Although it can be said that virtual-, augmented-, and mixed-reality technologies are in their infancy, they’re already pointing the way toward how the future will play out.
Virtual-reality trends—from revolutionizing designer-client communication to improving construction-site performance—combine complex data and increasingly accurate (and vivid) visualizations in ways that will ultimately transform industries. Here are nine recent stories about VR, AR, and MR that will change how you look at the future of making things.
As Autodesk Fellow Phil Bernstein sees it, VR and big data will play a huge role in the evolution of building design. Immersive VR empowers architects to make data-based decisions before the concrete is poured, and behavioral modeling promises to yield rich information about how a building will really be used. From hospitals to college campuses, that means more efficient buildings, reduced construction and maintenance costs, and happier constituents.
In the two decades since Starbucks opened stores in Japan, the company has steadily worked to redesign those locations to suit local tastes and culture, creating engaging third places with a distinct Japanese flavor. Starbucks’ architects design faster and more cost effectively by showing stakeholders highly accurate VR models. “In discussions with builders, operational staff, and other divisions who needed to understand our designs, we had to explain certain parts with only a mental image for reference,” says Mayu Takashima, head of the design team. “Now we can use VR to share ideas in real time, which I expect will help us to build consensus over the course of our work.”
Will MR, VR, and AR bridge the gap between humans and technology, resulting in greater efficiency and productivity? According to Brian Pene, Autodesk’s director of emerging technology, the evidence points toward smaller devices and greater power, which will make paper 2D designs and physical prototypes things of the past, as designers turn to easier-to-understand 3D models. These advances will help humans and machines connect digital information with the built environment, transforming how designers work and how job-site employees approach the construction process.
Japan’s Freedom Architects, which builds roughly 400 custom-designed homes each year, provides virtual-showroom walkthroughs for prospective homeowners that impart a level of insight impossible with 2D designs. Using Building Information Model (BIM) data helps the firm pinpoint how a design will look, feel, and behave. “Until now, architects would realize certain aspects of their designs only when they could see the completed building,” says Makuto Nagasawa, Freedom Architects’ director of development. “There is always something you notice with your own eyes, something you wish you could change after the fact. VR allows you to experience and explore your own designs in a matter of hours.”
State-owned rail company Bane NOR (in concert with engineering companies Sweco and Rambøll) has been charged with building 10 kilometers of track, two tunnels, and a new transit station in Moss, Norway. Its headset-free, 180-degree VR theater experience helped designers and stakeholders deduce optimal locations for the signaling system and other environmental challenges before breaking ground (which is set for 2019). Meanwhile, Moss residents can experience a simulated train ride in an immersive-design world, giving them an opportunity to provide feedback and understand how the project will affect their community.
Architecture and civil engineering aren’t the only fields exploring the power of VR, AR, and MR. In medicine, these tools are being used to improve the education of caregivers: From 3D models of human anatomy to surgery simulators, VR is helping train the next generation of medical professionals. VR in health care is also poised to play a greater role in improving education, rehabilitation, and therapy for patients.
A certain dude from the planet Krypton might be able to see through walls, but for mere mortals, it takes AR. The DAQRI Smart Helmet enables workers on the job site to effectively “see” through walls and gauge spatial relationships better, all while reducing MEP clashes and errors. Although the helmet recalls Luke Skywalker’s first Jedi training session, the headset’s real power is its ability to enable builders, engineers, and designers to take a BIM model to the construction site; wear it on their heads; and experience an immersive, full-scale 3D environment.
For more than 75 years, the USS Arizona has served as a grim reminder of a date President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would “live in infamy”: the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. Roughly 1.8 million visitors take the boat out to the memorial every year, but now, thanks to VR, those tourists and veterans can take a virtual tour of what the Arizona was like before the attack, as well as get a closer look at the ship’s current state.
Physical mockups have long been used in the medical construction industry to determine whether a design will work for its intended stakeholders—in this case, medical professionals and their patients. However, using those models for visualization came with hefty price tags and construction delays. Using VR mockups instead can put realistic designs in the hands of doctors and nurses before construction begins, saving time and money.