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Magic Leap headset, controller and lightpack.

Trying out the Magic Leap headset is another exciting step in fulfilling Studio216’s quest for delivering world class enterprise AR content and platforms….we were personally fitted for our new Magic Leap One headset!  As one of the first agencies to develop software for the Microsoft HoloLens, we are heartened to see market validation by others entering the XR arena. A few of our team members review the new device for you, specifically: Jamie Fleming (CEO) and Richard Dormer(Sr. Experience Designer).

Jamie's Thoughts

Our Altoura spatial visualization platform is a HoloLens mainstay for visualizing commercial real estate. What impact will the Magic Leap One have on our real estate clients? Below are a few of our initial thoughts:

THE PROS

Smaller form factor. This is a trend in the right direction. Nobody loves wearing a large, heavy device on their head. It's critical hardware developers continue to invest in the technology to reduce the overall form factor. We have yet to reach the tipping point between hand-held mobile devices and head-mounted displays, but Magic Leap One takes a practical approach of reducing the headset by offloading a small, pocket sized ancillary device. 

Improved optics- Who knew living in the overcast Pacific Northwest would ever list too much sunlight as a problem!  However, our east facing conference room makes early morning XR experiences nearly impossible as the daylight washes out any traces of the holograms.  Magic Leap One provides an improved visual experience with its Light Field technology. We still have a way to go before the headsets will work effectively on an outdoor construction site, but this improvement allows greater flexibility as clients seek to use this technology in a variety of environmental situations.  

Depth of field.  Much of our work over the past decade has been creating cinematic immersive experiences to breath life into environments that don’t yet exist.  The Magic Leap One does a nice job allowing content creators the ability to throw mood and focus into a scene by controlling the depth of field.  We are all emotional creatures and creating compelling scenes is crucial to sales performance in real estate.

THE CONS

Accessibility. The fact that Magic Leap One doesn’t support users with corrective lenses is a major blow to the 75% of us that wear prescription glasses.  How can we look smart and 'techy' at the same time if we have to remove our glasses to use an XR headset? Joking aside, in order for users to adopt XR technology we need to remove barriers.  Not being able to focus clearly is a huge barrier.

FOV.  One of the most common initial reactions users have to Mixed Reality headsets is the FOV is not a big enough.  While Magic Leap One improves the overall FOV over the HoloLens, it doesn’t go far enough to make a difference.  I believe that this issue is overblown in general, as 85% of of users quickly forget the limited FOV as they become immersed in the experience, but the goal should be to overcome any initial adverse reactions to Mixed Reality.  

In summary, I believe the Magic Leap One is a very positive development in the quest to remain present in our augmented environment.  After years of hype and anticipation it is encouraging to have an actual piece of functioning hardware in our hands. My blood pressure is reduced seeing major players tangibly enter into the foray of Mixed Reality- something that validates the promise of bringing unbuilt worlds to reality.

Richard's Thoughts

Magic Leap is a welcome addition to the augmented reality industry. With its wider field of view and more powerful processor compared to the HoloLens, it pushes forward the capabilities and fidelity that customers demand. Whereas with HoloLens you might have to stand back about 10 feet to fit a desk sized model in your view, with Magic Leap it feels like you only have to stand back about half the distance to view that same object.  This will help foster more immersive experiences for people looking at architectural spaces. And some of our initial tests indicate that we can push between 2-3 times as complex of a 3D model while maintaining good frame-rate, this will allow for more detailed spaces!

The form factor for the Magic Leap is an interesting departure from HoloLens. The HoloLens relies on a ring that fits tightly to your head and allows the optics to essentially float over your nose, the Magic Leap really balances right on the bridge of your nose with the rest of it sitting high on the back of your head. Neither method is particularly intuitive to new users, but after using both I think HoloLens is more comfortable to wear. HoloLens also has the advantage that users can wear glasses, whereas Magic Leap will require a special optical adapter for people with vision issues, to be available sometime in the future.

The other major new idea that Magic Leap has introduced is the main processing power and battery being not on your head, but wired to a separate “puck” that you clip to your pocket.  The main advantage of this is that the headwear is much lighter than the HoloLens. While it generally works out well, the puck isn’t small enough to slip into your pocket sadly and needs fresh air to cool anyways. The cord can be a slight hassle to deal with when taking the Magic Leap on and off, so sharing it with other people is not an ideal option. It favors a longer use time with a single person.

The Magic Leap also comes with a spatially tracked controller out of the box instead of defaulting to hand gestures like the HoloLens.  This too is interesting and honestly to me more of a user-preference. While the controller is easy to use, initially it feels like it abstracts the interface.  You feel like you are interacting with a series of little windows instead of a full 3D environment. The HoloLens hand gestures do allow for a more natural, truly 3D interfaces, but there are distinct limitations to how well the current HoloLens can track your hand and fingers, not to mention it just takes a while for people to learn its unique interface style. I expect there to be interesting capabilities with Magic Leap’s controller in the future.

And while HoloLens has been out for several years now with a fair amount of samples to choose from, Magic Leap has a very limited suite of apps to try out right now and a lot of them feel like 3D conversions of generic 2D concepts, like photo galleries.. it's hard to get a full sense of its capabilities without developing your own prototypes. Generally the software feels very much a work in progress and we expect to see that drastically change in the next year.

In the end, Magic Leap is a very logical progression of augmented headset technology. Some things are better, some things are just different. Which is great, because choice is good!  While we are still evaluating the hardware for quality and comfort, Magic Leap is still really new and pretty unpolished. The best news is that it's finally here and it is a solid competitor to HoloLens. This competition should yield more technical advances and increasing performance that can only benefit us all in the long term.

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In today’s blog we’ll be diving into a simple but effective Physically Based Rendering (PBR) pipeline for Unity, with an emphasis on Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) applications. For starters PBR pipelines have, until recently, been exclusive to PC and console experiences. But with recent hardware updates and the use of Unity 2018 and other tools, we can now create highly optimized, physically based scenes in Unity while maintaining that ever so important 60 FPS (Frames Per Second).

Also, whether you are new to PBR or not, I highly suggest taking a look at Allegorithmic’s Substance Academy, it should help you get a better understanding of Physically Based Rendering. 

Transforming 3D Assets

Let’s start with the 3d assets. As mentioned, the rule of thumb is to hit a minimum of 60 FPS or the experiences’ performance begins to suffer. If you’re unfamiliar with the requirement of frames per second, it’s essentially a measurement for a device’s display performance. It’s critical in VR because lower frame rates can make users nauseous. In order to create a 60+ FPS experience, you must model your “in game” assets within a reasonable vertex/poly count. This is highly dependent on the complexity of your scene, but a good rule of thumb is to shoot for JUST above mobile quality for any AR/VR experience. The scene complexity is determined by the number of polygons (or how the cool kids say “polys”) are included in the model(s). There are no exact numbers that qualify an asset as “mobile” quality. Assume that the less polys you can get away with, the better. If you have details that can be baked into a normal map, DO IT!

This is where PBR tools like Allegorithmic’s Substance Painter can make a huge difference in terms of quality and authoring time. You can quickly bake your high poly information (normals, AO, curvature, etc.) down into low poly models using Substance Painter. Regardless of your 3D package though, I suggest baking a material ID map (unique colors for each material) so they can be imported into Substance Painter for easier authoring. Substance Painter allows you to paint, bake, and export your final PBR textures into Unity in a highly efficient manner. There is also a texture export preset called “Unity 5” that is built specifically for the Standard Shader in Unity and will ensure that your materials are a 1 to 1 from Substance Painter. For more information on Allegorithmic’s Substance Painter, Substance Designer, and a bunch of helpful tutorials.

Once your final art content is in Unity, the next step will be scene optimization. Assuming you have a complex scene, you can drastically reduce draw calls by using (in my opinion) the most valuable plugin in the entire asset store, Mesh Baker.

This plugin will allow you to combine your meshes and create texture atlases which can reduce your draw calls by up to 90%. This, combined with baking lighting can help take your AR/VR experiences to the next level in terms of quality and performance. Overall this process allows for more efficient rendering, in turn creating high quality assets in a shorter time frame. 

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Altoura XR Platform : Studio 216 - YouTube

A visual guide to the Altoura XR Platform.

We at Studio216 have worked with numerous clients to visualize their built and unbuilt spaces in the nascent but powerful Extended Reality (XR) medium. Based on the great feedback from both our clients but even more importantly their prospects and customers, it is clear that being able to visualize and understand the spaces before they are built can lead to accelerated sales. With this in mind, we started an effort, a few months back to simplify the on-boarding of such spaces into XR, thus the Altoura platform was born.

In a nutshell, Altoura XR allows users to collaborate on spatial design and visualizations using the Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) platform and Azure. Let’s take a deeper look at the key features of our XR platform...

Shared Experiences + Collaboration

After a space is on-boarded into the Altoura cloud, it becomes available to anyone running the app on HoloLens, WMR or a Surface device. If you’re not a headset owner or dislike wearing them, our platform supports computers running on Windows 10. In the headset-less experience you’re able to move throughout the virtual spaces much like a video game, using the keyboard and mouse to interact.

When you launch the app, you can choose to create or join a session. If multiple users join the same session, they can be virtually present in that space together and interact with each other— even if they are physically on different continents. The platform distinguishes between platforms and multiple users through avatar representations. With integrated VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), users can also talk to each other from within the app. Imagine being in an unbuilt office space with the agent, tenant broker and client virtually, and discussing the layout and design options.

   Spatial Design + Visualization

Altoura allows users to quickly choose and view design options. These can range from various testfits or more aesthetic changes like flooring types, paint color choices etc. Users can also add, move or delete various furniture items for a more ad-hoc design change. All changes are instantly visible to every user in the session. With our methodology, we are able to incorporate actual or realistic background context and produce photorealistic spaces that mimic the design options. This allows clients the opportunity to make decisions with a higher level of confidence instead of looking at 2D plans for design options.

Using Altoura XR we are able to easily and cost effectively load your spaces into any Windows Mixed Reality headset, in turn allowing you to collaborate seamlessly, present to your prospects in an innovative way and close sales faster.

 Interested in bringing XR into your company? Reach out

Bharat Ahluwalia is the CTO of Studio216. Studio216 is a immersive technology agency focused on VR/AR/MR for the enterprise. 

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Companies across multiple segments see augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology, commonly referred to under the umbrella term cross reality (XR), as a means to improving the productivity of their operations.

According to a survey by ABI Research, 75 percent of businesses expressed some level of interest in augmented reality, with 40 percent of respondents in the manufacturing sector already having implemented the technology in their operations.

XR can be attractive to companies in the construction industry in much the same way that it has been beneficial to manufacturing enterprises. Both before and during the construction, XR gives a project team a view of the built environment before a single shovel of dirt is turned.

This past week I was in the midwest presenting to several engineering and construction firms about current and future XR trends in the industry. We discussed the pros and cons of using XR on and off the job site, and how to leverage each to their maximum potential. To summarize, there are three general buckets of opportunity to explore: safety, coordination of trades and efficiency improvements.     

Safety. While worker safety on the job site has greatly improved over the last decade, any injury or fatality is one too many. XR has the potential to mitigate accidents through better training, monitoring and even eliminating placing people in dangerous situations.

"By simulating a construction environment, workers can benefit from hands-on learning in a safe, low-risk environment."

Training workers in a virtual, full-scale immersive environment is a clear and direct opportunity. By simulating a construction environment, workers can benefit from hands-on learning in a safe, low-risk environment. Using statistics of job site injuries, companies can identify dangerous situations and allow workers to identify and rehearse best-practices, all from the safety of their MR headset. For instance, a crane simulation can give workers practice in handling heavy machinery without the possibility of hurting themselves or others.

Oftentimes injuries are the result of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Using IoT and jobsite cameras, we can detect the movement of workers and correlate them to our digital model of the construction site. When personnel enter restricted or dangerous areas, alerts can be posted and assessed in the virtual twin. Workers in danger are immediately contacted and removed from the situation.

We can also impact the exposure to danger by reducing the number of people who must be in hazardous situations. For example, teams working in nuclear facilities can reduce exposure by incorporating a HoloLens on the jobsite. While one worker enters the high risk area wearing a HoloLens, other team members may observe and communicate at a safe distance.

The coordination of trades can benefit from incorporating augmented content on the job site.  Building trades can be visualized to assess potential conflicts and mistakes as well as discuss construction sequencing. Viewers in the headset can collaborate by walking the floor and discussing these digital overlays. This information becomes much easier to consume at full scale in a three-dimensional environment vs. looking at a flat computer screen.  

Even in the pre-construction phase, XR can help architects, engineers, and general contractors, as well as their customers, visualize designs and construction plans. Traditionally, this information is displayed in two-dimensional drawings, which is not a natural means to understanding spatial data.

With XR, users can preview buildings in three-dimensional models. In AR, users can view a dollhouse model on a tabletop while maintaining eye contact with others in the room. In VR, users can take a 360-degree walkthrough of what the interior of a building will look like when constructed.  

Construction workers are also interested in efficiency gained by using augmented tools to speed their work. For example, digital overlays can be used to layout an intricate grid of rebar, review complex 3D forms before a concrete pour or verify structural elements are plumb and in the correct location.

In addition, remote collaboration can be useful in creating efficiencies in the field by minimizing delays. If a worker has a question about a certain procedure, they can initiate a video call with an expert offsite. A device like the HoloLens can allow experts to see what workers’ point of view through the embedded camera and guide them through complex processes in real time.

XR is transforming the construction industry. Headset manufacturers are working to get the necessary OSHA ratings to allow headsets on construction sites. Battery capacity, computing power, increased field of view and the display brightness are all factors that make an impact on the usefulness of the tool.

We are big fans of the Microsoft HoloLens as well as the Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) headsets. The HoloLens is a cord free, self-contained mobile AR device that allows users to naturally interact with one another and their environment. If the limited field of view is a factor, we suggest our client’s explore the WMR device. While corded and dependant upon a PC computing source, it is has high visual quality and total immersion. In either choice, there is a pain free mechanism to port the content into either device.

XR is often referred to as immersive computing, and that description succinctly sums up why the technology can help revolutionize the construction industry. From architectural renderings to engineering blueprints, XR can help design and construction professionals see a building before it is built.

Jamie Fleming is the CEO of Studio216. Studio216 is a immersive technology agency focused on VR/AR/MR for the enterprise. 

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VR is the hottest new trend in real estate marketing right now and everybody wants to ride the wave. But immersive technology is also new and unfamiliar territory for most people in CRE. So how do you dive in without drowning in the sea of confusing options?

The technology can work magic driving rates and accelerating lease up ­ but the key is choosing the right kind of experience so your audience feels informed and empowered. Let’s cut through the noise and talk about virtual reality and how to get the most out of it for your real estate marketing campaign.

Virtual reality refers to a completely immersive experience in which the user dons a headset and is transported to a “virtual” representation of your project. Depending on the type of content created, these worlds present users 2 types of experiences: The first type is called “panoramic”. In this experience, the user stands in a stationary location and can look all around (think of being in the underwater submarine capsule at Disneyland). The second type of experience is much more like a video game and is called a “walkable” experience. Users have the ability to move through and navigate their virtual world, explore behind walls and turn hidden corners.

Copyright, studio216 Inc

What implications do each of these two options have in marketing real estate? First and foremost is the cost. Creating a panoramic experience is faster and cheaper than creating walkable experiences. Why? Because panoramic content can be generated by simply stitching together traditional still photographs. This works for both photos of existing buildings as well as photo “renderings” of spaces that don’t yet exist. If you have been using traditional photos and renderings to market your project, why not ask your provider to create a panorama that offers your clients a fun and impactful virtual experience instead?

The second implication is empowerment. While panoramas are fun and relatively inexpensive to create, they limit the extent a user can explore and actively engage their environment. A walkable experience is not a passive one; it demands the user make choices and quickly reveals the aspects of the project the user finds most compelling. This information is invaluable as it gives the broker an insight into what is motivating their client.

The final consideration of whether to create panoramic or walkable experiences for your client is control. Do you want to script the user’s experience and limit them to a confined area, or do you want to hand them the keys to the car and allow them to follow their curiosity and desire? Researchers have shown that our memories are indelibly linked to spatial cognition. In other words, we remember environments we walk through better than those we passively observe. Hence, allowing your client to walk through virtual space may create a more lasting impression of your project.

What is right for your next marketing campaign? Knowing your options will help you tailor a solution that is just right for you and your client and maximize your return on investment.

Copyright, studio216 Inc

Jamie Fleming is the CEO of Studio216. Studio216 is a immersive technology agency focused on VR/AR/MR for the enterprise. 

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An equerectangular still from the 360 VR Video "Zapallar Chile" from director Carlos Key, currently in production after the Key family's spring break visit to Chile.

While video games have dominated virtual reality content, 360 video is on the rise and is a key element in stoking popularity among early adopters and VR enthusiasts.  Live music, sporting events and travel content have lead the way, with companies like NextVR, Jaunt and LittleStar raising capital and making deals with the NBA, Conde Nast and ABC News to deliver VR experiences.  

While watching 360 video in VR headsets is compelling, often the quality of the video is still very low and hard to watch.  A lot of that has to do with the way the files are created, compressed and delivered.  Pixvana, a Seattle VR startup, founded by Forest Key, has some of the answers to these problem and is one of the early pioneers in 360 video. Pixvana has created a new cloud-based platform for creating and delivering ultra high-resolution VR video, empowering content creators and businesses who use VR for communication.  

I recently had the chance to ask Forest what his thoughts were about the future of VR and the interesting trends he sees on the horizon.  Below is a summary of of his perspectives.


Forest Key | Pixvana

Forest Key is founder CEO of Pixvana, a Seattle based VR startup that is focussed on video processing and delivery to "XR" headsets/applications as a cloud infrastructure service layer. Forest was previously the founder and CEO of buuteeq inc., a SaaS marketing automation provider to hotels, which was acquired by Priceline and now operates as BookingSuite, a division of Booking.com.  As a product manager he worked on both Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Flash and has been involved in web video core technology since the inception of the medium.  He started his career in the visual effects / CGI space as a CGI artist while working at Lucasfilm.  Forest studied History and Film at UCLA and is a alum of Palo Alto High School.


Q1: When will VR AR MR go 'mainstream'? How long will it take to get there?

The verbose answer is that when i think about the vr/ar/mr technologies going mainstream i think of "XR"--as in "x-reality".   VR and AR only exist as separate concepts today because the headsets are quite distinct and in their prototype phases.  100m consumers are not going to buy these headsets, rather, a device that is a few years out that we haven't seen yet but that we in the field clearly anticipate.  This "XR" headset will be able to switch between VR (opaque) and AR (transparent) modes that either replace or augment the "reality" of the world around us.  The XR headset will be lighter, cheaper, and better than anything we have on the market today, and be akin to the first "iPhone" like product that gains mass adoption.  Everything between now and then is just dress-rehearsal, where software companies like Pixvana are building out our underlining platforms and tools to get ready for these XR devices.  The short answer -- 5 years.

Q2: What currently are the most interesting trends in the VR AR MR (XR) space?

I think there are 3 primary trends in XR: the innovation in hardware, software, and content.

In hardware we are seeing a rapid improvement in the power/weight/cost of head-mounted-displays for both AR and VR, and i think we can expect a 2x better, 50% cheaper trends for several years.  For example--in 2018 we will have sub $400 6-degrees-of-freedom headsets on the market, down from 2x that price a year ago.  This is going to be driven largely by Microsoft, who are introducing a bevy of features in Windows that will make building a great VR/AR headset that runs on Windows much more cost-effective and high quality.

In software everything is in play because almost nothing is currently available.  Pixvana is building an XR Video production and publishing pipeline--think of Quicktime in mid 1990s.  Others are building social interaction layers, communication stacks, game engines... all the pieces necessary for the eventual build out of the killer apps in the ecosystem.

And in content creative teams are just starting to experiment with what makes a killer experience in the medium.  Just like when the film camera was invented in the 1890s, the first experiments have more to do with what we know from our prior experience with games and movies, and less to do with what actually will be the killer content in this new medium.  It will take several years of iteration to nail the unique vernacular and syntax for how to tell a great story in XR and create XR specific user experiences that are compelling to consumers.

Q3: How do you see XR Video capture and distribution evolving and what is it that most companies are missing?

XR Video depends on innovations in the cameras, the software tools to create stories, and in the creative advancements in the stories themselves. 

Today the cameras are very primitive and mostly are hacks of existing cameras into rigs/arrays that allow 360 degree coverage.  A great example of these is the GoPro based cameras, that actually do a pretty darn good job and can capture a 8k 360 degree video if you know how to use them.  Facebook, Google, and Jaunt have built cameras that use as many as 16 separate lenses and sensors and then try to extract stereo depth maps to create 3d video--these generally are very complex and only work some of the time.  In ~5 years we'll have phone based 360 capture cameras in our pockets, that will not only capture the Red Green and Blue light information from the scene, but also the depth and volume information--what is called "volumetric" or "light-field" video, which has the added benefit of depth and realism that really makes for "oh my god that's cool" VR Video experiences.  Before then, we'll likely see very good, purpose designed cameras from the likes of Sony, Canon, and Nikon--traditional camera manufacturers.

Software tools for creating and publishing VR Video need to be re-thought for XR specific mediums.  XR Video needs to be 10k or higher resolution so that the effective resolution of the video in your field-of-view in the headset is high enough resolution to fill the headsets screen--this is a requirement that really pushes legacy production workflows that have been focussed on 2k and sometimes 4k.  A 10k resolution video pipeline entails 10x the processing and thus really slows down the creative experimentation.  Pixvana is building all of these production tools as cloud systems, where we can spin-up 100 processors to render a job, and thus bring the interactivity back into the process so that a storyteller can experiment and quickly try different ways to edit a story and get it down to the headset for viewing at high quality.

And when it comes to content, we are already seeing great VR Videos being made by the likes of traditional media companies like the New York Times (who are making a 360 video every day of the week, usually on documentary/news subjects) and native VR only media companies like Within or WeVR (who are creating VR native stories and series).  What is uniquely compelling about the XR medium is the sense of empathy and presence that you can give the viewer--sports, concerts, celebrity encounters, and documentary films are some of the early use cases that are undoubtedly compelling--but more time and experimentation is needed.

Forest's teenage son, director Carlos Key, shooting a documentary VR film about the town of Zapallar Chile using a VR video camera, the GoPro Omni

Key Take Aways

  • VR/AR/MR technologies will converge into an xR Headset that will be able to switch between VR (opaque) and AR (transparent) modes.  Once this happens we will start to see mainstream consumer adoption.
  • We can expect to see lighter, cheaper and smaller VR hardware as software companies and content providers try to figure out how to deliver compelling experiences and set the stage for the next killer VR app.
  • Advances in XR Video will depend primarily on innovations in the cameras, the software tools to create stories, and in the creative advancements in the story-telling.
     

Huge thanks to Forest Key for agreeing to contribute his thoughts and ideas to this interview.

Boaz Ashkenazy is Co-founder of @Studio216.  Studio216 is a immersive technology agency focused on VR/AR/MR for the enterprise.   He is also a dynamic entrepreneur, speaker and writer from Seattle who is examining and envisioning the future of immersive technologies. Boaz can be reached at boaz@studio216.com or on twitter @boazashkenazy

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When I visited Mortenson Construction in Kirkland last month to see what Will Adams and his colleagues were up to I was surprised and impressed with the level and quality of the VR experiences that a small team inside a construction firm was producing.  It was also interesting to see how building contractors were providing value to their clients through simulation and visualization.  The approach reminded me of how Milwaukee's Gilbane Construction and their VR lead Lucas Richmond, employs VR to tell client stories and add value.   In many ways general contractors have taken control of the BIM process, coordinating the exchange and updating of building models alongside architects.  I see similar things happening within VR/AR and from what I see many contractors are currently way ahead of others in the AEC community.

Another trend I witnessed on a recent trip to Hewitt Architects in Seattle was how quickly architecture firms are embracing 360 renderings and photosphere creation using tools built into their existing modeling software.  When I spoke to Rene Fresquez it was clear that he was able to rapidly create 360 renderings and was eager to spread the word across his firm.  One of the challenges many of these firms face is deploying VR technology firm wide and educating others in the process of VR creation.  It is also interesting to consider how one distributes and shares all the content to clients and stakeholders.  

I had the pleasure of asking Will and Rene what they think about the future of VR in their respective fields and below are their insights and answers.  Enjoy.


Will Adams | Mortenson Construction

Will Adams was pursuing his masters of architecture at the University of Minnesota when he discovered virtual reality (VR) and its potential to impact design and construction. He began researching real-world applications of the medium with Mortenson Construction, which is headquartered in Minneapolis and has an ongoing partnership with the University. Eventually, Mortenson enlisted Will's help to develop VR, AR, and MR tools which assist project teams in visualizing and simulating buildings before they are constructed, assisting decision making and avoiding costly changes.

Q.   How is VR AR and MR currently implemented in your firm's everyday practice?

A.   We are currently using primarily VR and AR In everyday practice. In our view, VR is a more mature technology and so we’re focusing primarily on how we can use VR to add value to our customer’s businesses, improve communication between stakeholders on our projects, and be able to do more with less. Specifically, we’re using building information models, which have become ubiquitous in the AEC industry, as a starting point for our environments. Depending on our use case, we continue to develop the environment. For instance, if our customer is a stadium owner who needs to sell premium seats and suites, we’d be adding detail, custom interaction, materiality, etc.  We’ll train the owner’s staff on the use of VR hardware and the specifics of the environment we produced for them, and they will use it as a sales tool. We have also had great success using VR in a mockup replacement capacity. During construction of projects, it’s often necessary to build physical mockups of spaces that will be repeated. This serves as a design review tool, it’s a way to get decisions made, and gives the project team an opportunity to practice installation before working on the final product. The problem with physical mockups is that they are wasteful, expensive, and difficult to change once they have been built.
 
We’re also investing R&D time into AR, as we see it as a technology with a greater high-end potential than VR. We’re currently working with the University of Washington to provide a mobile based AR experience which will allow students to visualize the end result of a project which is just beginning construction as they walk by the job site. We’re also working on tools which are specific to the construction process, and providing our craftspeople with real-time immersive access to building model information while they’re in the field.


Q.  What are the elements about VR AR MR that get you the most excited?

A.   There are so many things we’re excited about, because we feel that where we’re at in terms of technology right now, is just the tip of the iceberg. In terms of VR, we’re really excited in the near term for wireless headsets, lighter and smaller headsets, inside-out tracking, full body tracking, and technology that enhances the social aspects of the experience. In terms of AR, we’re really looking forward to headsets with more processing power and larger fields of view. In my opinion, we’ll see a convergence of VR and AR in one piece of hardware, and VR and AR will no longer be separate things – they’ll be settings on a continuum. Overall, I’m just excited to see how this technology transforms the AEC industry.

Q.  What trends to do you see related to AR VR MR and how long do you think it will take to for VR AR MR execution to become mainstream?

A.   Right now, I see specific people who are passionate about technology in design taking on VR as a nights and weekends project. I expect that bigger contractors will start to invest more intentionally in the technology quite soon. An interesting thing about VR/AR/MR is that it requires so much customization to do it well that the traditional, one-size-fits-all type of program that virtual design and construction practitioners typically utilize doesn’t really work well. It’s necessary to be at least somewhat facile with coding and using software development tools. It also doesn’t seem to work very well to just take someone who’s never worked in the AEC industry but knows software development and ask them to develop AEC focused VR/AR – you need to understand the way things work in the industry, the tools that are used, and what problems need to be solved. I think we’ll see more mainstream execution of VR in a couple years as the investments that construction companies start to make now coalesce into industry-standard tools. 

DOWNLOAD A VR HOTEL CASE STUDY

 

Rene Fresquez | Hewitt Architects

Rene has nine years of design experience working as collaborative team leader providing skilled and creative 3D design and analysis that helps his clients visualize and better understand what their completed projects will be. He is involved in projects from inception to completion carrying designs from development through building occupancy.  At Hewitt, and in his personal life, Rene is a enthusiastic advocate for the immense possibilities in design, creation and revolution that mixed reality technology offers. 


Q.  How does Hewitt currently implement VR AR MR in their everyday practice? 

A.  We are currently using some very simple out of the box stereo panorama tools to get panospheres of our Revit projects and view them with cardboard style headsets. We have some exciting stuff planned, including what I believe will be the first use of VR viewing in the context of a Seattle Design Review meeting; as well as developing an in-house augmented reality app for select projects.

Q. What are the elements about VR AR MR that get you the most excited? 

A.  Personally, the most exciting aspect for myself as a designer is the ability to quickly inhabit a design idea.  We are getting to the point where we have virtual presence within our digital models and can improve our designs based on that experience.  Imagine taking a client on a virtual stroll through a design before the project even breaks ground!  That is exciting.  If the old adage of “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings true, then how many words is a virtual world worth?
 
Q.  What trends to do you see among contractors related to AR VR MR and how long do you think it will take to for VR AR MR execution to become really mainstream? 

A.  The biggest trend I see right now is not too surprising, which is to use VR as a looking glass.  The majority of architects that I have seen using AR/VR are still at the observation stage.  While I believe that walk-throughs and presentations are easily the most direct application to our industry, I can imagine so many other ways of using the technology - from real time consultant collaboration to virtual design engines allowing us to build our digital models from the inside out.

When do I think it will become mainstream?  That is hard to say.  2016 was supposed to be the year of virtual reality but thanks to hardware limitations and compelling use cases, that did not happen in a substantial way. The current tethered experiences while impressive in their quality still make for a high upfront cost and are hard to get in front of a client.  I think as WebVR and mobile VR mature those will really help with mainstream adoption.

Rene Fresquez recently won first prize in the 'Digital Cities' category at the Seattle AEC Hackathon for Site Sight - A mixed reality application for visualization of open data sets and their effect on the built environment.  

 

kEY TAKE AWAYS
 

Take Away 1:  A huge amount of excitement and anticipation exists around developing a lighter, wireless form factor that can be deployed in the field and empower blue collar workers, on site, to easily access three dimensional digital information.

Take Away 2:  There is a desire for a convergence of VR and AR into one headset with seamless transitions between holograms and fully immersive first-person perspectival content.  Being able to quickly change scales is critical for users to understand the space and its details.

Take Away 3:  The distribution of virtual reality will transition from a closed console based system to an open-source web based experience.  Client will receive links through webVR tools and experience VR on their personal devices directly in a browser.  This will enable sharing and allow for virtual reality to scale.


Big thanks to Will and Rene for agreeing to contribute their thoughts and ideas.

Boaz Ashkenazy is CMO and co-founder of @Studio216.  Studio216 is a immersive technology agency focused on VR AR MR for the enterprise.   He is also a dynamic entrepreneur, speaker and writer from Seattle who is examining and envisioning the future of immersive technologies. Boaz can be reached at boaz@studio216.com or on twitter @boazashkenazy

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At the end of January, I was invited to sit on a panel and present my thoughts to the Society for Marketing Professional Services in Seattle.  The panel focused on the value of virtual reality on the AEC industry and what the future of virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality holds.  I discussed some of the work that Studio 216 is doing as an agency and tried to relate case studies to the current state of immersive technology.  It was helpful to provide the historical context before establishing where I see future trends developing.

“We are very early in the game and its exciting to see all the changes taking place in hardware, software, user interface and distribution platforms.  I am particularly interested in how we build virtual and augmented ‘tools not toys’ for integration into every day business practices. ”

 
Currently content creation is dominated by video game and entertainment companies, but with new interest in augmented reality, we are starting to see startups and established companies hungry for enterprise applications to solve big problems and pain points.  Some of these applications include design, collaboration, training, education, recruitments and sales.

I had the pleasure of sitting on the panel with individuals from two great AEC companies in the greater Seattle area, Weber Thompson and GLY Construction , that are leading the way in implementing virtual reality and mixed reality in their practice.  Following our presentation, I asked Cody Lodi, Heather Skeehan and Adam Cisler a few questions related to VR AR and MR execution inside their firms along with overall trends they perceive in the architecture and construction space.   Below are their thoughts and predictions.


Cody Lodi | Weber Thompson

Cody is an Architect with ten years of experience envisioning, managing and executing projects ranging from Living Building commercial offices to single family residences, with a focus on mixed use and multifamily residential work of all scales. He is passionate about exploring new and emerging technologies and believes that VR and AR could fundamentally alter and improve the way architects communicate spatial experience, leading to happier clients and a higher quality built environment.

 

Q.   How is VR AR and MR currently implemented in your firm's everyday practice?

A.   We are mostly using VR to inform design decisions and market our projects either directly for our clients or for design festivals and other external events. We are using an HTC Vive headset that we can connect directly to our Revit models to “walk” the spaces to better understand scale, views and design opportunities. We can also export 360 degree panoramas that clients can pull up on their smartphone and view remotely. We have done this for installations at the Seattle Design Festival and the SAF architecture model exhibit.


Q.  What are the elements about VR AR MR that get you the most excited?

A.   VR is a game changer for communicating design to clients and the community. The immersive connection you can have to virtual space allows us to level the playing field when presenting and critiquing our architecture and interior design work. At times our profession has difficulties translating architectural design and concepts in a clear way to a non-designer, like a client or a community group. VR allows them to see it for themselves which gets you more than half-way there. 

AR and MR have a lot of promise but the tech isn’t there yet. The Hololens is a great product but feels like more of a proof of concept or beta tech. The field of view is much smaller than VR headsets and limits the immersive experience of the technology. I’m sure the next waves of AR will come closer to fully stitching the tech into our daily applications. For example, I see great things coming for construction administration, overlaying design documents and models onto spaces while they are being built to identify inconsistencies before they become a problem.

Q.  What trends to do you see related to AR VR MR and how long do you think it will take to for VR AR MR execution to become mainstream?

A.   From the design perspective, I see virtual, augmented and mixed reality as a way to see space through someone else’s eyes. Scale and the viewer’s position in the virtual world can be manipulated to match your audience. Universal and accessible design is a big part of what we do at Weber Thompson and being able to move through a space from the point of view of someone in a wheel-chair can give you a new perspective on the use of that space. 

Heather Skeehan and Adam Cisler | GLYHeather Skeehan

Heather, a registered architect, is a Design Manager at GLY who facilitates a more seamless relationship between the worlds of design and construction. She leverages technology as a truly interactive platform to confirm examinations, reflect decisions made by the entire design team, suggest more effective ways to execute building in the field, minimize waste, and efficiently schedule and communicate project development.

Adam Cisler

Adam Cisler is a project engineer at GLY, who is also leading the research and development of augmented and virtual reality for the company. He is passionate about 3D modeling and emerging technology, particularly augmented reality and the jobsite of the future.


Q.  How does GLY currently implement VR AR MR in their everyday practice? 

A.  Heather: Spherical photography is being implemented into every projects (with Holobuilder). We are supplementing this with use of stero-panoramic renderings from Revit for clarification of certain static rooms. One project is implementing gamified walk-throughs as part of the final clash sign off with the architect and design team, getting the geometry more easily into more hands. Tests of HoloLens capabilities are ongoing. 

A.  Adam: As a project engineer actively working on project coordination while also heading up the R&D or AR/VR/MR here at GLY,my day to day involves lots of experimentation and re-imagining of existing and historical practices. I have a HoloLens and a Vive and am using them in some capacity daily - from AR overlays on site for visual clash detection and documentation in RFIs to using the Vive with Revit.  I’ve also been pushing the boundaries of what the Sketchup Viewer App can do in the HoloLens, getting to the point of 4D visualizations on site. Its really quite amazing the amount of possibilities with the hardware and software currently available.

Q. What are the elements about VR AR MR that get you the most excited? 

A.  Heather: Mixed reality is hands down what we are most excited about. Being able to have the model information easily accessibly while in the field is an invaluable resource for coordination, constructability reviews, and QC walks. 

A.  Adam: Augmented reality is a huge focus this last year. I’m excited for that time when the hardware proliferates, the field of view is no longer an issue and file size does not create a trade off between realism and conceptual massing.  I’m excited about the tech evolving to the point where AI and game engine concepts are driving the experiences and it will know where I am on the job site at all times.   I'm also waiting for a time when all relevant project information 2D/3D/4D will be persistent in place for constant use by all members of the construction team, cutting down on mistakes and preventing accidents through overlay of work plan and safety specific data.
 
Q.  What trends to do you see among contractors related to AR VR MR and how long do you think it will take to for VR AR MR execution to become really mainstream? 

A.  Heather: I see spherical photography as more of a “duh of course we do that” and beginning to see gamified experiences out of several of our competitors.. As far as it becoming mainstream, I think that is reliant on the tools becoming more reliable and easier to use. It can’t be just the VR wizard in the corner making these cool experiences. It has to be something that can be plugged into the day to day work flow of all the project engineers, which is what we are currently seeing with spherical photography. I appreciate tools that are easy to use, easier to access, and that make the immediacy of the tool so more apparent to even those who are less tech savvy. 

A.  Adam: There will be normalization in the next 1-3 years of certain practices and hardware usage. In 3-5 years we will see bigger jumps in usage and a lot of the infrastructure and core technologies will be baked. There is real value with the tech as it is now, but a focus on the user experience and intuitiveness for the average user is crucial for the technology to scale.  Construction firms should be educating themselves now on the different emerging and developing technologies and advanced visualization and communication techniques in order to facilitate an overall mixed reality strategy in preparation of a likely potential 'monitor-less' future. After using this tech for a while, I believe implementation of VR and AR technology is a logical progression for the construction industry and has the potential to save time and money, clearing up miscommunication across the design / build / operate spectrum.
 

Take Aways

It's always important to hear from folks on the ground that are implementing immersive technology on a daily basis.  I'm excited that, in both the architecture and construction industry, we are seeing passionate individuals pushing boundaries within there firms and testing the possibility of virtual reality and augmented reality against client needs.  I see several key take aways that are common to both verticals.  
 

Take Away 1:  Rendered photospheres are increasingly becoming easy to create and share with clients.  BIM and other modeling programs are making it easier to export and create 360 content and clients are getting much more accustomed to using headsets like Google Cardboard to view and experience mobileVR.  Look for 360 photo and video technology to improve considerably as new distribution tools make it easier to share.

Take Away 2:  Augmented reality using HoloLens is slowly becoming adopted by firms, as software platforms allow for existing BIM models to communicate more easily with AR headsets.  Multi-Lens experiences with multiple stakeholders for team collaboration differentiate augmented reality from virtual reality and will continue to grow. 

Take Away 3:  Both industries, architecture and construction, see the future growth in the augmented reality space.  Allowing users to quickly create scaled simulations and first person perspectives will enable a huge amount of efficiency and cost saving over the long term.


Big thanks to Cody Lodi, Heather Skeehan and Adam Cisler for agreeing to contribute their thoughts and ideas about a very exciting new medium!

Boaz Ashkenazy is co-founder of @Studio216.  Studio216 is a immersive technology agency focused on VR AR MR for the enterprise.  Boaz can be reached at boaz@studio216.com or on twitter @boazashkenazy

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Boaz Ashkenazy and Jamie Fleming show KIRO 7 News anchor Linzi Sheldon how prospective buyers or renters can tour a condo or apartment, as well as amenities like a roof deck and fitness center, before the building even goes up.

Read the Full Kiro7 NEws Story

KIRO 7 NEWS AT STUDIO216 HQ

It was a pleasure to host Linzi Sheldon and Kiro 7 News in our offices in Seattle to discuss how virtual reality is impacting enterprise businesses, especially real estate and architecture.  We had a chance to demo the HoloLens, the Oculus Rift, Gear VR and an interesting new augmented reality experience that allows physical architectural drawing to come to life.

“Virtual reality is no longer the stuff of games; it is quickly altering the landscape of industries like health care, real estate, and tourism, and Seattle has become a virtual reality hub. But will the technology change our lives as many in the industry promise?”
— Linzi Sheldon, Kiro 7 News

Many companies in the Seattle area are beginning to focus on virtual reality and augmented reality and I am excited to see the industry grow.  At Studio 216 we are intensely interested in understanding how to build 'tools not toys' to empower enterprise businesses to solve very big problems and impact peoples lives..

Jamie Fleming and Lizi Sheldon demo the 505 Nashville Condominiums in Oculus Rift.

““The minute that people get these headsets and start to see the benefits to their lives with normal applications— they’re going to get it,””
— Boaz Ashkenazy

Linzi and Boaz sat down to discuss the impact of virtual reality on businesses and consumers and how digital agencies like Studio 216 is responding.

VR AND BURN PATIENTS

The Kiro 7 News team also ventured out to Harborview Medical Center to find out how virtual reality is helping burn patients through painful wound care procedures.  Seventy patients a year are using SnowWorld, developed by the University of Washington to experiment on how to reduce pain using VR technology and are seeing great results.


VR FILM MAKING

The provincial tourism industry in British Columbia is using virtual reality to create VR films to attract tourists and pique there interest in experiencing new destinations. In the State of Washington a local film studio, Mechanical Dreams, is putting together a virtual reality 360 video in partnership with Washington Film Works that features different areas around the state.

THE FUTURE IS IMMERSIVE

I am very excited about the future of immersive technology and pleased to see the growth in Seattle among agencies and studios that are working hard to see how far they can push the industries of construction, education, training, law, architecture and real estate.

I believe there is a future where consumers will see such a huge impact on their lives from virtual reality that they will wonder how they ever got a long with out it.

““I think there’s a future where — if you’re going to do a second-story remodel or any kind of remodel, it will be very common for you to test it in virtual reality first, just to make sure,” he said. “Over a certain price point, everyone will want to make sure it’s going to be the way they want it.””
— Boaz Ashkenazy, Studio 216

Boaz Ashkenazy is co-founder of @Studio216 an immersive technology agency focused on VR AR MR for the enterprise.  Boaz can be reached at boaz@studio216.com or on twitter @boazashkenazy


 

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2016 marked a pivotal year for virtual and mixed reality.  New headsets came to market and consumers began to experience the power of immersive technology.

Last year also saw a marked increase in the amount of content made available on the major platforms and headsets - HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Gear VR, Playstation VR and HoloLens.  Most of the virtual reality content however, was focused on gaming and entertainment and the mixed reality content was limited.  

This post explores how architects and designers leverage virtual and mixed reality and exploit this emerging technology.

VIRTUAL REALITY

For years architects have built 3d models and have been using programs like Autodesk's Revit, Sketchup and 3d Studio Max to visualize space.  Spending a great deal of time in a 3d models all day is nothing new to many architects.

Jumping into virtual reality for architects is a natural transition.  Companies like Autodesk, Iris VR, InsiteVR, Unity and Fuzor are working on providing a smooth transition from 3d modeling programs to VR, so that architects can easily transport their designs into a variety of headsets.

This has huge implications, both on the design process and on architects ability to share their designs early and often with clients and builders.

GEOMETRY DECIMATION

One of the challenges that many architects face is building their 3d models efficiently so they can be easily experienced in VR and MR with high frame rates and low latency, in turn, providing users with a more enjoyable experience.

Inexperienced 3d modelers have difficulty keeping frame rates high and the result can often lead to users feeling sick when traveling through virtual space.

Software like Simplygon and Umbra remove polygons and geometry making models lighter and more efficient for use in immersive environments.

Example of how programs like Simplygon and Umbra can simplify complex 3d geometry.

SHARED EXPERIENCES

After these environments are created correctly, it is also critical to be able to share these experiences in real-time and remotely.  

Sharing a remote experience in a VR headset is a little different than sharing a remote screen.  Some VR startups like Pluto VR, Alt-Space, Morph are working to create a social experience where avatars can meet in virtual space and share virtual experiences.

Shared avatar experiences among design professionals, builders and their clients will become much more mainstream as more virtual content becomes available.  This will make collaboration on projects much easier for all parties.  It is common for architectural drawings to be misinterpreted; catching mistakes and aligning expectations early on will make the building process much more efficient and timely.

Studio 216 collaborate on the Skanska's 2+U Tower in Downtown Seattle using multiple HoloLens'.

MIXED (AUGMENTED) REALITY

One of the new technologies coming to market is Mixed Reality, sometimes referred to as Augmented reality.  Mixed reality is different from virtual reality.  Rather than being transported to a completely different virtual place, architects and designers are able to augment the real world with digital objects.

Digital furniture libraries can be created and dropped into physical spaces to simulate interior design options in real time.  Digital holograms of walls can be placed in the real world and then moved around to give clients an understanding of how a space might be impacted.

Microsoft's HoloLens is one of the first mixed reality headsets that is commercially available and designers are already using the technology in their studios.  Architect Greg Lynn is using HoloLens for his work on the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and thinks that mixed and augmented reality will revolutionize the architecture and design profession.

“Augmented reality technologies on job sites and in factories will, with absolute certainty, change the way buildings are constructed. Therefore it will change the way architects work and will change their role. ”
— Greg Lynn

Greg Lynn explores his Venice Biennale Pavilioin in mixed reality.

WHATS NEXT?

I am already starting to see some of these changes take place in the architecture, construction and engineering industry and it is happening very quickly.

It wasn't long ago that Facebook and Oculus jump-started an entire immersive industry that had been waiting to emerge. 

Architects and designers have been engaging with clients, trying to justify their design approaches, for a very long time.  Now they can walk through and transport their clients directly into their creations, collaborate, catch mistakes and reimagine the future.

Boaz Ashkenazy is co-founder of @Studio216.  Studio216 is a immersive technology agency focused on VR AR MR for the enterprise.  Boaz can be reached at boaz@studio216.com or on twitter @boazashkenazy

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