Virtual Reality in the Construction Industry: Part 2

Published August 24, 2016 by Whirlwind Team

 virtual reality for construction

In part 1, we talked about the benefits of virtual reality technology in the construction industry. In part 2, we will take up some of the products already available to bring virtual reality to your office or jobsite.

Some of these are the actual VR goggles and controllers, but a couple leverage your own cell phone or make the best virtual reality possible.

Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift was acquired by Facebook in 2014. The Rift is a headset originally planned for gaming but in the Architectural, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) space, it is ideal for working with virtual construction environments.

The Rift provides a 3D experience combined with motion tracking capabilities so you can move around the “building,” and look around corners. It has an advanced display combined with a precise, low-latency constellation tracking system that gives the user the sensation of presence within the scene; you feel as though you are actually there.

Low-latency is another term for talking about the refresh rate or frames-per-second (fps) rate. A low-latency, low persistence, high refresh rate system eliminates blurriness and juddering from movement and lessen the feeling of motion sickness some people get when using VR. The Oculus Rift has a global refresh rate of 90 Hz. The custom optics system works with the high refresh rate to provide high visual fidelity and an immersive and wide field of view, up to 110 degrees.

The system is highly customizable and adaptable as well as feeling very comfortable to wear. The OLED display has a resolution of 1080 X 1200 per eye, and these can be changed individually, so someone who normally wears glasses can still use the headset. Headphones are integrated into the headset, and the system comes with rotational and positional tracking.

The Rift is more portable than many other available systems. “Touch” input devices are creating new opportunities for interaction.

Once downside of the 90 frames-per-second refresh rate requires video files to be optimized since many are created for a 75 fps rate. It becomes especially noticeable in large or complex Revit conversions that haven’t been manually optimized; viewers get a “laggy” experience.

Google Glass

We put Google Glass on this list, but it is actually unavailable right now. Google sold a number of sets for beta testing before pulling out. However, there will likely be future versions. The healthcare industry is still building applications and sourcing headsets from Google.

The company 3Squared integrated Google Glass technology and Autodesk’s BIM 360 Field software into a smart helmet product for the construction industry.

There is another product called Google Cardboard, which is simply a cardboard headset with lenses into which you slide your smart phone. It uses the phone’s display and relies on its internal rotational tracking sensors, making the VR experience rather choppy.

The good part is that it is convenient and comfortable as well as affordable. It can be custom printed with your logo or other images and colors and is a good gateway into high-end virtual reality solutions with a lower financial barrier to users and developers.

Unfortunately, it is limited to static pre-rendered views or small environments with limited realism. It is very laggy in comparison to other systems and tends to cause motion sickness in some users after a couple of minutes.

Samsung Gear VR

Samsung got together with Oculus to create Samsung Gear VR, a mobile virtual reality system that uses Samsung’s smart phone as the operating system. The headset is comfortable and has little light leakage as well as reflection prevention. It is easily controlled with a tap or swipe.

It now comes with a larger flat touchpad for precision control and, because the system is completely wireless, you can have an untethered VR experience. This system enhances the phone’s processor with a rotational tracking sensor within the headset. You have a 96-degree field of view and a number of other key features not found in lower end VR solutions.

It is very portable and easier to take to clients since you don't need a high-end PC to run it. It has better processing capabilities and head tracking than Google Cardboard.

It has a more powerful processor but is still not enough to keep a completely smooth visualization in real time. If the environment is not heavily optimized, it will look plastic and slow. Another point against it, if you want to call it that, is it only works with Samsung phones and devices.

Unity

Unity is actually a software solution called a gaming engine. It provides extra oomph to the virtual reality experience. The environment is rendered near photo-realistically and runs on desktops, the web, mobile devices, or on multiscreen displays.

You can use it to bring Revit, CAD, or BIM models into the 3D space or export a 3D model from SketchUp or other applications. VIMtrek is a major VR partner using Unity3D for jobsite visualization.

PrioVR

More than a headset, PrioVR is a motion capture device to help users experience the VR environment. Instead of a keyboard and mouse combination, it uses natural movement within the 3D environment to open doors, demolish walls, move cranes, and build in real time.

Sensors are attached throughout your body that feeds motion data into the VR software. The sensors are high-performance inertial sensors that can give you 360 degrees of low-latency, real-time motion tracking. You don't need cameras, optics, line of sight, or other awkward equipment, just you.

The system is completely wireless and allows for multiple simultaneous users, indoors or out, in capture spaces of any size. It is a 1:1 movement and interaction experience.

Virtual reality isn't coming. It's already here. It is available in affordable formats like Google Cardboard up to high-end solutions integrating Unity or PrioVR. When you go shopping, look at the latency, the refresh rate, and the comfort of the headset if you will wear it for long periods of time.

You will be able to show your clients exactly how the building will look and feel before you lay the foundation. 

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