CAD Tech News (#106)

19 Jun, 2019 By: Cadalyst Staff

▶ Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for CAD, Part 2

Once you've decided to integrate VR/AR into your workflow, it's time to select hardware that can deliver convincing experiences.

By Alex Herrera

Virtual reality (VR) — exploiting immersive computer-generated visuals to fool our senses into thinking we are experiencing something we're really not — has always had tremendous potential. For decades, the concept has conjured numerous compelling applications that promised to change the way we live and work. VR — and its sister application, augmented reality (AR) — have struggled to live up to that potential, however. They've been held back by challenges that had nothing to do with the concept and everything to do with the limitations of past implementations.

As we explored in the first part of this series, a compelling VR experience will suspend viewers' disbelief, creating imagery so detailed, smooth, and responsive that they don't think about whether it's real or not. Early and immature mass-market VR products and technologies frequently fell short of that goal: Poor image resolution, limited detail, and inferior frame rates, compounded by an unnaturally slow response, made suspension of disbelief all but impossible. (Worse, that lack of a credible sensory experience left some users physically sick to boot.) Fortunately, the technology has come a long way since then.

In Part 1, we discussed the reasons why CAD professionals should consider the current iterations of VR technology, offering both a rationale and real-world examples. In Part 2, we're going to focus on the hardware you'll need if you plan to integrate VR into your CAD workflow, whether that means just dipping in a toe or diving in headfirst. (In lieu of any disclaimers to the contrary, the reader can assume commentary applies to AR as well as VR.)

VR's Hardware Demands Are About More Than Performance

Configuring a workstation for disbelief-suspending VR is dependent on ensuring adequate performance across the system, particularly with respect to the graphics subsystem. Given the goal of creating as visually credible an experience as possible, the scenery needs to be extremely detailed, meaning there will be lots of polygons to process. But a heavy polygon load is just the tip of VR's iceberg of computational demands — demands that tax both hardware performance and overall system complexity.

First off, the graphical workload is doubled, since the GPU needs to render not one but two scenes (one for each eye, with viewpoints shifted to approximated the distance between the eyes). Then there are issues to address in how head-mounted displays (HMDs) present images to the eye. The bad news, for example, is that HMD lenses will distort the incoming image. The good news is that the distortion occurs in a predictable way and can be compensated for by warping the final image prior to display, but doing so incurs another processing step and additional overhead.

An extra rendering step to correct HMD lens distortion. Image source: NVIDIA.
An extra rendering step to correct HMD lens distortion. Image source: NVIDIA.

And then there are advanced features designed to contribute to both performance and fidelity/credibility, such as foveated rendering. Advanced software, combined with an HMD that can track eye focus, can let the GPU render at maximum resolution where the eyes are focused and intentionally reduce or even blur on the periphery. Foveated rendering can then yield significant performance improvements — by spending less time painting outside the eye's focus — and deliver cues the visual system may expect to see on the periphery. Read more »

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Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.

▶ The Wild Promotes VR/AR Collaboration as a Path to Better SketchUp and Revit Designs

The AEC-focused platform provides persistent virtual spaces where users can draw on and discuss their designs, thanks to new sketching and comment tools.

By Cyrena Respini-Irwin

At this point in human history, our physical world is pretty thoroughly explored: We have mapped out mountaintops and caves, jungles and deserts, volcanoes and glaciers. When it comes to frontiers, there are simply not many of this kind left on Earth (Star Trek fans will be quick to point out that we still have space, of course). With the help of technology, however, we are creating our own uncharted territories — and then stepping into them.

For design professionals, these new digital worlds often take the form of collaborative spaces for meeting up with clients or colleagues and exploring — or shaping — structures, products, and places that don't yet exist. One appropriately named example is The Wild, a cloud-based virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) collaboration platform marketed for architecture and design teams.

Users can import their SketchUp or Revit designs for evaluation and walkthroughs; with a Sketch tool announced last month, they can also mark up those designs and draw their ideas in 3D.

During collaborative sessions in The Wild, users can walk through imported Revit models (top) and add their annotations to designs (above) using a new Sketch tool. Images courtesy of The Wild.

During collaborative sessions in The Wild, users can walk through imported Revit models (top) and add their annotations to designs (above) using a new Sketch tool. Images courtesy of The Wild.

During collaborative sessions in The Wild, users can walk through imported Revit models (top) and add their annotations to designs (above) using a new Sketch tool. Images courtesy of The Wild.

Another new feature is support for video content, so users can include realistic televisions, retail displays, or other screens in their VR/AR experiences. A Comment tool for leaving feedback and annotations in context on designs was also released recently, fulfilling "a top request" from AEC professionals and environmental designers, the company stated. "The Wild goes beyond simply creating a meeting or presentation in VR and instead provides a persistent space in the cloud, connected to your BIM files, with the ability to bring in new content, sketch ideas, leave feedback, and more," explained Gabe Paez, founder and CEO of The Wild. Read more »

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Cyrena Respini-Irwin is Cadalyst's editor in chief.


CAD Manager Column: Proactive CAD Training Strategies
Dedicating a little time to training in a consistent, thoughtful way will help you ward off problems before they arise. Here's how to set up a simple, effective training program for your users. Read more »

AutoCAD Video Tips: Measure Twice, Cut as Many Times as You Like!
You might have tried the Measure command in AutoCAD before, only to be disappointed in the outcome. You just didn't know the secret to achieving the desired results! Join AutoCAD video tipster Lynn Allen as she shows you how the powerful Measure command can quickly place a block (or point) at specific length intervals along an object — even a spline. This powerful command is going to save you time! Watch the video »

Sponsored: Keuka Studios Implements ANSYS Discovery Live to Simulate Projects That Can't Be Prototyped
From ANSYS: A metal fabricator specializing in cable railings and stairs relies on instant simulation results, integrated with Discovery SpaceClaim geometry modeling, to ensure safety and performance. Read more »

Sponsored: 4M Restructures IDEA Architecture for Version 19
From 4M: The DWG-compatible software for design, rendering, and animation features a new interface, a new BIM code architecture based on the ODA Teigha libraries, and more. Read more »

NVIDIA Launches Quadro RTX GPUs for Mobile Workstations
New Turing-based graphics processing units are intended to boost mobile machines' performance with real-time ray tracing, virtual reality, and other demanding visual tasks. Read more »

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