Skip to main content

Civils in the metaverse

Civil Engineering By Niall O’Hare, Principal Engineer – 05 May 2023

A guy using virtual reality to make adjustments to mechanical settings


Niall smiling for a photo with warm lighting

Niall O’Hare

View bio

The term 'metaverse' has been popping up all over my radar but until recently, the term was still quite alien to me. I knew vaguely that it was a concept largely based upon a virtual reality world, and I knew that many technology and engineering giants were developing their versions of a metaverse, but how would this affect my day-to-day job or life? I wasn't quite sure. 

My curiosity led me to flick through various online articles and videos, trying to figure out what this was all about. While the articles described the metaverse differently (some pieces were video game-focused, some industry/sector-focused and others lifestyle focused), I noticed some central themes like collaboration; communication; innovation; shared interfaces; immersive environments; digital platforms, real-time and digital clouds. That's when it dawned on me that if this is what the metaverse is about, the construction industry is already scratching the surface of this new virtual world. Let me explain.

Before I go on, I must caveat that we don't yet know exactly how these metaverses will evolve but we are already seeing it take shape in the construction industry through the application of digital twin and Augmented Reality (AR).

The digital twin allows us to create a representation of the real world within the digital world. It enables us to make informed design decisions within a safe, collaborative virtual environment based on real-time inputs such as those from stakeholders and design team members. It allows us to examine existing site conditions and constraints and evaluate these conditions against potential construction methodologies and many other parameters. It also allows us to troubleshoot our designs to help minimise mistakes during construction. 

AR helps to ensure the virtual world we have designed is constructed accordingly within the real world in a streamlined process of getting from 'pen and paper' to 'brick and mortar'. In addition, the use of remote AR headsets allows designers, clients and contractors to accurately monitor the progress of our designs in real-time without actually needing to be on site.

A prime example of combining the digital twin and AR would be when we, as civil engineers, are tasked with coordinating extensive underground services for large industrialised and mission-critical sites such as data centres, where there could be anywhere between 50 - 100 kilometres of underground ducts and pipework. This huge coordination exercise, if not done correctly, can prove costly for all involved and lead to delays by way of service clashes or abortive works. Digital twin and AR allow us to troubleshoot these designs prior to construction and be kept fully updated on the progress during construction. It helps minimise mistakes which can then positively impact on costs, programmes and health and safety. Any future works can then be easily analysed as there is a complete digital model of the entire site.

So maybe the metaverse isn't going to be so alien after all, as we are already scratching the surface and beginning to engineer our way through it, but what's next? I think we are still some ways away from having our own engineering avatars and the like. However, I believe the metaverse will continue to evolve into a more collaborative and immersive communication tool through greater integration of AR and digital realities, which I'm convinced will continue to transform the construction industry, improve efficiencies and help us work smarter and not harder. Who knows? I might even have my own engineering avatar someday! 

If your curiosity is similarly piqued, have a look at this 3-minute video of Cundall's own experience of combining digital twin and AR here.