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Northern Ireland view |The future is immersive

Andrew noble crop

A generation of young adults could not imagine a world without the internet and mobile technology.

Andrew noble crop

Andrew noble crop

Andrew Noble

These tools have become essential to how we work as civil engineers and we would struggle if one or other were not available. Given the industry-wide progression towards digital transformation, it is clear that we will only become more dependent on technology.  Immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are developing rapidly, and we should consider these to be an important next step in our digital journey.

The ICE Northern Ireland Region’s latest graduate and student conference last May adopted the theme of digital transformation. More than 80 graduates and students were given the opportunity to learn more about immersive technologies. The session proved to be highly interactive and it was great to see so many young civil engineers enthused about this exciting technology.  

Enhanced collaboration

In the construction industry, VR/AR benefits are well-documented and include enhanced collaboration opportunities, improved stakeholder engagement and safe systems to deliver site training. As with the gaming industry and the creation of VR gaming arcades around the world, dedicated VR suites are starting to appear in engineering offices. If the civil engineering industry can embrace this technology and realise its potential, it may not be long before these facilities become commonplace.

Equally significant benefits exist in public engagement and the inspiration of a future generation of civil engineers. Historically, civil engineers have struggled to engage the general public and promote the work they do to support society.  VR/AR can provide a means of showcasing and explaining our work to the public in a way that the layman will easily understand and interact with.

Video games

In an era where increasingly realistic animated movies and video games attract attention, a VR/AR civil engineering activity would engage school children and their parents, helping to encourage school leavers into the industry. Incorporating this into the ICE education and inspiration committee’s plans to develop new digital activities would be an important first step to achieving this. The success of the ICE Bridges to Schools programme should be replicated with industry support from each ICE UK region to develop this resource and reach the millions of school children in the UK.

ICE 200 also provides the perfect opportunity to use immersive technology as an engagement tool for public and children alike to ensure the future of our industry.

Adopting this approach will not be without potential barriers. Cost is an obvious consideration for any new technology; however, the abundance of smartphones, free applications and affordable hardware, such as Google Cardboard, provide a low-cost entry-level means to demonstrate immersive technologies. With time, more sophisticated, higher cost systems can be acquired, but as a starting point, it is essential to begin embracing this technology and the opportunities it offers. Failure to take this action will result in our industry being left behind by other competing sectors that will no doubt look to engage and attract school leavers with their own VR/AR systems.

Andrew Noble is GSNet representative for Northern Ireland

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