4 Tips to Get Started With Virtual Reality

The use of virtual reality (VR) is becoming increasingly common in the commercial design industry.

They can show a proposed space fully furnished and redesigned, let their customers see exactly what they will be using. Along with its cousins, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), virtual reality allows designers to push the boundaries of visualization, giving colleagues and clients new ways to experience and understand a building or space long before it is actually built. With VR, they can transmit not just what a building will look like, but also what it will feel like.

With the dizzying rate of technology advancement and growing options, here are four considerations if your company is thinking of entering this brave new virtual world.

1) VR is a rapidly changing industry.

Virtual reality has been around in some form for decades (with the first head-mounted systems debuting in 1968), but the technology has not been elastic or advanced enough to have a widespread application until now. With advances in mobile technology, which placed high-resolution imagery into everyone’s hands, VR has experienced an explosion in the past two years.

Widely available head-mounted displays (HMDs) such as Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, Microsoft HoloLens, and Google Cardboard have brought VR into the mainstream and made it more affordable (although costs generally still run from hundreds to thousands). Facebook’s purchase of Oculus for $2 billion in 2014 also offered the industry a highly visible boost.

Jeff Mottle, president and CEO of CGarchitect Digital Media Corp. and publisher of CGarchitect said that “...one of the challenges to start is that everything is changing so quickly, not everyone has the time or resources to try every one of these HMDs”.

“I’d really like to see these VR companies realize that there’s a market beyond gaming and the consumer market. I would like them to see that there are some huge opportunities and synergies with the design world". Mottle says.

2) VR, AR, and MR are similar but have different capabilities.

VR is the immersive, full-headset experience that most people associate with this technology. With virtual reality, you’re immersing yourself in a virtual environment and closing yourself off completely from the outside world.

With augmented reality, data and/or instructional information are animated over the real-world view, often through smaller devices such as a mobile phone or tablet. Pokémon Go is a popular consumer example of an augmented-reality app; a professional use case would be an engineer remotely teaching a mechanic how to repair something.

Then there’s MR: Mixing together aspects of VR and AR, MR takes virtual objects and overlays them onto the real world. Two people (say, an architect and a structural engineer based in another country) can be networked into a virtual world where they can interact together with a virtual building on a real site.

3) Designers and architects can use VR at various stages in the design process.

One benefit of VR is that it can be rendered at different Levels of Detail, so in the early design phase, we could have an immersive experience in a non-photorealistic room, just to get a sense of spatial relationships and massing. Or the experience could be hyperreal, so that a VR video could have soft sunlight filtering down through a clerestory window, with the sound of birds chirping outside (for client presentations).

Increasingly, architects are integrating VR hardware such as HTC Vive and Oculus with BIM software. “This will allow architects and clients alike to truly understand the spatial qualities of the project,” says Kim Baumann Larsen, an architect and the VR advisor for The Future Group. “This spatial understanding should make clients more confident in the design and reduce time spent in meetings and the use of lateral design revisions.”

Mobile VR architecture solutions using cardboard headsets and a smartphone are another increasingly popular solution. Stereo 360 panoramic images can be rendered directly from the BIM software such as Autodesk, Revit or using a visualization tool like 3ds Max with V-Ray, and publish the images to the web using third-party services like Yulio, VRto.me or IrisVR Scope.

4) VR has some catching up to do with the architecture industry.

VR requires a fair amount of expertise, and it’s challenging for architects and designers to find work time to experiment with the technology. “For the most part, VR relies on gaming engines to develop these immersive experiences,” Mottle says. “That has a whole different workflow and paradigm than architecture.”

He hopes that manufacturers will see the potential for developing VR solutions specifically geared toward architecture. Already, some firms are translating BIM data into VR with platforms such as Autodesk LIVE and Stingray, which maintains important building data that other gaming systems don’t capture. For now, though, gaming systems tend to focus on creating idealized end-user VR experiences rather than applications for iterative building-project design and construction.  The more the design and architecture get involved with VR, the more they can shape the future marketplace. 

But Larsen says architects shouldn’t wait to dig in: “Get a PC-based VR system like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift for exploring design from BIM tools and play with mobile VR using cardboard and Gear VR and Google’s View to distribute your designs in VR to clients and collaborators alike. The most important thing is to start experimenting.”

Source: Redshift by Autodesk

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