Construction data can be quickly scaled to gigabytes and terabytes of data. The field is complicated as teams use different file formats to design, construct and operate a building or facility. Teams often need to load the entire file into proprietary rendering tools before showing off a new design or collaborating on schematics. These files can be even more complex when building large-scale digital twins of entire cities like Helsinki or Singapore.
Bentley Systems hopes to change that. At a technology demonstration event in London, Bentley showed off a new 3D streaming codec for the infrastructure metaverse called 3DFT. It already runs on the Epic Unreal Engine, and Bentley plans to support other platforms in the future.
3DFT is not the first format for streaming metaverse data. The GIS industry has been streaming 2D data using tiles for years. And the Open Geospatial Consortium has been working on the 3D Tiles standard to extend streaming into the third dimension.
Greg Demchak, senior director of Bentley’s digital innovation lab, told VentureBeat that 3D Tiles is an excellent standard for displaying large outdoor environments. However, it struggles with high-quality rendering of physical infrastructure such as BIM models. This is important for building designers who make trade-offs in design choices.
Simon Blakeney, technical account manager at Epic Games, said teams with traditional 3D formats can wait up to 20 minutes to load a new dataset. “With 3DFT, the data just flows through it. It really speeds up iteration for design reviews.”
Another strong point is that 3DFT does a good job of capturing asset IDs about the objects in a space. This can help connect objects such as doors and windows to a rich trail of information related to cost, scheduling, collisions and analytics. Later, Blakeney predicts that this will make it easier to weave this raw data into applications for stress testing, simulating room crowds, or optimizing schedules.
“The world is your oyster once you’re hooked up to the IDs,” Blakeney said.
The new codec is part of Bentley’s broader plan to build out the infrastructure metaverse on top of tools like iTwin to consolidate all construction data into a basic overlay.
“While we have a lot of products, the platform allows us to make all the information available, including the 3D models, metadata, and point cloud data, and store it in a single source of trust, and then you can start building apps on top of it, ‘ said Demchak.
For example, third parties are developing tools to automatically detect cell towers based on drone images and fill an inventory. Later, Bentley hopes this will enable an entire ecosystem of custom construction and asset management solutions.
Demchak’s team has experimented with building integrations across all three major platforms from Unity, Nvidia Omniverse, and Epic Unreal. They are currently achieving the best results for live immersive experiences on the Unreal platform. But Demchak noted that the other platforms are catching up. He thought the Omniverse was ideal for generating photo-realistic video walkthroughs afterwards.
Collaboration required to connect worlds
Bentley is certainly not the only construction giant to work out its infrastructure strategy. Autodesk also announced a collaboration with Epic to make it easier to create virtual walkthroughs of Revit data.
Architectural and construction companies are also starting to innovate on Epic. For example, Zaha Hadid has created a construction configurator for a new project off the coast of Honduras. It allows consumers to customize a new home and virtually walk through a mockup. This improves the customer experience and helps optimize build time.
“We are working very closely with Bentley, Autodesk and other third parties to ensure that other tools can be interoperable with our ecosystem,” said Blakeney of Epic Games.
But right now, moving data between the different construction software platforms can be challenging. Demchak hopes that the major building tool vendors can overcome their differences to promote interoperability.
“In my dream state, we are trying to achieve lossless transfer of formats from one to another,” Demchak said. “There should be no loss of allegiance as I move from Revit to iTwin. There should be no reason for that information to diminish.”
In the long run, this will help enable an immersive experience that allows teams to use their favorite tool while collaborating on the same underlying dataset.
“It’s less about the experience of a file and more about a connection where everything that happens behind the scenes just works,” Demchak said.
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