Design Visualization

IrisVR Promises Virtual Reality in the Blink of an Eye

29 Nov, 2016 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Two new software solutions cater to AEC professionals who have neither the experience nor the time to create VR walkthroughs and presentations.

After nearly two years of beta testing, New York City–based startup IrisVR has announced the commercial launch of its first virtual reality (VR) software products. The company’s goal is to enable architects, designers, and other AEC professionals to create VR presentations and interact with their models in virtual environments, even if they have no VR expertise.

“We started with the goal of making virtual reality — and all the technology around it — accessible to the AEC space,” said Shane Scranton, IrisVR CEO and cofounder. Scranton began experimenting with VR in his architectural work several years ago, using the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) with clients, and quickly realized the potential it held. “It was very clear that VR was a medium that was going to be very powerful in this industry,” he observed. “It unlocks the actual potential of a model … you’re able to digest it in the way you envisioned it in your mind.”

At that time, however, VR could not meet the needs of AEC professionals who lacked the time and technical knowledge to transform their 3D models into virtual experiences. “It was an incredibly time-intensive process,” Scranton noted, requiring multiple programs and hundreds of hours, in some cases.

There was also the nagging problem of physical discomfort, which can result from VR experiences that don’t operate smoothly. “You need an immersive feel and no nausea,” Scranton explained. Illness primarily results from the conflict between the brain’s perception that the user is moving and the body’s feedback that he or she is remaining still, he said.

“We did lots of tests around locomotion, and the solution was to never accelerate the user,” said Scranton. Instead of gliding from one place to another, users “hop” between points, moving in instantaneous increments. “[As a result,] we do feel we’re effectively at zero motion sickness,” Scranton noted.

While conducting the pubic beta program, which claimed close to 20,000 participants by the time it concluded, it became clear that quick, simple VR creation was appealing to users in many fields. “We knew the architectural market was there, but we were unsure about engineering and construction, because they are less focused on design,” Scranton commented. “It really surprised us … about half of our users are outside the architecture space.” In addition to many users in engineering and construction, 10–15% of users are in non-AEC fields, including retail, film, advertising, and automotive. “Anyone who has a 3D model in [one of our supported] formats can use our software,” Scranton observed.

Prospect and Scope

IrisVR began development with one product in its sights, then branched that into two in response to VR technology evolving into mobile and desktop platforms. The first, IrisVR Scope, creates 360-degree panoramas that can be viewed on mobile VR viewers such as Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR. In contrast to dedicated HMD hardware, these viewers temporarily repurpose smartphones for their displays. “It’s a very accessible way to do things,” Scranton commented.

IrisVR Scope enables users to view panoramas that they've created in V-Ray, Lumion, Autodesk A360, or other programs in virtual reality using a smartphone. The software responds to head movements, automatically changing the view as the user looks around the room. Image courtesy of IrisVR.

As impressive as their capabilities are, smartphones cannot match the processing power of beefier hardware, and are consequently more limited in the VR experiences they can support. When viewing a panorama in Scope, users can rotate to see all around themselves, but they are effectively bound to one location. For example, they can look in all directions around a particular room, but cannot proceed to tour through the rest of the building.

IrisVR Prospect, in contrast, is desktop software, and it converts designs into VR experiences that users can explore. The software currently supports Autodesk Revit, Trimble SketchUp, McNeel Rhino, and OBJ files, and Scranton noted that the company plans to roll out more integration in 2017, including support for Autodesk Navisworks and Graphisoft ARCHICAD. The resulting fully navigable experiences can be viewed on Oculus Rift or HTC Vive HMDs.

Creating these experiences is a one-step process: user files are digested by IrisVR’s custom-built engine. Processing time depends on file size; 100-MB files are converted in about 15 seconds, and 300-MB files take less than one minute, said Scranton. “At the GB level, all bets are off,” he said. Processing is done locally; IrisVR has explored Web-based options, but for the time being, streaming from the cloud isn’t smooth enough to provide a good VR experience, he explained.

Pricing and Availability

Prospect and Scope are available in two tiers, to suit the needs of the many users who are just kicking the tires of VR at the moment, and those who are ready for enterprise-level functionality. “The Basic tier for both products is entirely free, forever,” Scranton explained. The Pro tier is available through subscription, with a monthly cost per user of $200 for Prospect, $40 for Scope, or $210 for both. With Prospect Pro, users can save experiences to a project library, and access additional features including annotations and callouts. Scope Pro also includes library access, as well as unlimited uploads and full-screen, 360-degree previews. The Scope app is available for iOS and Android devices.

Looking ahead to future capabilities, the company is working on expanded collaboration support that will enable multiple users to share the same experience, Scranton said.

Editor's note: Read a continuation of this article, which includes a hands-on look at Scope, here.

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