June 09, 2015
Virtual Reality technology has advanced rapidly in the past few years and in no other industry is this more relevant than in the AEC market. Here is a list of 50 VR hardware and software tools that have the ability to change the way work is done in the AEC space. This list was compiled by the virtual reality team at VIATechnik.
As large tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft build their own game changing tools or buy companies in this space, things will only become more ‘real’. With all this progress, it is no wonder that architects, engineers and construction teams are already finding uses for this technology in their own workflows.
Oculus Rift’s headset is traditionally seen as a tool for gamers. However, in the AEC space, it makes working in virtual environments so much easier. Through the 3D experience combined with motion tracking capabilities, it becomes a lot easier to move around 3D models and look around corners than using a mouse and keyboard.
PrioVR is another motion capture device that helps one experience a VR environment with natural movements instead of a keyboard/mouse combo. Perfect for interactive environments where one can open doors, demolish walls, move cranes around, or build virtually in real time. The PrioVR works by attaching sensors throughout ones body that feed motion data back into the VR software.
Translating CAD or BIM models into virtual reality experiences used to take considerable time and programming know how. With the advent of the Unity gaming engine, bringing Revit/3D models into a virtual reality space becomes much easier. Now, any AEC professional can take their Revit models, bring it into Unity, and create a VR experience. With a bit of programming knowledge, the VR models can also be heavily customized.
Unreal is a suite of tools for developers that can be used to create games and virtual reality environments. It is free for the architecture industry and is frequently used to visualize spaces and render architectural models in immersive environments.
What is Magic Leap? According to their own website – “Magic Leap is an Idea”. A usable prototype still appears to be at least 1-3 years away, but the “idea” is that their technology will allow 3D virtual elements to appear in real life. The prototype is still in stealth mode, but the word on the street is that the team at Magic Leap is expanding upon retinal projection technology born out of medical surgical research. If successful, Magic Leap’s ability to blur the lines between the virtual and the real is sure to disrupt the AEC industry.
While Revit helps transform 3D point clouds into 3D models, Edgewise does so with a lot more efficiency. Instead of manually measuring and modeling piping and structural members, simply highlighting the objects transform the points into 3D objects that can then be brought into Revit and your virtual reality environments.
Microsoft’s Hololens is still in its development stage, but its conceptual release has already introduced various ways in which this technology can be applied to different industries. The Hololens utilizes augmented reality to create three dimensional objects within a real space (versus virtual reality, which focuses on a full virtual experience) through the use of light to create holographic images. It’s also the first holographic computer running Windows 10, and is completely untethered – no wires, phones, or connection to a PC needed. It delivers a mixed reality of both your digital and your real word, allowing you to pin holograms in your physical environment.
The popular Kinect is a device that is part of the Xbox 360 and Xbox One Gaming consoles, but developers have pushed this technology onto other applications aside from gaming. The Kinect uses a RGB camera, depth sensor, and microphone to capture motion and sound within it’s depth of view. The advantage of the Kinect technology is its ability to not only recognize people and their gestures, but multiple people at the same time. The only limitation is how many people you can fit into its field of view without any obstructions.
VRSCA is a powerhouse engine that allows you to navigate up to eight people, wearing VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift, through a virtual environment at the same time. Developed by Pocketcake, Most computers are not equipped to handle the massive volume of data contained in a typical VR simulation file. A high performance laptop computer can process the data necessary to simulate a 25,000 square-foot building at a frequency of 25 frames per second. By contrast, VRSCA processes the same model at 80 frames per second. A 100,000-square-foot model with defined interior and dynamic lighting would crash the average high-powered computer. VRSCA, on the other hand, runs the simulation with ease: no lag; no overheating.
The Leap Motion Controller is a motion-sensing device that allows users to see their hands in virtual reality and augmented reality, as well as on Mac or PC. The technology converts hand and finger movements into 3D input with sub-millimeter accuracy, virtually no latency, and without gloves or other handheld accessories. A developer’s kit is available to be used in the integration of this device into various applications, such as 3D Modeling or AR/VR.
In a world where global teams are increasingly prevalent, the researchers at Stanford CIFE have created a virtual meeting place solution, sure to be a breakthrough in the AEC industry. 3DiO is a virtual immersive environment, drawing from the idea of an Obeya, the Japanese term for a big room or war room. Imagine WebEx meets Second Life and you have 3DiO – a refreshing change for anyone who has sat in an excruciating long, mismanaged, and boring BIM coordination meeting. This technology is still in the early creation stages, but anything that comes out of Stanford CIFE is worth keeping an eye on.
Google Glass is a wearable technology that runs software applications to display content on a head mounted display. It is controlled by a trackpad on the side of the frame and runs many Google applications as well as third party applications. It’s prototype is no longer being manufactured but Google is still developing the product that allows users to combine the real world environment with the virtual environment.
Myo is a wearable armband device that allows the user to use gestures to wirelessly control technology. This device could be used on construction sites, in laboratories, or even at the office to control equipment, robotics, presentations, and more.
Real3D is a digital projection technology, most commonly used for watching 3d films in movie theaters. RealD 3d glasses are polarized lenses that are worn by the audience so that they can view the 3d images being projected onto the screen. Just as with any movie, the AEC industry can harness this technology to immerse it’s viewers in a themed environment.
15.Samsung Gear VR
Virtual Reality is such a hot topic right now, that all hardware giants need their play in this space. Samsung is collaborating with with Oculus to create a mobile VR solution utilizing Samsung’s smart phone. Because honestly, if the user is really to feel like they are immersed in a virtual environment, they should not be constrained by a 2 ft cord to their computer.
Autodesk’s BIM software allows teams to create the 3D environments necessary for virtual reality applications. The software works well for converting 2D construction drawings into 3D models, 3D point cloud images into 3D models, and utilizing the models into other Autodesk products. While using Revit to generate models might be overkill, in AEC jobs, the models can then be used to generate CD drawings in addition to the VR environment.
Avegant Glyph’s new virtual retinal display device takes the experience of watching a video, playing a game or viewing images to a whole other level. With an array of 2 million micromirrors that project a complete fill-in image as oppose to today’s pixilated images, the Glyph creates a vivid and realistic viewing of whatever content you are being immersed in. Being marketed as wearable headphones that convert the head piece to a sleek goggle for viewing, the Avegant Glyph is also compatible with all types of media using a simple plug-in chord. While VR headsets like the Oculus Rift are designed to shut out the world around you, creating an illusion of being somewhere else, the Glyph lets you look above and below the visor to get a sense of what’s going on around you.
On the plus side, it lets you do things like sip drinks and read text messages without taking off the headset. On the downside, it isn’t nearly as immersive as the Rift, and is designed more for viewing stationary, single-pane content, like you would on any other screen.
18.Zeiss VR One
The VR One is a head-mounted viewer for virtual reality content that’s playing on your phone. The viewer is already available for consumers and works with Android smartphones and the iPhone 6. You feed the phones into a slot on the VR One using a tray specifically designed for exact positioning of the display in front of the lenses. The optic is designed in a way that users always see a clear and sharp picture all over the screen even when the glasses are not positioned perfect on the head. And eye glass users can use the VR ONE above their glasses. It’s similar to the Gear VR by Samsung and Oculus, except at $100, it’s cheaper.
Unlike Revit’s many thousand dollar price tag, Blender comes at a cost of about 0. Blender is not a CAD design tool, but optimized for creating 3D media productions, like animation and games. It is increasingly popular among designers and architects for visualization or walkthroughs.
When one thinks 3D, people usually only think of the visual experience, but what about audio? The folks at Arup created a 3D sound lab to simulate sounds in the built environment. When we visited the lab, we experienced the audio being optimized at a New York subway station to ensure announcements would be heard clearly across the platform.
Thanks to clever engineering by the research team at Bristol University, virtual reality should expand beyond sight and sound to also ‘touch’. Imagine being able to feel different interior textures and choosing the right ‘texture’ for your project? With this technology, one won’t need heavy binders of showroom material – a simple holographic projection should do the trick!
Cave2 is the result of research and grant dollars going into virtual reality. Unlike goggle based experiences, CAVE2 projects the environment across really large screens around a room. This makes it easier for groups and teams to experience the virtual environment together.
Bringing virtual reality to immersive walkthroughs is the CURV, a wrap around imaging solution to display the environment across a large area. This works well with teams who want to collaborate and work in the same virtual space.
24.getReal3D for Showcase
getReal3D works with Autodesk Showcase to enable the use of stereoscopic imaging and real-time interaction. The plug-in enables a “viewer centric perspective,” allowing designers, architects or engineers to experience a lifelike interaction with their design. Using getReal3D for Showcase allows an architect to walk into the lobby of a future building and experience the design in its real-life scale.
25.DAQRI Smart Helmet
Daqri’s smart hard-hat seems quite similar to what Google Glass and Microsoft Hololens is able to do, but for industrial applications. Using 360-degree navigation cameras, a high-resolution depth sensor, and an inertial measurement tool, the hard-hat creates an augmented reality experience to help people on the jobsite complete their jobs faster. It would be interesting to see how this develops with Hololens coming out in the near future.
26.getReal3d for Unity
getReal3D works with Unity to create interactive experiences much faster than currently required. This allows users to create 3D and viewer based perspectives to 3D displays. This means that Unity models can now be experienced in large format displays and also integrated with head and hand tracking devices in a much easier way.
For struggling AEC professionals who aren’t able to afford an Oculus Headset, Google Cardboard may be the alternative. Through pairing Google Cardboard with a compatible smart phone, one can experience ’3D models’ in a similar way to the Oculus Headset. This can perhaps be useful for testing out whether to invest in virtual reality or not..
IrisVR is still in early development – but seems like something similar to Unity. Based on what we’ve seen, it can offer users a ‘one-click’ option to transform models from Revit and Sketchup into a Virtual Reality model. Perhaps professionals seeking a quick VR model can go this route over the Unity route.
Sixsense’s MakeVR is a software application aimed at making 3D modeling easy for those looking to 3D model objects with no prior knowledge of modeling softwares and CAD drafting. Sixsense couples their software with a 3D multi-touch interface that would replace the traditional mouse in the modeling process. This interface, similar to holding two wireless joysticks, utilizes a motion tracking system to enable a 3 dimension space to model off of.
The Project Morpheus VR headset revealed by Sony is plenty tangible. It includes a 1080p display, 90-degree field of view and uses the PlayStation Eye camera and PlayStation Move controller to place the player within a virtual environment they see and interact with.
The current limitations of many virtual reality devices is the physical constraints of the space around them. Many virtual reality gears such as the Oculus Rift are tied down by wires, while other devices, such as the Google Cardboard, is limited by the physical walls we’re occupying. Virtuix Omni aims to resolve this issue through its technology, which consists of a platform in which the user can be harnessed onto. The platform track’s the user’s movements and allows the user to freely walk through their virtual space without bumping into objects within the physical world
Steam is an online entertainment platform and community that provides access to over 3500 games. SteamVS was just released, which is a full featured 360 degree room-scale VR experience comprised of a headset and two controllers. In the near future, Steam could be used to host AEC content/environments for SteamVR.
The EON Icube is a PC based augmented reality environment. It is a multi-walled system where the user is completely surrounded by images and sound. Eon maintains a virtual reality library that already has many sample AEC environments built.
Recap assists in bringing the built environment into the virtual world. Through Recap, one can clean up, crop, and manipulate point cloud data (minimally) to prepare the point cloud for 3D modeling. Recap is also useful in that in can read various scan formats and export the files into ones that are usable in Autodesk’s 3D modeling software.
Nimble VR is developing hand tracking devices for virtual reality platforms, and has now joined forces with Oculus. Nimble VR will allow the Oculus environment to be controlled without hand-held devices, using a small camera mounted on the headset. This makes the Oculus more flexible and more natural.
Binaural recordings record audio in the same way humans hear them. Often times we forget about ‘audio’ in a VR space, but buildings and infrastructure all have sounds that need to be experienced in the virtual world. Think passenger announcements, mechanical room noise, alarms, and HVAC.
Roto allows individuals in a VR environment to explore in various directions. Instead of just using your head to navigate around a space, the motorized chair allows one to rotate and turn around a VR environment – perfect for coordination meetings or navigating through a space in Navisworks.
38.Google Project Tango
Project Tango integrates 3D scanning, indoor navigation and immersive gaming to create a device that seems perfect for the AEC space. The device can actually be used to scan spaces in 3D, track motion, and also process 3D models in a tablet. There is still much work to be done, but this could one day replace expensive 3D laser scanners and help any AEC professional scan built environments without a survey professional.
A laser scanner is a devise that uses laser beams to measure the distance of virtually every point in almost every direction in a given environment. When assembled, this point and distance data can be used to construct 3D models. This methodology has many applications, including manufacturing, architecture, engineering, construction, environmental assessment, and more.
The technology coming out of Musion is about the closest thing you can get to Star Trek’s Beam Me Up Scotty teleportation. From Charles, Prince of Wales hologram address at the Abu Dhabi’s World Future Energy Summit to a Black Eyed Peas concert at the NRJ awards in France – Musion Holograms has made this a reality. So how does this translate to the AEC industry? Maybe it’s about walking through 3D models in immersive holographic setting can help project stakeholders visualize a project before it is constructed. Maybe it’s just about having some fun with your BIM, and seeing Donald Trump in your board room or Michael Jordon in your sports auditorium.
While Infinadeck’s omnidirection treadmill sounds like a safety and insurance nightmare for fitness gyms, it is a dream come true for AEC professionals looking for a better way to walk around virtual and augmented reality models. This is a much better solution to experiencing 3D models than an Xbox controller or the arrow keys on your computer keyboard.
Matterport’s fast and portable Matterport Pro 3D Camera and Capture App for iPad has the ability to scan 1,000 square feet of space in about 30 minutes creating high-quality immersive 3D models with ease and speed. With no software installation necessary, Matterport’s management and distribution platform for all your 3D models allow you access and organization between you and other team members. With the Matterport Cloud, a viewer from anywhere in the world can explore these 3D spaces from their desktop or mobile devices.
Jaunt’s technology provides creative professionals an end-to-end solution for creating cinematic Virtual Reality. With a camera system that simultaneously records 3D stereoscopic video in all directions, coupled with 3D sound-field microphones to record sound, the Jaunt technology gives you the ability to reconstruct a complete visual and auditory experience. Compatible with industry-standard software, as well as having cross-platform capabilities for rendering content for the Oculus Rift and other devices, Jaunt’s Virtual Reality technology is setting a new standard for immersive content quality.
The bionic foot sensors created by Boogio is a set of sensory stickers and tiny computers that activates any shoe to play in mobile and virtual reality games and tracks movement from the ground to help improve physical performance and health. This hands-free approach to technology comes packed with 65,000 layers of sensitivity and accelerometers which calculate the 3D acceleration of the feet and the gravitational force on the body. Perhaps useful for people in the field to track and monitor movements that can be coupled with VR tracking for safety purposes.
The Razer Hydra, which was previously known as Sixense TrueMotion, is a motion and orientation detection game controller developed by Sixense Entertainment in partnership with Razer USA. With its magnetic motion detector sensors, the Razor Hydra gives the user an unhindered virtual experience. The game controller has also been pre-optimized for use with over 125 PC games.
Unigine is a proprietary cross-platform game engine, developed by Russian software company Unigine Corp. Apart from its use as a game engine, it is used for virtual reality systems, serious games and visualization.
Open Source Virtual Reality, or better known as OSVR, is an ecosystem made to set an open standard for Virtual Reality input devices, games, and output with the intention of providing the best possible game experience in the VR space. OSVR is supported by industry leaders who are more focused on gaming and brings together gamers worldwide in order to push the boundaries of Virtual Reality Gaming. With the OSVR Hacker Developer Kit and software, you can also build your own or improve upon existing VR-Glass designs.
The Cyberith Virtualizer is essentially a device that allows one to move freely and naturally in-place. Think treadmill with integrated sensors for motion detection in virtual reality applications. This should pair well with VR headsets to help one really move freely around modeled spaces.
Shapespark enables interior designers and architects to create real-time web-based visualizations – perfect for meetings or presentations with clients. The visualizations can be shared via links, and supports the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, providing users with a stereoscopic 3D view.
Sometimes a point cloud scan with a Leica or Faro device is overkill. There are many ‘small’ objects that go in building or civil projects. When that needs to be brought into a virtual world, the Makerbot Digitizer can scan smaller objects in great detail and get that into a 3D model – and after some modifications, get that 3D printed part ready for your job!
51.3Dio Free Space
Different from our number eleven 3dio, this 3Dio is a manufacturer of binaural microphones and accessories. Binaural audio is essential for virtual reality applications in order to fully immerse the viewer. When in VR, the audio is exactly 1/2 of the experience. 3Dio’s Omni binaural microphone captures binaural audio from 4 different binaural perspectives, allowing VR filmmakers to capture complete binaural sound in a live scene, and match it up in post for fully interactive binaural audio to go along with their 3D VR film. 3Dio is soon planning to offer powerful software tools to aid in the creation of binaural audio for VR content creators.
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