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Virtual Reality, Not Your Father’s Blueprint

April 30th, 2018By: Andrew Lutowicz Posted in:

I admit I was a skeptic. My contrarian mind could not get deep inside the experience at first – not deep enough to see its true value.

My loss, I guess, because Virtual Reality (VR) is not a new concept. It’s an evolution.

Our need to communicate the unseen runs deep. We’ve been chasing virtual reality since we started sketching mystical animals, monsters and deities on cave walls over 35,000 years ago.

In time we came out of the cave and went from using ochre, hematite, manganese oxide and charcoal to parchment, paper and ink.

For countless generations, free-hand was the mode of choice to bring our imaginings to life. Remember Michelangelo?

The last several decades have seen the use of computer software to create lifelike, full-colour renderings of our visions and ideas. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then these virtual photo-realistic renderings have been invaluable design tools, helping us imagine and design our futures.

In 1968 when Ivan Sutherland, father of modern computer graphics, built the first Virtual Reality (VR) simulator, he dubbed it “The Sword of Damocles.” The apparatus was so heavy the headset had to be suspended from the ceiling to keep from breaking the user’s neck.

The mid 90’s saw the advent of DOOM, a first-person shooter video game that introduced the concept of exploring a 3-dimensional world on a 2-dimensional screen. Shortly after the turn of the century, the technology was adapted to commercial use. At Verto360 we’ve used this technology in a program called ICE for a good 8 years, as part of our presentation and shop review process to design, build and furnish custom prefabricated building interiors.

In 2011 the then-18-year old Palmer Luckey hacked together the first rough prototype of the Oculus Rift in his parent’s garage. Fast forward to June of 2012, and the first duct-taped head-mounted display was introduced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.

Less than two years later, in March of 2014, Facebook purchased Oculus for 2 billion US. On March 28, 2016, the consumer version of the Oculus Rift headset was released to the market, weighing in at all of 470g (1.04lb.).

Verto360 purchased our first Oculus headset in July 2017.

Early attempts at our using the technology with ICE software were comical. Files would not run smoothly. They crashed for no apparent reason. Sometimes, whoever wore the headset seemed to crawl along the carpet. At other times, the perspective made the wearer hover near the ceiling like some recently departed soul. Sometimes, just navigating to get ourselves into the building was a challenge. 😊

After a few weeks of trial and error, we built up the courage to try the headset on a client. We — client included — all had a good laugh too, but the feedback we got from the user helped us to refine our design and avoid costly disappointments.

Many people, we discovered, were reluctant to don the headset. This isn’t so surprising, really. Imagine, you’re in a business meeting and someone says “We’re going to put this blindfold on you and make you completely vulnerable.” Who’d volunteer for that?

As we got better at bringing people on board, we were astounded by their feedback and reactions. Once people got the headset on, they kept it on for a very long time. Nobody simply ripped it off, or said: “Get me outta here.”

That was my secret fear of what might happen.

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Here’s what I’ve discovered. The reason that VR is so compelling is that the experience is all about the user. Their project. Their vision.

This upends the conventional approach — an outdated model that typically weakens or destroys the client’s vision rather than bringing it to light. The result? People grow frustrated when they’re unable to communicate their vision. This is especially true when it comes to the incredibly challenging process of designing and building, which is cluttered with procedures that make the journey from A to B too complicated to comprehend.

What if we could conceptualize ideas and bring them into a virtual world where we could collaborate and co-create a client’s vision? What if we could do that before we ever signed a contract, let alone began the build?

What if the virtual reality experience could show you refined details, say, how sunlight will affect the environment in its exact geographical location? In January versus July? At 9 a.m. or 3 p.m.?

What if we could build elaborate construction to a high degree of fit-and-finish at a lower cost, in less time, using fewer bodies on-site, verifying every detail in 3D from every perspective before ordering a single piece of material, and then build it with almost zero material waste?

News flash: we can.

This incredible approach to designing and building out interiors is here today, and available to you.

I recommend you try it.

But, look, don’t take my word for it. I’m an old contrarian whose skepticism has faded because the feedback we’re getting is making us more effective at design, saving our clients significant dollars in change orders, and time in scheduling delays.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, consider a VR walk through your vision, to experience your own environment without travelling off-site and before signing on the dotted line or building one damn thing.

I guarantee you one thing: it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.