and immersive tools.
  • Fostering demand, scale, and open innovation. Scale, necessary for EU innovations to be competitive and commercially viable, could be achieved with governments’ support for public procurements in IT, standardisation, and removal of barriers that affect member-state market access. Opportunities here could include unlocking the European Media and Audiovisual Action Plan, support for alliances like the VR/AR Industrial Coalition and EU’s active involvement in international standard-development organisations and developer forums like the Metaverse Standards Forum. 
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 The report European case studies:

  • BMW Group is utilising metaverse technologies for its upcoming electric vehicle plant in Debrecen, Hungary  (opening in 2025), optimising manufacturing systems like layouts, robotics, and logistics with real-time digital twin simulations.
  • IKEA Retail (Ingka Group) introduced IKEA Kreativ, a digital design experience enabling customers to visualise living spaces thanks to spatial computing, machine learning, and 3D mixed reality technologies. IKEA has reported a 98 per cent increase in the likelihood of customers purchasing furniture after using the app. 
  • Bosch Sensortec GmbH developed the world’s smallest MEMS accelerometers (used to measure movement without a fixed reference) and a smart connected sensors platform to enhance immersive experiences by accurately capturing and translating users’ movements into virtual environments. 
  • Ericsson spearheaded an industry collaboration between AT&T, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Wevr and Dreamscape Immersive aimed to enhance immersive experiences leveraging 5G and edge technology. The project focused on validating the building blocks of VR mobility including computing power, unrestricted movement, and multi-user experiences to improve future applications.
  • STMicroelectronics develops a broad technology and product portfolio, from microcontrollers and microprocessors, MEMS and image sensors, to optics and photonics, which will power the metaverse. For head and hand tracking and movement in an immersive environment, the accuracy and speed of sensors is critical to ensure realistic user interfaces.  
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