Since Facebook announced its rebranding as Meta and its focus on the "metaverse" as the future of the internet, there has been a certain amount of hype surrounding this term, whose definition is not necessarily clear to users. The metaverse describes a gigantic network of virtual or augmented worlds displayed in 3D in real time, in which users can be represented by an avatar, which is more or less customisable depending on the platform. They can move around in this universe and meet complete strangers or acquaintances and talk, work, learn, and have fun.
Riding this trend, a team of researchers at LIST led by Rod McCall, Visualization & Interaction group leader within the IT for Innovative Services department, has created “Luxemverse”, a virtual and augmented representation of Belval.
"We have been working on virtual and augmented reality models at LIST for many years now. The Luxemverse is a digital twin that connects the two dimensions," explains Rod. Virtual reality offers a digital experience of a real-life setting, while augmented reality offers virtual elements on top of the real world.
Wearing an HTC Vive Pro virtual reality headset, we discovered the 3D model - or Digital Twin - of Belval, and immediately recognized the Maison de l’Innovation. Above the square that separates the Halle des Poches à Fontes from the Möllerei, a screen offers several types of actions. Using a remote control, it is possible to point to a specific area on the square and add trees, lights, areas on the ground that generate electricity when walked on, vertical electric turbines, plant walls, and even algae lamps that produce light while absorbing carbon dioxide.
On the screen to the right, you can see the changes in CO2 absorption, electricity generation and reduction in CO2 consumption in real time. When the headset is removed, it takes a few seconds to return back to reality. We have to admit, it was a very satisfying first experience of virtual reality: it is a fantastic tool for identifying and anticipating the environmental impact of our projects!
Moving on to augmented reality, using a Hololens2 headset, we walked around in the real world and observed the augmented elements that we had added beforehand in a virtual conference room. We could even modify these virtual elements by simply reaching out and grabbing an object and then moving or deleting it. "This real-world experience gives us the opportunity to validate on-the-ground hypotheses made earlier in the meeting room," explains Joan Baixauli, in charge of the Augmented Reality part of the project.
The two realities are connected via a server that allows data to be exchanged in real time. "This is one of the biggest challenges of this project, because there is no standard way of connecting the two realities," explains Mickaël Stefas, who is in charge of the Virtual Reality part of the project.
Luxemverse could be useful to policy makers and urban planners who need a model to rearrange a neighbourhood. Discussions are underway with potential partners in the Belval area.
Future developments include the possibility of interacting with several people or increasing the number of conference rooms with collaborative interactions.
"Luxemverse is not a metaverse in the sense of Facebook: it is not a social network. But in the future, we could very well consider connecting our Luxemverse to the Metaverse,” concludes Rod.