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Video game tech is revolutionising the way we visualise engineering projects

by BDigital_Admin
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Facing long term productivity problems and urgent net zero targets, it’s clear that the industry needs a step change. Visual twins, powered by video game technology, could be part of the solution, writes Guan Hill, principal 3D visualiser at Atkins  

Digital twins promise to revolutionise asset management, but their usefulness hinges on how intelligible they are across different teams. Visual twins – virtual replicas derived from real-world, real-time data – are bridging the gap.

Harnessing video game software, visual twins enable us to visualise construction projects differently. By optimising the usability and accessibility of data, they are improving collaboration, upgrading project delivery, and catalysing digital transformation along the way.

Construction projects are under pressure to change. Despite considerable shifts forward in technology, our industry is still held back by low-productivity. Most projects still overrun or exceed their budget, often bogged down by lengthy consenting processes.

Moreover, our industry now faces a shock of novel challenges, from increased supply chain and energy volatility to a worsening skills shortage, and all the while expectations of sustainability, social benefit and efficient use of resources are growing. The industry needs clear, visual, and interactive data processing, capable of consolidating and communicating a project – but most projects lack it.  

Bringing projects to life

Digital technology is crucial to overcoming these challenges. Data provides a means to cut through complex interrelationships, provide insights and generate more efficient ways of working. Yet an amplification of data collection also adds complexity to the end user, and information management on projects can get very complicated.

The success of data-driven technology, therefore, relies on the creation of a framework for readily accessing, understanding and utilising data. Without that coherence and integration, there is a real risk of diminishing the golden opportunity of digital.

A screenshot from a visual twin used to visualise the exterior of a proposed building in the Middle East (credit: Atkins)

Visual twins help to solve that problem. Powered by advances in gaming technology, visual twins bring projects to life visually. So, despite differences in experience, expertise and technical capability – within project teams, throughout the supply chain, and amongst stakeholders – a single interactive multi-tiered platform can now unite all their functional requirements.

Through next-generation virtual accessibility, collaboration and engagement will not only be enhanced, but will lead the way to greater transformation.

Giving the game away

The inspiration, and the engine, for this new methodology originates in the gaming industry. As the experts in creating immersive, complex virtual experiences featuring compelling stories, gaming companies have unparalleled experience in creating immersive visual environments.

Their knowledge is now filtering into other industries. Thanks to considerable investment in its Unreal engine by Epic Games, integration is now easier than ever, from BIM tools to creative design. The engineering industry now has the means to animate key components of engineering and geospatial projects.

“This promises to be a radical evolution of the way we design”

By federating information from a wide range of relevant datasets, it’s now possible to visualise and contextualise information in a virtual world. That information updates in real-time, making it a dynamic living representation of a real-world space, able to replicate actual conditions, simulate and inform choices on how to optimally design, operate and maintain.

From high-fidelity requirements – an architect assessing the lighting design inside the lobby of a new building, to low-fidelity requirements – a planner working out how to efficiently place future utility infrastructure across the same neighbourhood, project information resides in one place enabling access to whatever is needed.

Data-driven development

In two key ways, this promises to be a radical evolution of the way we design. By organically growing our projects within a virtual environment, we are building a foundation for stronger collaboration and reshaping consultation.

Take collaboration. A clear visually accessible platform – a single source of truth – maximises efficiency. By integrating data, it brings teams together across the supply chain, across traditionally siloed disciplines, to be invested in a single virtual project where you can see the wider context and vision, and work in tandem to create a more streamlined, cost-effective output.

A screenshot of visual twin that helped a client choose between different interior lighting options (credit: Atkins)

Prototypes of this technology, meanwhile, are transforming consultation. For example, Atkins is working with a client to build a virtual urban landscape to inform their future infrastructure needs, unlocking a uniquely comprehensive and coherent perspective that will fundamentally alter stakeholder engagement and the consultation process, making the whole process easier and much more engaging.

Difficult-to-access plans and lengthy documents are replaced by an interactive sensory experience, capable of showing the look, feel and real-world scale of a project, revolutionising the consenting process and opening new possibilities for clients, regulators, and the public.  

Digital dawn

There are still many challenges to overcome, but visual twins are grounded in the recognition that people, data and technology must work together to answer tough questions and lead the industry forward. Construction projects are built on human connections – that’s not something to be replaced but embraced.

If we want to ensure that digital uptake is maximised, and that it delivers on its potential, technology must empower people. In turn, that will enable a faster adoption of digital transformation, and keep progress on track.

This is an exciting time for the industry, and for Atkins’ global Creative Design team of visualisers and developers, who are working with the wider business to spearhead the design and integration of visual twins across the company. We’re cutting through the complexity of the modern world to engineer a visual framework for data emphasising usability and accessibility, altering the way we work, and the outcome of our work.

If this technology can be effectively harnessed, engineering will truly enter the digital age – and unlock acutely needed, game-changing advances.


Read next: Autodesk and Epic Games partner to create immersive environments for AEC

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