This story is part of CES, where CNET covers the latest news on the most incredible tech coming soon.
When Hyundai bought robot maker Boston Dynamics last year, we weren’t sure what to expect from the pair. At CES 2022, the automaker’s intentions for the cutting-edge robotics tech became a lot clearer, as it outlined a vision for the metaverse in which robots could be used to bridge the physical and virtual worlds.
The concept of the metaverse, essentially a virtual social space, gained traction in 2021 thanks to Facebook parent company Meta embracing it so wholeheartedly. And with the metaverse hailed as the next internet, you can bet that every tech company is working out how it’ll both harness the space and contribute to it. Hyundai is no exception.
At the Las Vegas tech show on Tuesday, the South Korean company revealed its mission to make space, time and distance irrelevant with the help of robots. When you’re in one place, robots will serve as proxies or “digital twins” and allow you to experience another place, by being your eyes, ears and other sense organs, and letting you interact with the environment around the bots.
In a video Hyundai showed during its CES event, the company gave an example of how it imagines this working. The clip depicted a young girl and her father exploring Mars in the metaverse using a Boston Dynamics Spot robot that would be physically present on the red planet.
The idea is that Spot could map the data and imagery to allow the pair to experience the Martian landscape in real time. The robot could take measurements, including the wind speed of a sandstorm and the temperature of a rock, to allow the replication of those sensory aspects here on Earth — technologies would let you feel the blast of Martian wind on your face or the cold of Martian stone on your fingertips.
“Going one step further from the immersive ‘be there’ proxy experience that the metaverse provides, robots will become an extension of our own physical senses, allowing us to reshape and enrich our daily lives,” the president of Hyundai Motor Group, Chang Song, said in a statement.
How these technologies work isn’t fully explained by Hyundai, which imagines this all taking place within future metaverse platforms that are free of the limitations of current VR headsets. The company is more focused right now on helping us understand the role robots will play in enhancing these future metaverse spaces.
In a press release, Hyundai gave the example of enabling workers to remotely control industrial robots from within the metaverse. It also imagines you could use a robot to feed and hug your pet, providing meaningful interactions for both parties while you’re away from home. Whether any cat or dog would willingly accept a hug from a robot — even a robot that feeds it — may well be a question for another day.