Moving to a future where we are masters of the Infraverse

25 of May of 2022

The emergence and development of a more all-encompassing digital world will increasingly have an impact on almost every aspect of our lives.

This is a multi-billion dollar trend, with all the big global tech players – Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook – investing strategically and significantly in pushing these concepts forward.

Our use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) and supporting platforms will increasingly overlap with many other technologies and datasets, allowing us to live, play, work, meet and do things together in real-time in digital realities.

It could take decades for this so-called metaverse to fully take shape. Technologies are still maturing and are not perfect. There are bandwidth challenges, while cloud infrastructure and the internet – originally for read only static content – are not set up to support this new digital ecosystem in the right way.

But the large corporations are working to enable new protocols, compressions and digital infrastructure that can handle these ever more immersive and collaborative environments as web 2.0 evolves towards web 3.0 and more key players focus investment in immersive and connected environements (metaverse with Facebook, Omniverse with Nvidia, Metamobility with Hyundia, Qverse with Qatar airlines, and the recent 47million funded lunch of eduverse announced by Labster

Multitasking across current platforms can feel ‘disconnected’

The last two years have been very challenging from a societal perspective with COVID-19. One of the biggest things for me has been highlighting the very human need to be present.

Current technologies – such as Zoom and Teams – have been invaluable. But many of us have grown tired of these platforms, unable to detect body language or tones of voice. It can be a very ‘disconnected’ experience and sometimes we find we are not truly present in meetings.

Email notifications coming in, Teams messages popping up, WhatsApp messages pinging in the background – and your meeting in the middle of it all, where you are trying to hold a conversation. It is highly likely that you are going to get distracted.

Two years ago, the concept of working from home was an amazing thing. We have all had to get good at multitasking, but that growing sense of being expected to be online and responsive across numerous platforms 24/7 can be very stressful.

VR and XR technologies can connect us better and improve H&S

Companies need to be helping their employees be much more connected, focused and present.

Ferrovial has been trialing VR meeting solutions, including Microsoft Hololens. We have found, perhaps counterintuitively, the whole experience is much more human, much more natural. Speaking to a simple shape avatar of a colleague in a virtual room makes for a really immersive and interactive experience.  The spatial context of an interaction makes a real difference feeling the need to turn and address someone then turning back to point at something you are presenting feels so much more human than talking to a slide whilst occasionally trying to see in a little corner of the screen if your audience is still awake…

I didn’t see my team of 22 people in Madrid for nearly two years. After six months of WFH full-time, the only thing I really wanted to do was fly there, sit down and have a real conversation with them. Having this VR meeting technology available then would have made things very different to only meeting them on Teams.

We are launching “Infraverse”, to focus all of the the initiatives we have been working on in the XR (extended reality) space including immersive rooms which connect London and Madrid in realtime and we will scale to wider geographies in the coming months so we can have real time collaborative meetings in a shared space with virtual content and interactive capabilties. This is on top of the existing AR solutions already deployed that have helped us during the Covid times to support technicians on site commissioning equipment by giving realtime connectivity to central experts through Hololens and remote assist.  To combining different platforms allowing London, Madrid, and remote sites to all meet inside a 3D model and discuss design options and details.  Through the use of physics engines brought to use with VR and Gaming technologies we are now able to drive our infrastructure in VR and interact with traffic as well as generate synthetic data allowing us to simulate challenging scenarios and validate the outcomes link with a range of supporting Digital Twin technologies.

These technologies cannot just connect us better, they can improve the safety and health of workers on a day-to-day basis. If we can project a representation of the real world onto four walls, we can bring in engineers before they go on site for toolbox talks, talk about hazardous scenarios and show and create things that are impossible to do safely in the real world.

However, I do recognize that not everyone will feel this way and speed of adoption will vary in different demographics, still, I struggle to believe how there is any doubt that our engineers will be meeting in virtual environments to discuss designs and share 3D content, or that we will be doing virtual site tours from remote locations with 360 cameras, AR, VR and other technologies

We are going to see these kinds of environments start to open up and we must leverage the increase in efficiencies from not having to travel, for example if we can do 3 or 4 site tours in one day virtually over what might have been 2 days to include travel and site time, not to mention what this does to improve carbon footprint of these activities.

Logical for everything to be in a single digital space

I sometimes think I am no longer working from home, I am living at work. It has become very hard to disconnect the two. I used to be proud that Facebook and WhatsApp were part of my personal and social lives, while LinkedIn and Microsoft were the platforms I used at work between this hour and this hour. But now my whole world is mixed together.

It seems logical for – all these ‘-verses’ – to be in the same digital place, or metaverse. Digitally, you could move between the different environments, while on a psychological level disconnect from one -verse and connect to another.

Through the same medium or platform, I could join my friends in a ‘gym’ and go through a couple of workouts in the morning, before connecting to work. Then in the evening, connect with friends or family in a ‘socialverse’, using new tech which will revolutionise how we meet and socially interact with family and friends virtually.

When I was my children’s ages, 95% of my social interactions would have been face to face. Nowadays, it feels very much the other way around. The next generations will continue to be the first adopters of this technology and to push for more and more capability, in the infrastructure world it is important we maintain in sync with this and both understand how to leverage the value for our own use cases and also to provide the workplaces of the future for these new early adopters.

Some people like myself will always want to go to the real pub and have a real pint, but the opportunity to digitally move between different -verses is an interesting take on things, that I personally have no doubt is going to have a very big impact on the way we socialise going forwars.

We must work together to shape the metaverse

Of course, there is a danger in saying everything digital will now form part of the metaverse. In the same way, I push back against the often misused branding of the Internet of Things because it sweeps many other technologies into one bucket without really understanding the value they bring to different areas of our business.

The big tech companies will have their own business objectives and value drivers to leverage this technology and gain more of the market share.

Governments, companies and individuals will all need to consider how this is managed, as the risks that exist with current technology will be amplified. Protecting people’s rights and psychological wellbeing, as well as security of data and information will be significant challenges.

Opportunities for our company are numerous

For Ferrovial, the infraverse can be about monitoring activities on site in real time, safely engaging with people on site, reducing our carbon footprint by not having to fly around the world to have meetings and making executives more present in remote locations.

To continue to build the capabilities of the Ferrovial Infraverse we will continue to engage the wider ecosystem and partners.

We must engage with the external ecosystem and ensure we find the right partners and platforms, who understand the value within our market, within our sector.  How to align IOT, BIM, IFC, Simulation, Asset Management, Digital Twins and to leverage the value of these in an infraverse is fundamental. These relationships which help accelerate adoption, increase value and, above all, enhance human experience through these exciting technologies and principles.

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