Long gone are the days of gathering around project renderings with the entire team to work through design and construction elements. These days, architects, engineers and general contractors, designers, and tradespeople have turned to virtual reality because the drawings only offer a two dimensional view. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s first get a definitive understanding of virtual reality and how it can be used in the AEC industry to deliver results.
What is Virtual Reality (VR)?
Technically, a virtual environment refers to an organization of sensory information that leads to perceptions of a synthetic (“artificial”) environment as non-synthetic (“real”).
Immersive VR refers to a virtual environment that creates a phenomenological state in which the individual perceives himself or herself as existing within the virtual environment (i.e., as being present or having “presence” in it).
Virtual reality does not overlay digital information on top of the physical world as Augmented Reality (AR) does, but rather creates a fully virtual environment based on content creation tools (like SketchUp, 3ds Max, Revit, etc.). This virtual environment is then experienced by the end-user via a CAVE, head-mounted-display, or other 3d VR peripherals. Furthermore, the end-user’s physical movements and interactions are physically tracked (using VR motion tracking technology) and perceived 1:1 in the virtual environment.
Check out a short video clip of a motion tracked Head-mounted Display application:
What is VR for Architecture, Engineering, and Construction?
Virtual reality has traditionally been used to train, study, and problem solve via academic studies, flight simulators, and complex defense / engineering applications.
Recently, the AEC industry has been exposed to the inherent values of VR and has adopted the use of the technology for numerous design, presentation, and communication purposes.
Some of the typical applications for include using VR to:
- Replace physical mock-ups
- Conduct internal design review
- Utilize as a coordination tool (architect to architect, architect to contractor, contractor to vendor, etc.)
- Conduct external design review and feedback tool (architect to owner/end user, contractor to owner/end user)
- Develop workflow and provide operations training
- Provide travelling VR for stakeholders in distant locations.
How will applying VR deliver results for my project?
- There is zero waste, little coordination, and VR is a fraction of the cost of physical mock-ups
- The user has the ability to move objects, visualize multiple design alternates, perform multiple VR mock-ups in same physical location. Far superior to physical mock-up value.
- VR eliminate communication errors inherent with 2d renderings, fly-thrus on 2d screens. The overall result is reduced change orders.
- Decisions can be made in a far more timely and confident manner than with traditional design review/presentation tools.
- There is an overall increase in client satisfaction and a more thorough understanding of design intent.
- VR is a more efficient and effective way to train certain procedures and increase environmental awareness.
- Easy workflow repurposing can occur with pre-existing BIM assets – allows you to get additional value out of your BIM content.
- VR is proving to be key differentiator in today’s competitive bid process.
As this technology continues to increase adoption in larger scale, design critical environments (like hospital OR’s, large tech building campuses, etc.) project that owners will begin to request the use of the technology as a standard tool in the design process. As the value and ROI of the technology is more and more recognized in the industry, VR will be applied to smaller and smaller projects and design issues.
With new products out like the Oculus Rift and Microsoft Kinect, the price-point of effective VR systems continue to fall while the adoption of the tools continues to increase in the market. This will allow for more widespread adoption of the technology, which in turn will accelerate the development of software features and workflows specific to the AEC industry. In the next 3 to 5 years, the adoption of VR visualization tools for design and construction will be similar to the adoption of BIM in the last 3 to 5 years.
One challenge of this widespread adoption is that with this technology, “seeing is really believing”. Until you’ve experienced a high-end, motion tracked, 3d virtual reality simulation first hand you won’t truly understand how powerful it can be. BUT, once you do, you’ll instantly understand the inherent value that it provides to the AEC industry.