Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for CAD, Part 3

17 Jul, 2019 By: Alex Herrera

Herrera on Hardware: If you want to dial up your VR environment for CAD, explore options that extend beyond baseline systems, including no-compromise performance upgrades and immersive display solutions.


Bear in mind also that as you cruise up the product spectrum, the minimum GPU recommended to pair with the HMD rises as well. Granted, that’s probably not a worry, since if you’re spending to upgrade the HMD, you’ve likely already taken the step to upgrade your GPU (or GPUs).

Last but certainly not least, don’t forget the ergonomics. For VR to be of value, designers and clients are going to be wearing these things, possibly for extended periods, so they’d better be comfortable. How do the HMDs rest on your head, eyes and/or nose? Will different hair styles get in the way? How heavy are they, and how well balanced is the weight? How well can they accommodate prescription glasses underneath? How easy are they to clean/disinfect between users?

Lenovo’s new ThinkReality entrant to the HMD space pays attention to ergonomic demands as well as technical ones. Image source: Lenovo.

Beyond the HMDs

We may have become accustomed to equating VR with HMD solutions, but we shouldn’t, as CAVEs have predated HMDs, at least commercially available ones. An acronym for cave automated virtual environment (and introduced in a seminal graphics paper back in 1992), a CAVE is an HMD-less immersive space surrounded to varying degrees by display walls, offering groups of users a shared virtual experience. A CAVE may take the form of cube, dome, ceiling-less torus, or other appropriate volume.

CAVEs are few in number, but not because of a lack of appeal; they can deliver a productive, splashy, group-friendly VR environment that nothing else can. Rather, they are few because they are expensive — in terms of both the cost to build and the physical space required. The CAVE’s other downside is that it requires participants to be physically present, thereby nullifying a common goal for VR adopters: remote collaboration.

CAVEs are very pricey, but they offer an impressive VR experience for a group, with no HMD necessary. Image source: Lenovo.

Motivation, Priorities, Budgets — and Ultimately, ROI

Ultimately, how to approach VR to improve your workflow and business will depend on a few things: motivation, breadth of deployment, priority goals, and budget. Are you intrigued enough to experiment with VR? Or are you sold on VR as an integral tool for your long-term plans? It’s worth considering that to some degree, the investment in boosting your workstation’s capabilities to take on VR pays off even when you’re working in a traditional workstation environment. Faster 3D graphics and a potentially big jump in raytraced rendering are good things, even if you’re still spending most of the time doing that viewing on your desktop monitor. The obvious exception is the HMD, and given the dramatic difference in price tags from baseline to top end, those that would prefer to dip their toes before committing to the plunge might consider focusing on the system upgrades first and start with the baseline HMD.

Next, think about the breadth of deployment in the context of your overall priorities and budget. Is it worth making every designer with a deskbound workstation VR-capable? Or is it more the goal to create one highly capable VR setup for all staff members to share? The former is a must if your primary goals are virtual collaboration across larger (and potentially scattered) project teams, or to give everyone the capability to jump into that virtual world frequently throughout the workflow. But the latter can be set up in a dedicated room to share with developers, managers, stylists, and clients.

The former scenario is more likely to limit the level of expenditures, physical space, and appeal of higher-end features. For example, with the user seated, a deskbound environment might adequately be served by a 3DOF solution, versus the 6DOF essential to roam about in a bigger space (both virtual and physical). And 3DOF obviates the need for tracking devices set around the physical space, which would be problematic in a shared or cubicle-type office space. Finally, if a large-scale, high-impact shared virtual environment is something that will get good use — and perhaps be justified by better chances to win big-dollar projects — then maybe even consider a CAVE to share.

VR is by no means a must-have for all. But given the huge advances in capabilities, reduced costs, and the acceptance from clients — or even a stated RFP requirement — it is now a must-consider purchase. The options are plenty and can be crafted to deliver on a wide range of needs and budgets.

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About the Author: Alex Herrera

Alex Herrera

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