The Virtual and Augmented Reality of Autodesk University

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In the last year, augmented and virtual reality has been growing in the AEC industry. Tying these technologies with existing BIM, modeling, and visualization tools have been at the edge in design and construction. Before, these technologies were just a parlor trick; something to show people how cool and interesting another product is or a virtual model. Today, these technologies are more than just a simple parlor trick and Autodesk University helped highlight that.

Using an Xbox Kinect and computer, there was a booth managed by Autodesk that showed how a simple topography map can be placed on top of a bit of sand that represents real earth and real topography. Using a data projector, an image of a topography plan on top of a bed of sand. The user can make changes to that bed of sand and the model, using the Kinect camera, will change in real-time. Take for instance the user wishes to create a crater and fill it with water. You can dig deep into the sandbox, allow the projector to fill it with water, and you can make changes to the flow of water by channeling it to a basin or another crater. Water levels will rise and fall depending on what the user desires. If you move your hand over the sand, casting a shadow, the model will then create a storm system and rain will fall upon the map. This augmented reality demonstration is a great visualization tool for civil engineers but its main goal is humbler. The tool was designed for science museums and a teaching tool to young people, showing them how topography maps are used and how changes in the environment can affect us.

There were multiple demos utilizing virtual reality software and hardware. This year, it seems that the HTC Vive was the popular choice as it not only comes with the headset but also two motion controllers you wear on your hands and external sensors. The external sensors are used for “whole-room” immersion. This means that, within the sensor, a user can free-roam within a virtual space. Utilizing these key features of the HTC Vive allows users to get a full sense of pre-constructed rooms within a modeled space.

Since the AR and VR technologies are becoming more prevalent in the industry, so are the interfacing software with which we interact with these technologies. At AU, there were a couple of booths talking about the creation of apps with which to generate a virtual reality simulation. One such company that help clients build their own applications is InstaVR. This company specializes in helping their clients create a customized VR app so that client can use it to interface with their own clients by utilizing a virtual model.

It has become much easier to generate models for AR/VR experiences. With Autodesk Stingray, which was featured in many sessions during the conference, a user can quickly generate a model from an authoring tool, such as 3DSMax or Revit, and use its’s interfacing software for VR headsets. This means that a user can quickly generate a model, send it to Stingray, prep it for presentation and simply click a button to see the model using a VR headset.

Augment and virtual reality devices and software are no longer a trade show easter egg. The industry is moving to rapidly interface with these technologies in a way that provides more insight, visualization, utility, and understanding of projects.

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