New Technology: Virtual Reality

written by Matt Blake

Virtual Reality is an emerging trend that has exploded in popularity over the past few years. Millions of new headsets have been shipped all over the world; ranging everywhere from stand-alone systems of wired headsets that require multiple tracking cameras and a high powered computers to simply smart phones that slip into a piece of carboard. Whatever the device may be, it is opening up a whole new frontier for the world of architecture.

GFF has been keeping up with the latest trends in virtual reality. The simplest form of VR is made by creating a photosphere. The viewer is insides a 360° bubble that has the environment rendered onto the surface. As the viewer turns their head in all directions they are able to see the environment as if they were looking around normally. This is known as rotational tracking. Rotational tracking can be achieved using just the accelerometer built into all modern smartphones. At GFF, we produce these photospheres directly from our models which can then be uploaded into a phone and viewed through a viewing device with lenses to get a peek at what it would feel like to be in a space such as a courtyard, a lobby, or an auditorium and so on.  While compelling at first, this type of VR can be jarring to some people because it doesn’t register horizontal or vertical movement head. That is where positional tracking comes in. Higher end devices, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, implement positional tracking. These systems use external sensors of either infrared cameras or laser tracking to calculate the user’s position in 3D space. These positions are sent to headset to accurately render the view inside a 3D environment on the screens in the headset in real time. This creates an immersive experience that is ideal for architects because it allows clients to get a sense of what a building will look like without laying a single brick.

GFF has been experimenting with the Oculus Rift and specialized software that generates full scale environments that allow coworkers and clients to walk through Revit models in 1:1 scale. The software automatically generates an environment such as a sky and grass to give an even more realistic feel. The Revit model can also be updated in real time so one person can say, “this room feels too tight” or “that window is too low” then another person can implement the changes to the model and instantly the building will update in virtual reality. It is an exciting new world and this is just the beginning for VR. What we are seeing now is the equivalent to what early arcade games were, and with technology improving at faster and faster rates it is hard to imagine what it will become. It’s an exciting future to look forward to, but some would even say the future is already here.