Architecture emerges as early market segment for virtual reality

Several small companies are seeking a niche; many look to Oculus Rift as the game-changer.

By Kathleen Maher

The new virtual reality (VR) devices coming to the market are products in search of an application. Sure, VR is undeni­ably cool, but the experience can get boring if there’s no purpose attached to it, and gaming is not a surefire way to make money. Neither is architecture, but companies drawn to the cool factor of VR and augmented reality (AR) are looking at creating virtual walk-throughs as a value-add for architectural design or for real estate.

Avant is a Sarasota startup founded by Frank Elge and Greg Oquera. Both have backgrounds in real estate and some technology experience. Elge is guiding development; Orquera is put­ting deals together. He was with Century 21 in France, where he used the Avant app to help put together a deal for 33 lots near Paris. The Avant sys­tem using the Oculus Rift will enable customers to stroll through a property without ever leaving their chair.

This photo illustration from Avant combines an image of someone wearing an Oculus Rift viewer with a representation of the kind of environment the user of the Avant system can explore. (Source: Avant)

This photo illustration from Avant combines an image of someone wearing an Oculus Rift viewer with a representation of the kind of environment the user of the Avant system can explore. (Source: Avant)

The Avant system uses CAD files to create a 3D model, so obviously, price for the service depends on whether CAD drawings are available for the house and, better yet, whether 3D mod­els are available for the house. It’s still relatively rare for 3D models to be sup­plied with an architectural design. The company tells reporters the service for creating 3D models can run about $3,000 to $5,000 for a single-family house.

There are, in fact, plenty of applica­tions looking at VR glasses to give a fairly common use of 3D models a little more pizzazz.

Arch Virtual is a team headed by Jon Brouchoud that creates real-time virtual experiences. Working with the Panoptic Group, Arch Virtual developed a 3D walk-through of a property in Chi­cago. The walk-through can be down­loaded and played as a standalone app, or it enables a walk-through to be em­bedded in a website. Arch Virtual also developed a version compatible with the Oculus Rift system, which is download­ed as a standalone app.

Scenes from the Arch Virtual portfolio. (Source: Arch Virtual)

Scenes from the Arch Virtual portfolio. (Source: Arch Virtual)

Arch Virtual says the ability to walk through a 3D model will enable de­velopers or customers to experience a building before construction starts. The company says they can use models from Revit, 3ds Max, or other 3D modelers, but they say they can also work with 3D PDF files. Roman Popovych, Jr., of Panoptic says the use of virtual walk-throughs “helped us sell this property much faster than we could have other­wise. It was very cost-effective, and has proven to be a helpful marketing tool for our business.”

Is any of this sounding familiar?

Software for 3D walk-throughs popped up in the ’90s, but most of the dedicated apps have disappeared because the ability to create walk-throughs is now included with model­ing software, and companies preferred hiring experts to create their walk-throughs for them or they hired their own in-house experts. In general, a walk-through uses a pared-down ver­sion of the CAD model, or, more often, they are built from scratch in tools with better rendering like Lightwave, Max, Maya, or Modo.

Unity, because it is free for non-com­mercial applications, is often used to create walk-throughs. At the Unity site, there is a blog post dedicated to creating architectural walk-throughs. However, if the goal is to embed a walk-through in a browser, Unity does not yet support WebGL.

Arch Virtual employs a straightforward dashboard to move visitors from room to room. (Source: Arch Virtual)

Arch Virtual employs a straightforward dashboard to move visitors from room to room. (Source: Arch Virtual)

Immeractive  is a Belgian company that has created its own 3D engine called Haeva to create walk-throughs. The company was founded in 2010, and it develops 3D tools for applications in construction and heritage promotion. It is being used for architecture, real estate, urban planning, regional plan­ning, heritage, museums, and tourism. The company is operating as a service and creates 3D models from whatever content is available including architec­tural blueprints, geographical informa­tion, and archival documents. The com­pany is enthusiastic about the potential for Haeva coupled with the Oculus Rift. The company says, “Since our Haeva technology is modular, our team quickly adapted our 3D engine to allow our vir­tual models to run on this promising im­mersive device.”

Immeractive uses Oculus Rift for immersive virtual walk-through in architectural models. The full-screen view shown is as it appears on the desktop screen, not in the Oculus Rift. (Source :Immeractive)

Immeractive uses Oculus Rift for immersive virtual walk-through in architectural models. The full-screen view shown is as it appears on the desktop screen, not in the Oculus Rift. (Source: Immeractive)

Another player in this field these days is up and coming Cl3ver, a com­pany that lets people use their own models, or it offers templates for cre­ating a 3D model that can be adjusted to create custom models of homes and office buildings. Cl3ver takes advan­tage of WebGL so that the app can be delivered via a browser. Luca Vidotto tells us that Cl3ver is looking into sup­porting VR and specifically the Oculus Rift, but they are not ready to specify a date. However, Vidotto says the inter­activity is built in for Cl3ver apps; it is part of the interface so there’s no need for JavaScript programming. He notes that the application was developed spe­cifically for AEC and manufacturers, so he believes it’s easier to use than more complex game engines.

Cl3ver interface: Cl3ver offers several templates to enable customers to create their own presentations. (Source: Cl3ver.)

Cl3ver offers several templates to enable customers to create their own presentations. (Source: Cl3ver.)

WebGL is an important piece of the puzzle. Most of the applications for 3D browsers have not been created for stereoscopic viewing. That’s a piece of the puzzle that is just coming along, thanks to the enthusiasm engendered by VR headsets. There are several proj­ects going on to enable VR for WebGl. CubicVR is a good ex­ample. It’s a JavaScript utility that enables 3D WebGL con­tent to be converted to stereo­scopic views.

What do we think?

Although Oculus Rift has sucked up all the attention, there are several companies working on VR glasses with various amounts of immersion. Sony’s Project Morpheus is a very sleek version, and Epson’s Moverio glasses are lightweight and have a see-through option so one does not have to feel so isolated in the VR environment.

The companies we found for this article are the early adopters. There will be more. Architecture is not the killer app for VR. We’re pretty confi­dent saying that, but the killer app for VR might well turn out to be a lot of content for all sorts of different appli­cations including games, shared experi­ences, 3D immersive movies, museum exhibits, telepresence, and all the other apps that are mentioned. Also, it seems inevitable that devices with 3D vision are coming in the near future, and as the number of devices goes up, so will the applications.

 

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Posted in: AEC/Geo, Featured, VIZ

About the Author:

Kathleen is the editor-in-chief of GraphicSpeak and a senior analyst at Jon Peddie Research. She has been writing about design, movies, music, art, and technology for almost all of her working life.

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