SNCF Réseau is developing an “industrial metaverse” to serve its businesses

As Forrester recently pointed out, today there is no metaverse, but metaverses, i.e. several immersive virtual environments independent of each other. Among this diversity of metaverses, it is even beginning to develop industrial uses and corporate versions. This is the case, for example, at EDF with VIZACity, or in the automotive industry, where BMW is collaborating with Nvidia around its Omniverse platform (see previous issue of Applications & Data), for the creation of digital twins of its factories. This is also the case at SNCF Réseau.

SNCF Réseau is equipped with a 3D design platform

Web3 applications such as The Sandbox or Decentraland, as well as Meta (ex-Facebook), have recently widened the scope and updated the concept of metaverse. But companies have been exploring the uses of persistent immersive universes for a few years now. SNCF – through SNCF Réseau (54,000 employees) – has created its Immersive Studioattached to the Solutions 4.0 division of the Digital Department, in 2018.

“The starting point was to find a way to make these uses economically accessible within the company. »

Jeremiah FerreiraVR Immersive Studio offer manager, SNCF Réseau

This studio had only two employees. At the request of the company’s businesses, several applications have been developed. The Immersive Studio now employs nearly fifteen people and brings together expert skills in immersive technologies and educational engineering.

However, a few barriers had to be removed, starting with the cost of these solutions, underlines Jérémie Ferreira, Immersive Studio’s VR offer manager. “The starting point was to find a way to make these uses economically accessible within the company,” he recalls.

The means: “internalize the production of content [proposés] via a platform that allows a general collaborative format. To achieve this goal, SNCF Réseau has expanded the team, but with a permanent concern for profitability.

SNCF Réseaux Immersive Studio

Control of the production chain and the industrialization of delivery in agile mode have enabled this internal startup to continue to innovate while delivering internal and external projects to the company on time.

Immersive experiences for VR and PC headsets

The Immersive Studio platform is centered around a tool for virtual reality collaborative that makes it possible to provide remote users with “learning environments and experiences. A Web platform allows for rapid deployment of content to users.

This stores all useful media, such as virtual rooms, 3D models and videos.

“We can, through this platform, easily distribute them to our users on VR headsets and PCs”, or even on tablets and smartphones, for on-demand consumption.

For cost reasons and also in order to reach a large audience internally, the immersive content developed by the Studio is not reserved exclusively for virtual reality headsets.

Multiple uses of the industrial metaverse

In terms of uses, the projects first target training. However, other fields of application are covered, including collaboration.

“Some of our professions are related to infrastructure and very close to construction. We thus have site briefing-oriented products in which we offer models that are closer to reality in order to visualize the operations to be carried out,” explains Jérémie Ferreira.

Screenshot of SNCF Réseaux Immersive Studio
SNCF Réseaux Immersive Studio

On training, the solutions developed are used to present equipment and professional gestures on a scale.

SNCF Réseau’s industrial metaverse also meets needs in the change management sector, a “big topic” (sic). The creation of 3D content makes it possible in this context to visit places still to be built, which introduce “paradigm changes for the professions. »

Finally, many use cases created by the Immersive Studio respond to security awareness issues.

There are many regulations in the railway sector and significant risks. “Immersing users in risky situations illustrates the consequences of bad decisions and reminds them of the reasons for the rules in place. »

The metaverse promotes memory anchoring (and therefore efficiency)

In all these cases, 3D would favor the design of “very effective” training modules whose “memory anchorage is strong”, assures the SNCF Réseau expert.

The Immersive Studio catalog currently includes around thirty uses. And the “project portfolio is exploding”, confides its manager, who explains this progression by the need for more “impactful and participatory training. »

The training solutions produced by the Studio have now made it possible to reach several thousand of the company’s employees. A security awareness project, for example, involved 5,000 agents. As part of the application of the SECUFER decree, it is all the agents moving in the rights-of-way [Espace au sol occupé par un projet, N.D.R.] which will have to be trained, i.e. more than 30,000 agents.

“Beyond 30 minutes, a helmet generates fatigue for users. »

Jeremiah FerreiraSNCF Network

We understand even better – with such a population to embark – that it is impossible to use only virtual reality headsets. In addition, underlines Jérémie Ferreira, not all use cases lend themselves to it. And “beyond 30 minutes, a helmet generates fatigue for users”. Projects designed for VR must therefore take this parameter into account.

The Immersive Studio, which deals with projects from ideation to deployment, has specialists in digitization and capturing reality (notably via 360 cameras, drones and motion capture), a 3D developer and 3D graphic designers, including three leads from the world of video games, “experienced in real-time 3D technologies. They are supplemented by “more junior” profiles in charge of the mass production of 3D content, and an educational engineer.

The RER E project

In 2022, the Immersive Studio aims to finalize 14 projects, some of which relate to events and communication, training (about “very technical” aspects), and change management, particularly in as part of the extension of the RER E.

These projects mainly target internal needs. But the Studio also develops projects in collaboration with the RATP. “We are also opening up to the outside,” says the manager.

What about synergies with developments in digital twins ? Some projects have allowed Immersive Studio teams to access Digital Twins, rich input data.

These 3D solutions are subject to constraints in terms of optimization, in order to allow distribution on headsets (mainly Oculus Quest) and existing workstations, not intended for 3D.

“The modeling of a TGV seat alone represents a few gigabytes of data. A railway right-of-way, as we are developing it in 3D, weighs 400 to 500 MB”, figures Jérémie Ferreira.

On the other hand, a convergence with open metaverses, such as The Sandbox, and technologies blockchain and NFTs, is not topical.

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SNCF Réseau is developing an “industrial metaverse” to serve its businesses

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