It wasn’t that long ago when creating a virtual full-scale walk-through of a design in 3D seemed like a far off dream, but now it’s becoming ingrained in the fabric of how architects, engineers, and construction professionals handle the design and planning phases of their projects.

Last year, IrisVR announced that the AEC industry had already created over 108,000 VR experiences with their software. The technology is helping reduce costs, improve accuracy in the design phase, and improve the overall communication between the client and the AEC firms.

How is VR Being Used in the AEC Sector?

From conceptual design to construction administration, here are a few of the ways AEC firms are using VR:

  • Early exploration of conceptual options
  • Sharing progress through 360 degrees panos
  • Improve communication between the design team and stakeholders
  • Engage clients and public audiences with immersive walkthroughs
  • Improve quality assurance and control
  • Reduce costs related to building mock-ups
  • Virtually evaluative implications of components to the final design
  • Reduce change orders through the construction phase
  • Increase onsite safety by testing maneuvers before implementation

How Do Virtual Reality Walk-throughs Work?

There are a few key components in generating conceptual design or building management walkthroughs in a virtual environment. These include:

  • The original design file, such as SketchUp, Rhino, etc.
  • The VR software, like Prospect by IrisVR, that converts the design file to VR
  • A computer to run the VR simulation software
  • The VR headset, such as Oculus Rift S or Oculus Quest

14 million AR and VR devices are projected to be sold in 2019 alone.

Converting Your Design File to VR

In the case of the Prospect software, it includes integrations with six popular building design platforms, including Navisworks, Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, Grasshopper, and FBX Support.

Typically, the file conversion can be done in one click, however, occasionally, you may run across invalid geometry errors that will need to be smoothed out using a “check mesh” tool.

Choosing a Computer to Run the Simulation

Virtual Reality environments have certain hardware requirements for computers to run them smoothly without any problems or freezing. You don’t want to go through the process of converting files and purchasing VR headsets, then realize your computer doesn’t have what it takes to make it work properly.

Minimum (MIN) and Recommended (REC) requirements for a Windows PC include:

  • Graphics Card:MIN - NVIDIA GTX 1070 equivalent / REC - NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 equivalent or greater
  • CPU:MIN: Intel i7-6700 equivalent / REC - Intel i7-7700 equivalent or greater
  • Memory:MIN - 16GB+ RAM / REC - 32GB+ RAM
  • Video Output:MIN - Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output / REC - Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
  • USB:MIN - Ports 3x USB 3.0 ports plus 1x USB 2.0 port / REC - 4x USB 3.0 ports plus 1x USB 2.0 port
  • OS:MIN - Windows 7 SP1 64 bit / REC - Windows 10 64 bit

Choosing a Headset

All VR headsets are not created equally, so you’ll want to ensure you’re investing in the type that will make it easiest for you to share the virtual simulation with others and give you the power you need for your design environments.

Here’s a snapshot of two popular VR headsets by Oculus:

  • Oculus Rift S (more powerful, needs to connect to a computer)
  • Oculus Quest (less powerful but stand-alone)

Each has its strengths and weaknesses, so the one you choose will depend upon a few things like whether you want a fuller, more detailed experience or to be untethered from a PC cord.

Oculus Rift S

This is the more powerful of the two VR headsets, but you do need to have it plugged into the PC for it to work, which puts some constraints on the ability to walk around freely.

It has a manual interpupillary distance (IPD) adjustment (adjusts the distance between your eyes so you can view the 3D properly) and has a higher refresh rate than the Quest. It also has five insight sensors. The insight sensors are calculating the real-time position for the headset and controllers continually to translate your precise movements.

Oculus Quest

The biggest benefit is the ability to power the VR without being attached to a PC, it has a self-contained processor. The Quest also had a higher resolution display than the Rift S.

It has a physical, rather than manual IPD adjustment, which is a benefit. On the negative side, it has a lower refresh rate and four insight sensors, one less than the Rift S.

Presenting the Walk-through

Once you have your design file loaded and the VR headset connected, you’re able to see and present your concepts in a virtually immersive way that allows you to view it at full scale. This means seeing details that might be missed on a simple computer 3D mockup and the ability to run simulations and see in real-time how they would impact the building aesthetics, engineering, or other construction impacts.

So, you’re basically inside your building before it’s even built, which is the beauty of using VR in AEC.

Explore How VR Can Improve Your AEC Business

Have you been thinking about using virtual reality in your AEC business? Well, we recently purchased an Oculus Quest and we're now seeking to work with our customers on pilot projects to test the potential of VR in your business. Contact me if you're interested!