Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for CAD, Part 2

19 Jun, 2019 By: Alex Herrera

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


Though plenty of other HMD options are available and still emerging, the de facto baseline of HMDs includes two primary options: HTC’s Vive and the Oculus Rift (and respective sub/sibling models), which accordingly tend to receive the lion’s share of volume, attention, and support. A minimum suggested HMD (such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) displays 1080 x 1200 pixel resolution per eye with OLED displays (of the type on your smartphone rather than the LCD technology dominating TV, desktop, and laptop displays) and will set you back $400 to $500 for the headset alone.

AMD has its Radeon VR Ready program to guide aspiring VR creators and consumers. Image source: AMD.

To a prospective adopter of VR, guidelines from suppliers like NVIDIA and AMD help buyers navigate the options available and arrive at the right mix of components. As purveyors of the workstations driving the majority of VR environments, OEMs are sensibly taking recommendations a step further, specifying complete systems for use in VR. Paying particular attention in the space are Dell and Lenovo, both of which present workstation solutions and VR accessories tailored both to CAD application and budget.

Lenovo’s recommended ThinkStation configurations for desktop VR by application. Data source: Lenovo.

Dell’s suggested VR-capable systems by application. 

Mobile Systems of Particular Appeal for VR

It’s worth noting that VR is not solely served by deskbound systems, and for good reason. Given the natural synergy between VR and mobility — especially for use in the field, but really anywhere individual users or groups might need some extra space to stand and move — providers have made VR support in mobile workstations a priority.

Getting a quality VR experience out of a deskside tower is no trivial matter, but it’s an even bigger challenge when limited by the far smaller (and battery-powered) package of a mobile workstation. A typical tower’s larger size and power budget makes it easier to drive up performance to the loftier levels demanded by VR. Accordingly, component suppliers and OEMs alike pay special attention to both creating mobile models that can legitimately support VR, and providing guidelines for users to configure them accordingly. NVIDIA, for example, has a different set of VR Ready GPU specs for mobile workstations, and Lenovo recently became the first to offer a 5000-class Quadro in a 15" mobile unit (the ThinkPad P53), with the goal of supporting quality mobile VR very much a reason.

NVIDIA’s current lineup of VR Ready GPUs for mobile applications. Image source: NVIDIA.

With HP, mobility for VR doesn’t end with laptop workstations. Targeting applications in design and styling for industries such as automotive and aerospace, the company recently introduced the Z VR Backpack. Essentially a turnkey VR-capable workstation packaged to mount on a custom backpack and powered by battery, the unique Z VR Backpack delivers about the best VR performance a mobile package can deliver, in the form of a tether-free solution ready for roaming.

HP's Z VR Backpack, with supporting batteries and dock. Image source: HP.

HP’s Z VR Backpack is a VR computer in a tether-free form factor that lets users roam at will. Image source: HP.

Next: A Look at Advanced VR Solutions

In an upcoming installment of this series on VR for CAD, we’ll look at options that extend beyond baseline systems, including no-compromise performance upgrades, a look across the spectrum of HMD options, and immersive display systems with no HMDs at all.

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About the Author: Alex Herrera

Alex Herrera

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Re: Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for CAD, Par...
by: cadcoke5
June 22, 2019 - 10:34pm
I, too, have been following this technology for a few decades, and expected it to take off any time now. My first view of a stereoscopic computer image was on an Atari 8-Bit system. It had a stereoscopic image of the space shuttle... the hype had started. Then, in the early 90's I got to experience the Virtuality game system. By that time I had worked for over a year on AutoCAD, running on a '286, and its minute-long rendering process, and no real-time turning of the image. I was disappointed at the Virtuality system... not because the technology wasn't great. But, because I had successfully trained myself to imagine the 3D model in AutoCAD. A real-time rendering of a virtual world was simply not needed. Later, as real-time rendering hit the scene, I suspect that this was good enough that it was not going to be viable to sell even a moderately priced VR system. But, even now that it is very cheap to do an immersive VR display, it has not taken off in the CAD world. I am sure there are niche markets, but in the vast world of CAD, it has not. I recall back when fast internet service, and the low-cost usb camera came onto the market, and was in every home. I had assumed this would usher the day when you didn't go to visit an insurance agent, or other professional, and instead would do it by video conference. But, that didn't happen. Most people rarely, if ever, do video conferencing. It seems that low-cost, and high quality technology is not enough to make the predictions come true. That has proven to be the case for both VR and video conferencing. Well at least so far. I do see one major weakness in current CAD systems in its use of VR. The user interaction to create the object doesn't really benefit from a VR display. Perhaps that will eventually see major improvement, and make VR a more enticing technology. But, for now, it isn't really viable for model creation. Only after the model is done does it seem to have much benefit.
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