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Hyundai, Panasonic and LG join metaverse rush at CES 2022

Asian players eagerly begin quest for growth but path to profit is unclear


Hyundai, Panasonic and LG join metaverse rush at CES 2022

Exhibitors at the CES 2022 electronics show have been eager to jump on the metaverse bandwagon and Asian companies are no exception — even if they are still figuring out what, exactly, the futuristic concept means.

The term “metaverse” was coined by Neal Stephensen in his science fiction novel “Snow Crash” to describe a virtual world where humans interact with one another in digital form. Since the word has entered the business world — especially after Facebook changed its corporate name to Meta last year — debate around interpretations of the metaverse has heated up.

The definition of “metaverse economy” and how the sci-fi concept can lead to profit are likewise questions that are still very much up in the air.

“I don’t think metaverse is a defined word at this point. It is still evolving,” said Sokwoo Rhee, head of LG Nova, the Silicon Valley-based innovation arm of South Korean conglomerate LG Corp.

At a media event on Tuesday, LG showcased several metaverse-related startups it is working with under an incubation program. One of them is iQ3, a company that builds corporate training programs in virtual reality, and I3M, an immersive experience startup that offers world “travel” opportunities in the metaverse.

Rhee said it is still unclear how those ventures can be integrated into LG group’s business, but the hope is that the nascent metaverse will help reshape the growth path for the nearly century-old conglomerate.

“I don’t think we [LG] want to define it or dictate it at this point. We roughly know what it is and we know that’s going to be the part of the future,” said Rhee.

South Korean automaker Hyundai introduced a new concept called “metamobility” — the combination of metaverse and mobility — as it aims to expand beyond the automotive business.

Hyundai acquired robotics maker Boston Dynamics from SoftBank in 2021. In Las Vegas, the company’s robotic dog Spot headlined Hyundai’s media event, at which the automaker depicted a metaverse future where a variety of robotic devices act as the link between the virtual and physical worlds.
For example, a robot car can provide mobility services as a personal transportation pod, which can also become an office or entertainment center for the driver to interact with others in the virtual world while being transported in real life.

However, it may be some time before Hyundai fully realizes its metamobility vision.

When Nikkei Asia visited the Hyundai Metaverse booth at CES 2022, the interaction between humans and robots was largely limited to a screen where a person’s avatar can summon Spot.

Meanwhile, Panasonic chose to start its metaverse experience with hardware. The Japanese conglomerate introduced MeganeX, a VR headset that weighs about 28 grams — much lighter than current gear such as Meta’s Oculus.

“Panasonic needed the new market, new customer and new product,” said Takuma Iwasa, CEO of Shiftall, a wholly owned subsidiary of Panasonic that developed MeganeX and three other virtual reality devices. “We believe the metaverse has huge business potential and people will spend more time in [it].”

MeganeX will become available in the U.S. later this spring, Takuma said.

As more companies jump on the metaverse bandwagon, not all ventures will be successful, according to Edo Segal, founder and CEO of Touchcast, a New York-based startup that offers virtual event spaces for enterprises in the metaverse. But it is critical for companies to start experimenting early to beat the competition, he added, likening the situation to a company setting up a website in the 1990s.

“You can wait, but if you wait someone else will get there first and eat away at your business,” Segal said.

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