“Virtual Reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming.” – Mark Zuckerberg
Virtual Reality is Here! – The release of various new VR Headsets and systems has changed the way we view our virtual environments. But what does this mean for the construction industry – is our future virtual?
What is Virtual Reality?
VR works by creating an illusion of presence in an environment that is virtual (computer-generated). By sending information to various human senses VR can simulate being in a certain environment, place or location, enabling the user to see, hear and interact with their surroundings often through the use of VR headsets, headphones, and hand controllers.
The future holds endless possibilities for VR, many industries such as art, medicine, therapy and tourism are all looking to utilise its functionality. But how will the construction industry capitalise on the use of Virtual Reality?
Virtual Reality for Construction
Believe it or not, many construction professionals will have already experienced a virtual environment. Although these virtual environments are usually explored using the pan and zoom tools on our keyboard and mouse and come in the form of a 3D BIM Model. As the industry continues to develop its 3D BIM skills there is more opportunity to link these computer-generated 3D images with Virtual Reality technology.
The emergence of Virtual Reality headsets, interactive hand controllers and movement sensors is about to revolutionise how designers, contractors and end users experience 3D models and the whole construction process.
It will enable end users to navigate and interact with the building before any work actually starts on site, thus speeding up and optimising feedback, enabling better more informed design decisions early in the design process – Imagine a healthcare professional being able to virtually walk around new hospital before it is built and identify potential issues before recommending changes in design which could potentially save lives before the work has started on site!
With the emergence of 3D laser scanning and drones in construction possibilities for VR will continue to evolve in the construction industry. The ability to fly a drone around a construction site to 3D laser scan the area is something which could tie in perfectly with VR. Being able to load a 3D scan directly to a VR headset for project stakeholders to view and immerse themselves in will provide many benefits. Enabling a first person view of site progress in real-time from a different location adds a whole different dimension to a site walk around and could potentially be used for health and safety and training purposes.
The truth is this technology is already being used by construction organisations such as ARUP, Balfour Beatty and Network Rail. Even large projects such as Crossrail are using VR to demonsrate the progress made to high profile stakeholders.
How can you get involved?
Good news… it is easier and cheaper than you think to try out virtual reality for the first time.
New software add-ons such as Autodesk Live allows Autodesk users to export BIM models straight into Virtual Reality Experiences for just £30 a month. An even quicker way to access a more simple VR experiences is to view the models through A360 cloud storage which can be viewed with something simple like a Google Cardboard.
For more interactive and immersive environments it is best to seek advice from expert organisations, such as Seeable or Soluis, who will be able to create that immersive environment from a BIM model for use with more advanced headsets such as the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive.
Try out Free Google Cardboard VR Panorama Scenes from Autodesk at cardboard.autodesk.com
What VR tools are available?
Many large tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Samsung are getting involved with Virtual Reality, each creating their own spin on the virtual reality headset and system.
The headsets and systems come in a range of functionality and price, and therefore, a few of the best tools for construction have been listed below:
1. Google Cardboard
VIEW ON AMAZON | Availability: Out Now | Price: £9.50 |
▲Powered by most smartphones
▼Not the best quality
▼Can not run powerful applications/ models.
The Google Cardboard is quite literally a folding cardboard container into which you place your own smartphone and view VR content. This is so appealing because it allows for almost instant access to virtual reality content without having to invest a substantial amount of time or money into a system.
Virtual Reality videos can be found in many locations on a smartphone including the google cardboard app, YouTube and even Google Street View. The google cardboard app enables you take 360-degree, virtual reality photos and view them through Cardboard. The app stitches together the images audio and will also allow you to add 3D locations onto Google Street VR.
Imagine you’re going to carry out a site inspection but one of the stakeholders can’t make it. You can pull out your phone and take a video on an app and send it to any of the project stakeholders for viewing in a VR headset? Now that is impressive. The headset can also be used to view 360-degree images from the Google Street View app for iOS and Android.
Admittedly the Google Cardboard is basic, although it serves perfectly as an ad hoc solution to VR. It enables the viewer to experience virtual 360-degree environments through many different platforms. Making it a perfect purchase for people to dip their toes in and get their first experiences with VR. It’s also very fun!
2. HTC Vive
VIEW AT CURRYS | Availability: Out Now | Price: £769 |
▲Full VR System
▼Requires high-end graphics card/ PC
The HTC Vive is a full VR system which incorporates the VR headset and bespoke HTC Vive hand controllers, headphones, however, will need to be purchased on top of this as this model currently doesn’t come equip with those. This system also comes with wall mounted lasers used to map user location and movement around the virtual space. Combining this with the use of the HTC Vive hand controller’s, designers, contractors and end users will have great navigation and interaction ability with their 3D virtual environment. This will enable the user to walk around the virtual space and get a more accurate feel of the environment, something that other systems currently don’t offer.
The downside is that you’ll also need a big enough area to cater for this functionality, users could require a full room to perform the walk around virtual tour without interruption. This model will also need to connect to a high-spec powerful PC via a cable. The headset cable also needs to be attached to the PC at all times and can cause a slight trip hazard when walking around.
This purchase will include the HTC Vive headset, 2x wireless controls and 2x motion sensors.
3. Oculus Rift
VIEW AT CURRYS | Availability: Out Now | Price: £549 |
▲High spec for price
▼Lack motions sensors and wireless control
▼Requires high-end graphics card/ PC
Bought by Facebook in 2014 and a popular choice for gamers, the Oculus Rift Headset is another VR system set to revolutionise the industry in 2016.
Like the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift is a full VR experience. This system comes with a VR Headset with integrated headphones and an Xbox One controller for control and navigation, this is instead of the 2 wireless controls as seen with the HTC Vive. The Xbox controller is to act as a stop gap until the release of the Oculus Touch wireless controllers which are set to release later in 2016.
Yes, this system lacks the motion sensors and wireless control which come with the HTC Vive, although this is reflected in the price. It also means that the oculus can be used at a desk, navigating using the Xbox One controller rather than having to use a full room to walk around. The Oculus Rift will also require connection to a high-spec powerful PC to function similar to the Vive.
The Oculus Rift is definitely in the premium VR category, seems to be the most popular among the construction professionals who are looking to be early adopters in VR.
Useful Content Tools
Autodesk Live Design VISIT SITE
A 3D visualisation service which turns Revit models into interactive 3D environments for both designers and end users. The software comes in the form of a Revit add-on which allows designers to export their Revit model straight to the Autodesk Live Cloud service which process’s the project and returns it as an Autodesk Live virtual environment ready for navigation.
HoloBuilder VISIT SITE
Holobuilder is a virtual platform that is used primarily for construction purposes. Enabling any user to create their own VR content, virtually taking them to any construction site.
The tool is accessed through a web-based portal which allows enables viewing of 360-degree photos which can be imported and then combined with 3D models, floor plans or in interactive presentations. No installation or plug-ins for creating VR content are required, just a browser. The created content can then be viewed in any browser on any device. There is even the option for playback in virtual reality glasses, such as the google cardboard mentioned above!
Holobuilder demonstrates the product in this YouTube video:
Here are two more examples
This tool is a very useful easy tool for construction organisations to start processing spherical 360-degree imagery and VR content.
Google Cardboard Camera
Google have an app that enables you take 360-degree, virtual reality photos and view them through Cardboard. The app will stitch together the image and capture audio and will also allow you to add 3D locations onto Google Street VR.
Imagine you’re going to carry out a site inspection but one of the stakeholders can’t make it. Pull out your phone take a video on an app and send it to any of the project stakeholders for viewing in a VR headset? Now that is impressive.
360-degree images from around the world can be accessed through Google Street View app for iOS and Android. Yes not the most exciting use for VR, although could be extremely useful for a pre-site inspection before travelling to the site?
Virtual reality is set to revolutionise the construction industry. The emergence of virtual reality headsets will change the way the construction industry views and interacts with 3D BIM models. Whether you are a designer, contractor or end user of a built asset, VR is another tool which the industry will use to enable better more informed design decisions, early in the design process.
Sales of VR systems and headsets are expected to rocket in the UK in 2016, especially upon release of the most professional headsets such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. While the HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift headsets are the most professional tools, the Google Cardboard was highlighted as a great ad hoc solution and a hassle free way to dip your toes into VR, for only £3.99!
The industry is to expect big things with Virtual Reality in 2016! Construct Digital will be following this area closely to inform you on release dates, price, and tech specs. Follow us on twitter or sign up to our newsletter to be first to hear when they arrive in the UK.
Author: Martin Watson
Lead Editor at Construct Digital – As lead editor Martin reports on topics specifically relating to BIM, digital software and physical technologies which are revolutionising the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry.