IMMERSIVE INSIGHTS — HOW VIRTUAL REALITY WORKS
The use of immersive technologies, such as virtual reality, can strengthen your competitive edge and equip your business for an increasingly immersive future, José Corraliza Miranda explains how.
People have been talking about virtual reality (VR) as the ‘next big thing’ for over three decades. But it’s only really in the last few years that VR’s technology has caught up with its ambition, to digitally transport people anywhere. Empowered by the ever-increasing processing power of latest-generation computers and mobile phones and affordable wearable tech, this concept’s time has finally come. Especially in architecture, engineering and construction, where more and more clients and practitioners are investing in these technologies to help immerse themselves into projects, and deliver smarter infrastructure to time and budget.
My VR journey
My own VR journey began three years ago, when our team was inspired to try something new, while laying out the printed panels of a proposal for an architectural competition. We realized that we could use our standard tools, such as 3ds Max, V-Ray and Photoshop, to explain our concepts in a more innovative and effective way, producing spherical, stereoscopic VR images to showcase the proposal ‘from inside’.
It didn’t take much for us to get started, just a mobile phone and pair of 10€ plastic goggles. And from the outset, we identified two major advantages to this approach over traditional methods: its sense of scale and ease of use.
A clear and present solution
Firstly, architecture is a spatial, three-dimensional art form. Its purpose is not to be contemplated in an image but to be ‘felt’ from within, to be travelled at will in space and time. The sizes of things as well as the distances between our body and objects, and among different objects, can be perceived infinitely better in VR than in more established methods of representation.
This sensation of scale has a lot to do with the VR concept known as ‘presence’. To put it simply, ‘presence’ is the illusion in our brain that we are in a ‘different reality’ to our physical environment.
Secondly, to understand an architectural blueprint, which is a highly coded document, you need to have specific training on the subject. This makes it difficult for those without these skills, such as clients and other stakeholders, to fully understand what the final structure will be. Using VR, you don’t need to be an expert to visualize the spaces as designed. Anyone can put on a headset, dive in and see what the project will look like when it is built.
A growing reach
Although still in the early adoption stage, this technology is increasingly being used within the infrastructure industry to support design, client engagement and training.
For example, VR’s ability to put people ‘inside the design’ is an ideal way to check the quality and functionality of an architectural project. When deployed during the design phase, VR can be an invaluable tool to help identify in detail possible errors, challenges and issues at an earlier stage, saving both time and money. As such, it is likely that, in the future, every major project will need to be tested extensively in VR prior to approval. What’s so exciting is that this could finally provide the long sought-after guarantee that the design meets the aesthetic and functional requirements of both the architect and the customer.
In addition, VR can help to reduce the costs, risks and time inherent in learning certain architectural and engineering procedures and skills, such as construction in high-rise buildings or handling heavy machinery, e.g. large cranes and tunnel boring machines, etc.
Traditionally, training simulators have been built to replicate these environments more efficiently and safely for users. VR simulators can do the same job with highly effective results, using headsets and tracking sensors applied to participants’ feet and gloves to give them a simulated, but realistic experience and help them learn.
In the future, VR’s use will only grow across the industry. Here are four of the most exciting areas where its impact is already proving to be revolutionary, and could benefit collaboration across your projects.
Architecture is all about light. Using physically correct render engines, together with an adequate geographic positioning and orientation system, we can evaluate in precise detail how natural lighting will affect our architectural space.
We can carry out studies on the behavior of light in our building throughout the day or even in the different seasons of the year. This will enable us to adopt solutions that satisfy aesthetically and functionally the needs of our building.
In the same way, by using the technical specifications of the lighting manufacturers, we can make a more accurate artificial lighting project, testing with different configurations of luminaires, color temperatures, intensities, etc., until we achieve the desired effect in each space.
Selecting the right materials
Similarly we can use VR to help us in the choice of suitable materials. For example, if you are unsure about what type of glass to use in a curtain wall, you can create several physically correct materials in line with manufacturers’ specifications and check the degree of reflection, transparency, refraction, coloring and other relevant properties in VR.
All parties involved in the construction process of a building can ‘meet inside’ the design, contributing their ideas and requirements from the offset – delivering projects faster, smarter and better, and securing client buy-in from the beginning.
Open spaces, urban developments and other major infrastructure projects are subject to public and political approval. Both influence the quality and viability of your project. Recently, public consultations have begun to be held in VR to give citizens a clearer understanding of how planned projects will impact their neighborhoods and lives.
The possibilities for VR in AEC are immense — limited only by our imagination. It is early days. This is an experimental field, the parameters of which are still being defined, with new technologies being brought to market every few weeks. But the VR revolution has begun, influencing how we design, perceive and ‘live’ architecture. To gain a competitive advantage, you need to be at the forefront of this innovation. The best is yet to come.