These range from solutions such as BIMx that work with affordable smartphone headsets such as Google Cardboard, to high-end options that use video game rendering engines (Unreal, Unity) to deliver incredible visuals to your headset.
Currently I am wary about spending too much money on VR. I can remember the 90s and the excitement surrounding virtual reality. I played Legend Quest in my local VR arcade, I watched breathless reports on Bad Influence, saw Lawnmower Man and got very excited about how great it was going to be.
I remember how VR was billed as the future, then it died off completely. It died because it was rubbish, expensive and literally nauseating.
Right: an architectural project rendered in the Unreal 4 engine
However, despite my wariness I am very positive about the newer developments in VR and AR.
The old problems about motion sickness etc appear to have been overcome, it is time to think about how it can make or save you money.
Here are some of the things that we see VR helping out with in our industry in the future…
- Winning work.
Many clients have trouble visualising their asset by looking at 2D drawings. 3D visuals are better, but users often tell us that VR gives the viewer a much better feeling for the space.
- Site visits.
Imagine if you didn’t have to go on site as much. Imagine not getting up regularly at 5.00am to drive halfway across the country to inspect works and get shouted at. Imagine if instead you downloaded a LIDAR scan of the area in question and inspected it in VR.
Think of the time and money you could save. This one is a long shot and would not be applicable for all scenarios where an architect or engineer is required on site, but I hope I see it happen.
- Improving speed of construction via AR models.
This also requires a bit more development, but there are already some case studies that show steel frames etc being assembled without the need for drawings. Positioning and accuracy of data are important considerations.
Discussing these ideas with colleagues in various sectors the benefit becomes obvious to many.
The more cautious of us point out concerns about liability etc – for example in point 3 who would be liable if the model used for construction was incorrect somehow?
These are valid concerns, yet we must not allow the fear of litigation to prevent innovation happening in our industry. As we did with BIM before the 2011 Level 2 BIM strategy announcement, we use VR as an ‘extra’ in addition to our usual deliverables. We demonstrate the value that it can bring and prove concepts whilst offering the well-worn ‘for information only – do not build from’ disclaimers.
Once we have protected ourselves against litigation we can get on with the business of innovation and eventually our pioneering work will be accepted, expected and even standardised in years to come.