Originally published on Medium
The Mirrorworld — as described by Kevin Kelly in this month’s Wired magazine cover story, which I highly recommend reading — is a detailed look into the next major paradigm shift that will unfold over the next two decades. This shift layers the digital world that exists today, like Internet of Things, 3D models, SLAM, and digital mapping, onto our physical world. Like the rise of connectivity between people (social media), and the connectivity of all the worlds information (the internet), the concept of the Mirrorworld connects the physical world with the digital information all around it to create a seamless interaction experience between humans and computers.
In the future this means perfectly autonomous vehicles that all communicate with each other eradicating traffic, it means holographic humanized AIs that we chat to as our personal butlers, and other examples we can read about in Snowcrash and Ready Player One. But before we get to “the future,” there are very real applications of this convergence between the digital and physical world today that aren’t far-fetched but driving real results and real businesses. Let’s talk about a few…
Commerce and entertainment
Often times of platform shift, early-adopting consumers get a hold of the technology and create compelling, interesting ways to communicate, play, or sell items more effectively. We saw this in the early days of computing with gaming, and in the early days of the internet with payments infrastructure arising next to the distribution of content. As we think about the Mirrorworld, there are already examples that are benefitting from this today.
- Houzz is a home décor company founded in 2008 that allows consumers to build digital photo collections of their favorite furniture and home items, they monetize through purchase of items via their service. In 2017, Houzz added a 3D viewer feature where they allowed certain items to be viewed in 3-dimensions directly through the camera, in the physical space you are in. As an example, you can see point your mobile phone camera at your living room and see how a new sofa would look in your space, or how colored accent pillows would match in the room. When used, this feature is drives 11x higher purchase conversion. 11X. And this is only the beginning, most vendors of items do not have associated 3D models or ways of editing or displaying in space.
- Pokemon Go is a game where users navigate around the world and capture digital Pokemon characters in physical locations. 5 million people play each day, and 147 million people play each month. It grosses around $100M in revenue per month on sales of digital goods. While this is an incredibly successful game by any stretch of the imagination, in fact it’s a trojan horse. Through the mobile camera lenses of nearly 150M people monthly, Niantic (the developer of Pokemon Go and other soon to be released titles), is capturing the highest fidelity real time world map of any company on the planet. This real time world map will be the foundation of a platform that other developers can tie into to build real world applications. Other companies like 6D.ai, Fantasmo, Google, Apple, and more are also going after the promise of the “AR Cloud,” which is a key foundational platform for the Mirrorworld to come to fruition at a scale like PC or mobile.
Advances in robotics and machine learning have brought the future of autonomous systems to market today. While the vision of pod-like Level 5 autonomous vehicles is still in the future, there are a number of autonomous systems using data overlaid on the real world today.
- Auto Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) — If you have a late model car it most likely comes with certain ADAS features like distance keeping, lane assist and parking assist. These features are meant to keep you safe in your vehicle, and leverages digital data reacting to the physical world in real time to do so.
- Fetch Robotics — Fetch Robotics is building the future of material handling and warehouse data collection through autonomous mobile robots. Supply chain behemoths like DHL and SAP use Fetch to autonomously synthesize digital information to “fetch” the physical items around them to deliver warehouse efficiency and increased margins.
- Numina — Autonomous systems like the above are dependent on the amount of data they can collect. In many cases the devices, cars and robots collect data directly, but in other cases data sets can be incorporated from the outside. Numina is a data collection company that places sensors on city streets to gather real time city traffic and movement data. Numina understands where the Ubers are actually pulling over, where people are leaving e-scooters, and where people are jaywalking. This digital data of the physical world is used to help cities make better and safer, as well as help autonomous driving companies understand the physical locations of high risk.
Beyond robots, there are immense use cases where digital data of our physical world is being used to make it better, and this is just the beginning.
- Body Labs — Last year Amazon acquired Body Labs which uses a camera sensor and computer vision technology to digitally understand a user’s physical body type in order to fit them with better clothes. Better fit means more personalized options, lower returns, less shipping and better customer experience, and for AMZN higher operating margins.
- Digital Twins — For quite some time, industry has been moving towards “digital twins,” of physical items for purposes of maintenance, repair and trouble shooting. Companies like General Electric and PTC are combining the promise of IoT with 3D models to present real time digital representations of physical objects to create tremendous efficiencies in the workforce.
- See where you’re going — Last month Google Maps demoed an augmented reality feature of their “walking directions” enabling the user to more easily find their way to the front door of the destination through precise visual instructions and arrows. This example is a fairly obvious extension of driving directions that could be integrated into a vehicle’s heads up display, again taking the digital information of the route, and overlaying onto the real world.
As you can see, the Mirrorworld isn’t really that far off. With real business results like online purchase intent increasing by a factor of 11, and efficiency in industry increasing operating margins, we are not far from a world where the combination of digital information with our physical presence drives entirely new business models and companies. This is a huge opportunity for startups and corporations alike to leverage the components which are already here: data, machine learning, robotics and mobile devices to bring us into this brave new world, and shape the future that we all experience.