The recent generation of connected devices is evolving into more multi-sensory forms like augmented reality glasses, virtual reality headsets, and more, with a focus on 3D immersion. One such trending concept is Metaverse. It has become the most widely trending ever since the Facebook CEO laid out his vision and rechristened the social media giant Meta. Although the concept of Metaverse has existed long before Zuckerberg created the hype and gave it a ‘consumerist’ spin. Several organisations experimented with and attempted to successfully implement it in the pilot phase across various sectors.
What is Metaverse?
The term “metaverse” was recently coined by Meta (the new corporate brand that includes Facebook, Messenger, Oculus, Instagram, and WhatsApp). The Metaverse is a 3D version of the internet that represents a virtual universe that can be experienced in the same way as the real world. Meta is basically building a Virtual Reality (VR) social platform, framing it as a constellation of virtual worlds.
As metaverse digital environments start to take shape, all sorts of industries are striving to get ahead of the curve. Bloomberg predicts global metaverse revenue of $800M (£650M) by 2024 and the construction industry has been quicker out of the blocks than usual when it comes to adopting emerging technology. In essence, the metaverse is a digital environment that functions as a reflection of the real world. In the metaverse, human beings can interact socially and economically through avatars.
With the trend around the metaverse becoming a reality, what does it mean for civil engineering firms, the construction industry?
Metaverse in construction projects
Metaverse in construction unlocks modern ways of digitally modeling building projects through game mechanics. Engineers and contractors whose work focuses on the built environment can benefit greatly by being able to see a digital representation of their work.
Every important asset in the AEC industry’s daily work, 3D models, collaboration, data visualization, project management, and web apps are brought into a shared physical space where we can interact in the metaverse. Instant 3D massing, asset manipulation, interacting with building layers, and BIM data on a virtual clipboard are some examples.
The metaverse offers unique opportunities to the construction industry: in particular, collaboration on international projects or different locally based teams, is greatly simplified. In addition, collaboration processes in the planning and construction phase can be made more transparent and handled more securely. With blockchain as the infrastructure for collaboration, intellectual property rights can be effectively protected in the future and redundant and time-consuming documentation.
Using the metaverse in the construction industry will greatly assist designers and architects in creating spaces increasingly efficiently by allowing them to experience the space as it is being built.
Advantages of metaverse for construction;
- Quick Remote Actions
- Variations in architectural Framework
- Design Development & Prototyping
- Enhance Visualisation
- BIM Coordination
- Improved collaboration and communication among construction teams
- Reduction of construction errors and delays
- More efficient project management
- Enhanced collaboration, communication, and data sharing within construction projects
The Metaverse ensures that both collaboration and communication with each other are transformed. These advances enable a borderless exchange of ideas within a team, across the country, or around the world: experts from all countries can come together in the Metaverse to collaborate.
What do industry experts think of Metaverse applications for construction projects?
While the social metaverse may still seem some way off from being mainstream, Autodesk technology strategist Alexander Stern believes the industrial metaverse is already here. Stern describes the industrial metaverse as providing “a connection between digital models and the built world, the construction site and all the stakeholders involved in a construction project”. “The social metaverse allows everyday activities such as working, meeting friends and attending concerts or sporting events to be carried out in a virtual realm. Stern says its existence can make the metaverse seem “trivial, frivolous and irrelevant for business”. He adds: “The industrial metaverse is very different. VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and mixed reality applications are already available and can already bring significant efficiency to construction projects.”
At Autodesk, metaverse technology has already been used on numerous projects. As an example, Stern points to the use of VR and gamification to “troubleshoot real design problems before construction” on the Bergensbanen (Bergen Line), the railway between Oslo and Bergen in Norway. VR and AR technologies were also used by Autodesk to create an immersive exhibit for the proposed reconstruction of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Using these technologies has allowed the public to explore and interact with the planned rebuild in an immersive 3D environment.
Bentley Systems digital innovation laboratory senior director Greg Demchak agrees that improved collaboration is an important benefit for those having “immersive experiences” through metaverse-powered technologies like VR and AR. Demchak adds that the technology could boost stakeholder engagement and allow teams to identify risks faster. He says: “In fact, with a 1:1 scale virtual reality experience, it is more likely the issues will be spotted before they become a problem in the field.
“In addition to reducing risk and rework, the metaverse enables a multi-user experience of 3D/4D models that is spatial in nature. This goes beyond reviewing documents or sharing a screen of a 3D model in a Teams/Zoom call and allows people to interact directly in the virtual model. The construction industry can also benefit from the greater situational awareness offered by the metaverse, says Demchak. It can have a positive impact on trade coordination, construction rehearsals and site safety training, he adds. Demchak believes that several facets of the construction sector, from design to assisting with public buy-in during the consultation phase, could gain from metaverse technology. The industry is acknowledging these benefits and for this reason many traditional contractors are investing in the technology.
“Many people think of the Metaverse in terms of social and gaming experiences. But businesses have always explored the potential of virtual or augmented realities,” says Juergen Dold, Executive Vice President, Hexagon. He explains that the real-time 3D visualizations that companies like Hexagon are creating are actually solving real-world problems, as they are anchored in the physical world — a street, a construction site, a factory, a park, a building, even products like cars and phones. And because today’s Metaverse is an evolution of the virtual universe of the past, its use and significance in all things related to infrastructure — be it construction of standalone buildings, transport infrastructure or even entire cities — is obvious.
Benson Chan, Chief Operating Officer, Strategy of Things, explains, in its simplest form, the Metaverse is the digital extension of the smart city. The city’s Metaverse is an online version of the city and works in lockstep alignment with the physical city and community.“Smart cities utilize the physical data from its many sensors, building information models, digital infrastructure and geospatial information, to replicate and create models in the Metaverse that enable it to work and behave like the physical city.”
“An immersive representation of the physical and digital worlds combined as one that enables us to better understand how these representations of a given project interact with one another,” says Nathan Patton, Product Marketing Manager, Strategy & Innovation, Trimble.
Stephanie Lin, Senior Director, Global Retail Strategy at Matterport says, “From real estate, architecture, design, engineering, retail, travel and hospitality, we know that giving virtual access to physical space has tremendous value.” Replicating real-world environments adds a completely new level of authenticity and reliability to the countless simulations and training sessions. This can range from immersive job training for difficult or hazardous conditions to severely cutting down the carbon footprint and pollution generated by humans today.
Metaverse projects across the globe
Spanish engineering giant Ferrovial, unveiled its Infraverse platform earlier this year. It harnesses metaverse technology to solve real-world infrastructure problems. The Spanish contractor describes its Infraverse as “a virtual platform from which to transform, develop and improve its assets and operations”. In reality, the Infraverse brings together technologies such as VR, AR, artificial intelligence, simulation technologies, building information modelling (BIM) and digital twins. For its creation, Ferrovial has partnered with major technology companies including Autodesk, Bentley Systems, Nvidia and Microsoft plus gaming giants Unity and Unreal Engine.
Ferrovial has used its suite of Infraverse technologies on 10 major projects so far and has generated 100 business cases. The projects include using artificial intelligence-driven crowd simulators to help design highways and airport terminals.
Ferrovial head of asset management and process digitisation Darren Anderson explains that the “Infraverse can be many different things for many different purposes […] it is something very different for every project.” He adds: “The Infraverse is made up of different things. Think of it as a suite of immersive digital solutions that can be selected when appropriate based on a project’s focus and its aims.”Ferrovial has also built a series of Infraverse labs with floor to ceiling screens on each of the four walls. The laboratories can connect with one another to enable collaboration around the world. Currently Ferrovial has laboratories in London, Madrid and Austin in Texas and has plans to install more later this year.
In India, Harsh Goenka-run RPG Enterprises is implementing three metaverse projects besides developing agritech, medtech, blockchain and artificial intelligence-powered platforms as part of its digital journey.
While the three metaverse projects are in their early stages, the first project involves building a virtual RPG Campus that the group hopes will become the “first platform where B-schools will come together for a purpose such as working on a live project. The group has christened its second metaverse as KEC City. KEC International is the flagship company of the RPG Group and is a leading Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) company. The third project, CEAT Shopping, heralds the tyre manufacturer’s metaverse foray.
The metaverse is disruptive in many ways and will change the way people communicate, collaborate and, in turn, design, build and operate buildings and infrastructure. The concept of a metaverse, a fully immersive virtual world, is rapidly gaining popularity, and the construction industry is no exception. The potential for widespread adoption of metaverse technology in construction is enormous.
References- newcivilengineer.com, inodedesign.com,geospatialworld.net, worldofporr.com, engineering.com, accubits.com