Espace Presse – Virtual worlds: when science fiction becomes reality!

Science fiction: a source of inspiration?

Science fiction (SF) films serve us in our technological roadmap and provide us with opportunities to explore. We all have sci-fi references in mind. Unconsciously they inspire us and we try to copy them to make them come true.

The 4 best sci-fi movies and series about virtual worlds that inspire you?

  • The Matrix, by the Wachowski sisters (1st release in 1999). With the famous Matrix, a virtual universe designed by artificial intelligences and where machines enslave people without their knowledge.

  • Clones (Surrogates), by Jonathan Mostow, published in 2009. In this futuristic world, individuals use a robotic version of themselves that they remotely control to do everything for them.

  • Ready Player One, by Steven Spielberg, released in 2018. In 2045, part of the population spends most of its time in the OASIS, a virtual and addictive universe, escaping from a chaotic world, a permanent virtual reality headset on the eyes.

  • Upload, series by Greg Daniels, published in 2020. Before they die, people can upload their consciousness into a metaverse and continue to live solely by thought.

Metaverse, remote control robots, digital twin… This is no longer science fiction!

What was once imaginary begins to become tangible and real.

The metaverse or metaverse of “Ready Player One” is what Meta finally develops, with the same level of immersion. It is only a virtual world in which we will immerse ourselves via an avatar and a virtual reality helmet, to interact with people, invite friends, make purchases or drive a car for example. In this metaverse there is no contact with the real world.

In “Ready Player One,” characters can do physically impossible things. At CEA, we develop virtual worlds to serve industry with realistic physical laws. There are no towering operators, Iron Man and Thor in the factories! We thus develop digital twins, either models of a system or an object (e.g. an assembly line), which are developed by first reproducing what happens in the real world.

A digital twin makes it possible to replicate real industrial platforms to train individuals in maintenance or assembly operations via augmented reality in collaboration with virtual robots. These digital twins can also be used in the implementation and start-up phase of a production system.

The film “Clones” corresponds to what we are trying to do technically at CEA via our teleoperation project with haptic feedback. The idea is to remotely control humanoid robots that could be a perfect copy of ourselves, thanks to immersive systems identical to those used for the metaverse and haptic feedback to feel the effort. Touch is really important in teleoperation tasks. At CEA we have an interface that allows remote control of two virtual arms. At the end of these arms we have force feedback gloves. This project is dedicated to industrial applications, especially in the nuclear industry, to teleoperate a robot that will perform an intervention on a machine or maintenance in a real place in interaction with other people. We therefore mix immersive technologies with robotic technology – cobotics. Very recently, Japan did this teleoperation experiment on a power pole.

Technologies at the service of a better world or the realization of nightmarish dystopian films?

We will undeniably live with these new immersive technologies. Dystopian films can be seen as lessons about all the bad uses we could make of them. It’s a kind of feedback that helps us anticipate worst-case scenarios! In my opinion, it is essential to have an ethical framework for these virtual worlds. As researchers, engineers, we try to keep this ethical dimension in mind, and we necessarily think about it when we design our technologies, but it must also not block our research, our taste for challenge, our ability to face challenges. The ethical framework is not the responsibility of researchers, but of governments and specialized organizations that can support technologists, set limits and provide solutions.

Let’s not forget all the benefits of these technologies! The immersive technologies combined with robotics – cobotics or the digital twins that we develop thus make it possible to secure workstations, improve performance and comfort for operators in the world of industry.

With ENSAM, CESI and CNAM, we are also working on a metaverse project for education, equipped with digital twins. This project, entitled “Twinning of Immersive and Interactive Digital Education (JENII)”, will make it possible to make physical platforms more accessible (a course could be given simultaneously in Lille and Strasbourg), to train many more students in machining machines, that are quite rare, because they are expensive, to increase the student’s capacity to become an actor in his learning, because he will be able to perform manipulation. At INSTN, CEA’s specialization school in low-carbon energies and health technologies, we have already developed a digital teaching twin of a reactor, which makes it possible to better visualize physical phenomena and concepts that are difficult to show on the real physical system. In particular, INSTN students can go to the heart of a virtual reactor, which is obviously impossible in the real world. During the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, students could not access physical platforms and no one could manipulate them. If other crises arise, then virtual education of this quality will prove all the more necessary and valuable.

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