Technology

How Bentley Systems’ 3DFT could conquer the infrastructure metaverse

Construction data can quickly scale into gigabytes and terabytes of data. The field is complicated because teams use various file formats to design, construct and operate a building or facility. Teams must often load the whole file into proprietary rendering tools before showing off a new design or collaborating on schedules. These files can be even more complex when building out large-scale digital twins of whole 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’s already running on the Epic Unreal Engine, and Bentley plans to support other platforms down the road. 

3DFT is not the first format for streaming metaverse data. The GIS industry has been streaming 2D data for years using tiles. 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 rendering large outdoor environments. However, it struggles with rendering physical infrastructure such as BIM models at high quality. This is important for building designers who are evaluating trade-offs in design choices. 

Faster iteration

Simon Blakeney, technical account manager at Epic Games, said that with traditional 3D formats, teams might wait up to 20 minutes to load a new dataset. “With 3DFT, the data just flows through. It really speeds up the iteration for design reviews.” 

Another strength is that 3DFT does a good job of capturing asset IDs about the objects in a space. This could help connect objects like doors and windows to a rich trail of information relating to costs, scheduling, clashes and analytics. Down the road, Blakeney predicts this will make it easier to weave this raw data into applications for stress testing, simulating crowds in a space or optimizing schedules. 

“The world is your oyster once you have hooked into 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 for consolidating all construction data into a basic overlay. 

“While we have many products, the platform lets us make all 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 to build apps on top of it,” said Demchak. 

For example, third parties are developing tools to automatically detect cell tower assets from drone footage and populate an inventory. Down the road, Bentley hopes this could allow a whole ecosystem of custom-built solutions for construction and asset management. 

Demchak’s team has experimented with building integrations into all three major platforms from Unity, Nvidia Omniverse and Epic Unreal. They are currently getting the best results for live immersive experiences on the Unreal platform. But Demchak observed that the other platforms are working to catch up. He has found the Omniverse ideal for generating photorealistic video walkthroughs after the fact. 

Collaboration required to connect worlds

Bentley is certainly not the only construction giant fleshing out its infrastructure metaverse strategy. Autodesk also announced a collaboration with Epic to make it easier to create virtual walkthroughs from Revit data. 

Architectural and construction firms are starting to innovate on Epic as well. For example, Zaha Hadid has created a building 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 construction time. 

“We work very closely with Bentley, Autodesk and other third parties to ensure that other tools can be interoperable with our ecosystem,” Epic Games’ Blakeney said. 

But at the moment, it can be challenging to move data between the different construction software platforms. Demchak hopes that the big construction tool providers can overcome their differences to promote interoperability. 

“In my dream state, we are trying to achieve lossless transmission of formats from one to the next,” Demchak said. “There should be no loss in fidelity if I go from Revit to iTwin. There should be no reason that any of that information should diminish.”

In the long run, this will help enable an immersive experience that allows teams to use their tool of choice while collaborating on the same underlying dataset. 

“It will be less about an experience of a file and more about a connection where whatever happens behind the scenes just works,” Demchak said. 

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