The use of metaverse in maritime sector – a combination of social communication, hands on experiencing and digital twins
Authors: Mika Luimula, Timo Haavisto, Duy Vu Dinh Pham, Panagiotis Markopoulos, Jami Aho, Evangelos Markopoulos, Juha Saarinen
Abstract: COVID-19 has caused challenges in traveling, sales activities, and teleconferencing is at the moment the main communication tool in industry. Various technologies have been introduced during the last a couple of years to increase the immersion of remote presence. Technologies, that can be called as a virtual reality social platform (VRSP) such as Glue, MootUp, Breakroom, LearnBrite, Virtway Events, Engage, AltspaceVR, and VirBELA are robust solutions for a small group of people to participate in the same event. In July 2021, both Microsoft CEO and Facebook CEO published their visions for remote presence, teleconferencing, and much more. Microsoft plans to build an enterprise metaverse (combining technologies such as AltspaceVR, Mesh, Teams, and HoloLens). Facebook in turn intends to transit their business from social media platform to metaverse provider. In February 2021, much before the metaverse enhancement of the big tech giants, Turku University of Applied Sciences started the development of its own metaverse technology. According to Nevelsteen (2018) metaverse is a virtual universe shared amongst its users allowing them to interact with each other within the boundaries of the platform. For TUAS the metaverse concept is a combination of social communication, hands on experiencing and digital twin integration. None of the mentioned VRSP technologies include all these three features neither Microsoft or Facebook have this type of vision. Moreover existing VRSP technologies typically have challenges such as update management, number of simultaneous users, usability, user experience, license policies, customization but also limited user interaction and user data gathering. In this paper, we will introduce our own metaverse technology. Research conducted at TUAS tested existing VRSPs, compared Unity and Unreal game engines in metaverse development and based on industry trend analysis revealed that Epic Games intends to focus on metaverse software development tools. On the other hand the use of Unreal limits user groups for VR and PC users. This research approach presented in this paper provides metaverse experiences to be used with various ways from VR/AR/XR to PCs and mobile phones. This way, users who have limited resources available are able to participate in metaverse applications where the user experience will vary based the available device. This paper introduces the TUAS metaverse technology, the first experiences of developing it and how the first prototype version of this technology has been used in various maritime sector projects. To demonstrate the technology a harbor area has been selected as a test environment. In the first test, AltspaceVR technology was used to develop the environment itself with features needed in virtual exhibition called Match XR. This will be followed by an experiment where the harbor environment with same functionalities will be moved to the TUAS metaverse technology. Finally, the paper reports how multiplayer concepts such as MarISOT command bridge training scenarios can be developed utilizing the TUAS metaverse technology.
Keywords: Metaverse, Virtual Reality, Virtual Reality Social Platform, Social Communication, Hands on Training, IoT, Digital Twins
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