Design Visualization

VR for Enterprise Has Arrived, Says NVIDIA — Part 1

27 Dec, 2018 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

According to the developer of the Holodeck virtual reality platform, there’s no longer any doubt about whether VR is viable for professional applications, including review of CAD models.

Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) technology for professional applications is moving rapidly toward the mainstream, and a number of well-established design hardware and software companies are now in competition with the host of startups offering VR solutions. Some have only dipped a toe in the water, while others have made significant investments in tailoring the technology to the needs of professional users. Graphics solutions developer NVIDIA, for example, made the seriousness of its intentions clear last year with the launch of its Holodeck VR platform.

To explore a CAD model in VR, users can first apply materials and adjust the appearance in a styling tool such as Autodesk 3ds Max or Maya, or SOLIDWORKS Visualize, then use a plugin to export to Holodeck. Image courtesy of NVIDIA.

“Holodeck is really a technology platform, and within it, there are four areas of focus,” explained David Weinstein, NVIDIA’s director of professional virtual reality, during a webinar last month. In NVIDIA’s view, these four elements are essential to an effective VR experience:

  • Photorealistic graphics. This includes full-fidelity models, realistic materials, and lighting that behaves as it does in the real world. “When we first released Holodeck — this was about a year ago — there were a lot of very cartoony-looking VR experiences,” said Weinstein. “We’d kind of gone back in time a couple of decades and the graphics were looking like they were from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and we wanted to show the world that no, you can do beautiful, photorealistic renderings within VR in real time.”
  • Interactive physics. To convince the brain that a user is immersed in a virtual world, certain deceptions are essential; “part of that is getting the physics right,” said Weinstein. When VR physics fail to mimic the physics of the real world — if a dropped object floats instead of falling, for example — the illusion is quickly dispelled.
  • Real-time collaboration. “We believe strongly that collaboration is the killer app for VR,” Weinstein declared. He explained that with Holodeck, groups of simultaneous users have a sense of presence and interact as though they’re in a shared design space, even when they’re not physically collocated. “They’re actually in different rooms, in different buildings, in different states, but they feel like they’re in a shared collaborative space within Holodeck — and that’s the beauty and power of VR,” he said. Ensuring that all collaborators see the same objects and the same changes, however, is not easy. “Everything needs to be kept perfectly in sync … building a powerful asset manager to support this was really one of the most important and challenging aspects of building Holodeck.”
  • GPU-accelerated AI. NVIDIA has been investing resources in demonstrating the power of artificial intelligence (AI) in a variety of areas, and wants to bring its advancements to bear within Holodeck as well.

The End of the Debate?

As everyone employed in a technology-centric work environment knows, the fact that there’s a lot of buzz around a particular concept or product doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s practical or is being put into use in the workplace. Is VR really catching on, or is it just a hot topic at the moment?

“VR is really revolutionizing all of these workflows,” said Weinstein, referring to media and entertainment; manufacturing, including automotive; and AEC. “I can say unequivocally that the debate about whether VR is viable for enterprise is over. We are seeing it adopted rapidly and massively across a bunch of industries,” he declared. “There are certainly technical challenges [remaining] — HMDs [head-mounted displays] will continue to get lighter and [achieve] higher resolution, and it will become easier and easier to build beautiful experiences — but even at these early days, we’re seeing widespread adoption of VR.”

The Demands of Design

NVIDIA chose designers as the primary target audience for Holodeck, because they “need as much realism as possible” and therefore are a highly demanding user group, Weinstein observed. “For designers who are designing buildings with complex geometries and interesting lighting … it’s nontrivial to imagine in your head what it’s going to look like, and so it’s really important to have accurate design tools that are capturing all the interplays of the geometries and the materials and the light,” he explained.

It’s also essential that complex models are not simplified for VR purposes, Weinstein said. “It’s not interesting or useful to look at an approximation of the geometry, or an approximation of the materials, if we’re trying to make design decisions about something that we’re building.” 

A more precise understanding of a design is always better, Weinstein said, whether VR is being applied in manufacturing, media and entertainment, or AEC workflows.

Editor’s note: Click here to read Part 2 of this article.

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