4 April 2022
Adventures in the Metaverse for the AEC Industry
In Silicon Valley, investors are pouring money into what they’re calling Web 3.0 — a decentralized, user-driven version of the internet — with millions of dollars changing hands daily. Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of the company formerly known as Facebook, recently rebranded it, “Meta Platforms,” in his determination to capitalize on growing interest in the metaverse. Microsoft named the metaverse as a reason for the $68.7 billion purchase of game developer, Activision Blizzard, best known for the World of Warcraft game. Google has been working on metaverse-related tech for years and Apple has its own related devices in the works. But what the heck is it and why the rumors about its anticipated impact on the AEC industry?
Rest assured that the metaverse is so much more than just a hangout spot for gamers, grifters, semi-popular CEOs and the like. It has the potential to be way more than a place where you can play realistic games or immerse yourself in a fantasy world. Architects, engineers and builders can benefit massively from digital representations of their work — representations that can be shared, manipulated and updated in real-time. And the metaverse offers a uniquely immersive new world.
Imagine your competitor does a beautiful PowerPoint presentation to the client. He’s got all the designs and technical details, he’s got images of the architect’s rendering of what the completed project will hopefully look like; he’s got samples of flooring, glass, exterior cladding, tile, light fixtures and paint colors. And you’re not worried one little bit. Why?
The metaverse. What the heck is it and why the rumors about its anticipated impact on the AEC industry?
Because at your presentation, you invite the client to step into the metaverse with you. You let them push open the door and walk into the building. They can go anywhere they want; they can see anything they want — firsthand — every color, every finish; the volume of the spaces; the way the light angles in, flooding the graceful planes with glowing light that illuminates the building as the saturated sky smiles in shades of blue at every window. And if you think that was a bit over the top — maybe too much detail? — then we’ve done our job, because the metaverse allows your client to actually experience the reality of your building in vivid, glowing, glorious technicolor detail. And the guy with the PowerPoint presentation? Pfft, he’s so forgotten, it’s like he was never even there.
Think of the existing internet as two-dimensional compared to the metaverse which is much more three-dimensional and multisensory. There is a sense of being able to touch and interact with objects and environments using virtual reality headsets and handheld controllers. AEC industry members can bring all their project management tools, models, drawings and data visualization into a virtual office.
Build a bridge or a full-scale working model of a factory floor right on your desk — a bridge or factory floor that is fully immersive and 3D. That’s the beauty of the metaverse once it’s been developed to its full potential.
To get a handle on the nature of the metaverse, think in terms of virtual reality and augmented reality, combined. While this may be a concept that avid gamers are familiar with, what exactly can engineers and designers use the metaverse for?
Collaboration and the Fourth Wave
Venture capitalist, Matthew Bell, who has written a lot on this topic, believes the metaverse represents the fourth wave of computing. First, we had mainframe computing, then personal computing, followed by mobile computing. “It’s moving into what people call ambient computing,” he said of the metaverse. “It’s about being within the computer rather than accessing the computer. It’s about being always online rather than always having access to an online world.”
Would you want to be told about a building or would you want to run around inside it yourself?
Is that it? The metaverse is simply about you interacting with others online? Don’t we already do that? The answer is no, not in quite the same way. This is about the immersive experience where you and others are interacting inside a digital environment. We’ve already seen this concept at work in some games, but compared to the full potential of the metaverse, the games are pretty rudimentary.
Architects and engineers can use the combination of virtual reality and augmented reality to interface with their clients. They can “tour” models remotely, eliminating the need to travel. Just think how much more powerful a virtual reality experience would be for a client, instead of yet another bland Zoom call.
Designing a new product, building, or bridge is a whole lot easier when you’re able to walk around it and see it for yourself, or physically “hold” it in your hands without spending the time, money or materials on building an actual, physical model.
Tried and True
Volkswagen, for example, tested virtual reality options when designing the Nivus, a new compact SUV for the Latin American market. Designers were able to prototype much faster, complete the design in under a year and dramatically cut costs with no sacrifice of quality, proving that the metaverse offers entirely feasible commercial options.
Early estimates are that the impact of the metaverse will perhaps be greatest in the BIM community, as the incredible level of detail available from the combination of virtual reality and digital twins is leveraged. It may be important to explain here that while a simulation replicates what could happen to a product in the real world, a digital twin is not theoretical, it is specific and actual. Digital twins provide a way to develop a more detailed, complete picture of existing structures, such as bridges, buildings, and even cityscapes.
Bentley Systems, for example, is using its digital twin technology to create virtual models of large, complex bridges, which will help to accelerate the inspection, maintenance and repair process. We discussed bridges and technology in this recent article.
The metaverse offers a uniquely immersive new world.
If You Could, Would You?
Virtual reality is the difference between a third-person viewpoint or a first-person account. In other words, would you want to be told about a building or would you want to run around inside it and explore it for yourself? Share a headset with your client and they can go on their own adventure. Once you’ve captured your audience’s attention, they’ll never want to sit through another ho-hum Zoom presentation.
The metaverse allows your client to actually experience the reality of your building.
Forget about the hype from the tech and crypto crowd about the metaverse. Focus, instead, on the potential for engineers and designers to use the metaverse to improve workflows and teamwork, to serve clients more effectively, and design better-finished products.
Engineers who commit to learning how to navigate the metaverse will position themselves as leaders within both their industry and the firms for which they work. Sure, there will be many advances and iterations before the metaverse is something that all engineers use on a daily basis, but the smart guys will be aware of its enormous potential and start taking baby steps — now — to understand the metaverse, slowly introducing it into their work environments. You can pick up a great mid-range VR headset and controllers for around $500 or less, per Google. Something like the HP Reverb G2 is meant to pretty good in a CAD/BIM setting, per The Wild.
Designing the Future
We admire the AEC industry members who are responsible for envisioning the future and bringing it to life. Whether you’re a MicroStation, AutoCAD or Revit user, our purpose is to support your creativity by eliminating tedious, repetitive tasks with smart, productivity-enhancing software. To see what tools are the best fit for you, call 727-442-7774. To find out more, MicroStation information is here, AutoCAD info is here and Revit details are here. See you in the metaverse.
The metaverse offers entirely feasible commercial options.