The Irish group B*Witched recorded it in 1998, perhaps anticipating 2022:
So here we are at the start of this road
Together building castles in the air
Today’s castles in the air might be better called Castles in the Cloud for there is where most of them reside. Built on faith and virtual reality, occupying a never-never land called the Metaverse, these castles are as real as you want them to be.
The Metaverse is a term coined by, logically, Meta, the parent company of Facebook. Despite naming it, Meta does not own the metaverse. However, it does build technology that connects us to it. The metaverse is owned by everyone who uses it, including 3D artists, game developers, immersive collaboration platforms, and even VR (virtual reality) headset owners. But what is it they own?
Gartner defines a metaverse as a collective virtual 3D shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. A metaverse is persistent, providing enhanced immersive experiences. A complete metaverse will be device-independent and will not be owned by a single vendor. It will have a virtual economy of itself, enabled by digital currencies and NFTs (non-fungible tokens).
Benefits of Living in the Metaverse
The metaverse will enable enterprises to expand and enhance their businesses in unprecedented ways. However, today’s adoption of metaverse technologies is nascent and fragmented. Gartner expects that it will take at least a decade before metaverse reaches mainstream adoption—the “Plateau of Productivity” on its Hype Cycle.
This is a time of learning and preparing for a metaverse with limited implementation. Enterprises can explore opportunities where metaverse technologies could optimize digital business or create new products and services, but it is still too early to determine which metaverse investments will be viable in the long term.
Even so, Gartner predicts by 2026, 25% of people worldwide will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social, and/or entertainment. Vendors are already building ways for users to replicate their lives in digital worlds, from attending virtual classrooms—Hello, Zoom—to buying digital land and constructing virtual homes. These activities are currently being conducted in separate environments. Eventually, they will take place in a single environment—the metaverse—with multiple destinations across technologies and experiences, believes Gartner’s researchers.
Metaverse is a catchy word with near supernatural imagery liberally applied to it, both real and imaginary. In some ways, it is a rebranding of an environment that has been around for decades in the gaming world but applied as if new. From virtual tours of buildings that exist to virtual building of buildings that don’t exist, Metaverse applications are growing.
One of the first “construction” applications in what we now call the Metaverse was SimCity. Created in the ancient past—released in 1989!—SimCity allowed players to create images of total cities in digital form on computers that were popular then, and mostly reside in museums now, such as the Amiga and Commodore 64. Once ported to the Windows and MacIntosh platforms, it took off, resulting in more than 4 million copies in circulation. The concept, building a virtual city, had a long run, until the last decade, by which time it had been superseded by more detailed AR (augmented reality) applications.
Of course, the name change to metaverse was gradual with gamers the first to consider it. According to data from ABI Research, metaverse was coined in the 1990s and has been billed as the future of the internet, a catalyst and foundation that will usher in the next transformative changes that will shape how we work, communicate, seek information, and consume content and services.
Sounds great. But, as with most transformative changes, the vision of this metaverse future comes with a wide range of opinions and perspectives on how, what, when, and where the metaverse will have its most significant impacts. Because the metaverse is a long-term vision and, therefore, carries elements of uncertainty, when these are coupled with the diversity in opinion, a healthy dose of skepticism results.
While some may view the metaverse negatively, believing it is overhyped and nothing more than a temporary fad, these perspectives tend to come from a position that too narrowly defines the metaverse (primarily virtual world-driven), relies on inputs that too heavily weigh current market activity (crypto currency market issues recently in the news, for example), or only considers the longer-term future without regard to the necessary evolution and buildup to the metaverse.
At its foundation, the metaverse broadly means the convergence of connectivity, computing, and intelligence across networks, applications, and workflows. ABI Research points to the key technology pillars:
• 3D and Web3: The transition from a 2D (Two-Dimensional) to a 3D-based internet is at the core of the metaverse. Web3 represents the decentralization, interoperability, and accessibility of the metaverse, bringing about new business models and classes of assets, such as digital goods.
• New and updated IPs (internet protocols): New demands on latency and data will require updated, if not new, IPs to accommodate the new modes of communication and channels for media and entertainment.
• 6G: The next-generation mobile technology will be critical to accommodate the expansive number of connected devices and sensors, supporting both the heightened demands on traffic and latency requirements stemming from next-generation metaverse experiences.
• AR/VR: AR/VR represents the continuum from fully virtual to the merging of real and virtual worlds.
• Distributed computing and networks: These make 3D accessible (content creation and rendering) and pervasive, requiring significantly higher orders of computing resources.
• AI (artificial intelligence)/ML (machine learning): AI will bring intelligence to networks (and data management, workflows, etc.), make content creation accessible—including digital twins and simulations—and drive personalization.
Collaboration in the Metaverse
The metaverse will also impact how work gets done. Enterprises will provide better engagement, collaboration, and connection to their employees through immersive workspaces in virtual offices. Businesses will not need to create their own infrastructure to do so because the metaverse will provide the framework. In addition, virtual events that have gained popularity recently will offer more collaborative and immersive networking opportunities and workshops.
Gartner sees 30% of the organizations in the world will have products and services ready for metaverse by 2026. The adoption of metaverse technologies is still nascent and fragmented, and Gartner cautions organizations about investing heavily in a specific metaverse.
How will the metaverse impact construction? ProtoTech Solutions, a firm in Pune, India, has been exploring that very question. The answer it came up with is the metaverse has substantial consequences for communicating and working together in the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industries. AEC teams must embrace metaverse work to keep up with shifting client expectations, a changing talent pool, and tough competition.
Virtual and augmented reality headsets, smart glasses, and other “connected gadgets” are becoming more multi-sensory, emphasizing 3D immersion, a sensation of physical presence, and interaction with the actual environment. The metaverse is what will transform online content into 3D immersive worlds that may be shared and interacted with by multiple people (often taking physical form as avatars.).
AEC teams can become heroes with superpowers thanks to the metaverse. These superpowers include instant 3D massing, asset manipulation, virtual clipboard interaction with building layers and BIM data, 3D models, chats, media, data visualization, project management, and web apps, all brought into a shared physical space where our hands can interact. With 3D environments, we can eliminate the need for in-person design review meetings and business travel while speeding up approvals and reducing design-to-construction delays.
All of the normal work tools will be available in the metaverse with a few clicks. Collaboration solutions, such as ProtoTech’s, integrate directly with tools such as Autodesk’s Navisworks to create shared workspaces that can be accessed from anywhere. Also, technologies like Autodesk Construction Cloud ensure that your work is always up to date, whether on a PC or VR. Immersive experiences will constantly be updated with Autodesk tools.
Here are a few examples of how VR and AR have revolutionized construction workflows:
- REMOTE COLLABORATION: VR allows AEC teams and clients to collaborate from anywhere, reducing meetings, travel, and approval times.
- PROTOTYPING: Hands can quickly iterate from site planning to architectural variations, saving materials and time.
- BIM COMMUNITY: In addition to realistic issue tracking, VR allows for BIM/VDC inspection and layer visibility options.
- FINISHING: AR allows you to evaluate every option in realtime, enabling co-creation and shorter design cycles, whether analyzing site facades or modifying materials for customers.
- PRESENTATIONS: It helps you create multi-sensory presentations that appeal to all learning styles, gain new clients, and speed up project approval.
Analysts at Gartner see widescale adoption of metaverse technologies is more than 10 years away but there are practical ways organizations are harnessing them now. For example, in employee onboarding, sales enablement, higher education, medical and military training, and immersive shopping experiences.
Metaverse technologies allow people to replicate or enhance their physical activities, by transporting or extending physical activities to a virtual world, or by transforming the physical one. But like all New Worlds, Gartner recommends caution when investing in a specific metaverse as it is too early to determine which investments will be viable in the long term, and the ethical, financial, and reputational risks of early investments are not fully known.
Obviously, as Surety Bond Professionals admit, there is no actual construction of buildings in the metaverse. In general, every structure in the metaverse is the result of the efforts of a metaverse construction team. The interactions among team members and between a metaverse construction team and its clients are not unlike what happens on real-world construction projects, though their specific activities involve the manipulation of visual and technical components rather than cement and steel.
The process begins when a client or strategic partner brings an idea for a building to the team operating a metaverse platform. That team may create the building itself or refer the client to a production studio in the metaverse that provides virtual construction services. The production studio employs specialists who are skilled in the various disciplines involved in transforming an idea into a virtual structure on the client’s virtual land.
The simplest virtual construction projects use pre-made editable blocks to assemble a building in as little as an hour, and then add links to social media and other resources. Depending on the client’s purpose, a simple algorithm can be programmed in to create some interaction between a virtual visitor and the structure, or the finished building can be sold for a profit in the virtual world’s cryptocurrency.
A mid-size, somewhat more sophisticated virtual construction project, for example a retail store that will take orders for actual products to be shipped to customers in the real world, will require a programmer with working knowledge of the API (application programming interface). In addition, crypto wallets and a designer experienced in the use of 3D modeling tools will be valuable along with patience as the build can take as much as month to complete.
Just like the real world, the biggest, most challenging metaverse construction projects require a large team with a variety of production skills. Unlike the real world, those skills won’t be in carpentry or plumbing but will include:
- A back-end programmer to handle API and database management tasks
- A front-end programmer with gaming experience
- A 3D modeler to translate the client’s ideas into 3D models
- A 3D animation specialist to create animations within and around the building
- An event manager to greet and provide guidance for users
- A blockchain programmer
- A team leader to coordinate all activities
And speaking of foundations, we started with a song, and we’ll close with a quote. Henry David Thoreau said:
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
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