What I’ve learnt from a year developing VR content

Testing out the offices new VR Room

Almost exactly a year ago I started working full time in the brave new world of mixed reality.

The firm I work for has been at the forefront of adopting virtual and augmented reality technologies in the engineering and built environment space and I was tasked with figuring out how to incorporate this technology into our design workflows.

This post is less about the experience of incorporating the tech into workflows and more about what I’ve found these technologies have enabled us to do.

The first and major realisation for me was the potential to really bring all players in a project onto the same page. Understanding between a design team, a client and a contractor on a building project, for instance is paramount. MR has vast potential to better understanding.

I refer to this as the concept of being able to exist inside an idea.

It seems obvious but I’ve noticed over and over how the conversation around a design changes for the better after exploring that design in VR. All of a sudden the design is tangible and everyone in the room speaks as if the design exists and isn’t just an idea.

What I see this enabling is braver design.

Engineers are notoriously conservative on their designs because, well, they have to be. People’s lives are often at stake. If we know something works, we don’t break it. But what might we be missing when we do the same thing over and over again?

An idea can start in a much wilder place when we can quickly test and iterate. As a result we may uncover methods of construction or highway designs that we never considered before.

Early results from our work have already yielded results in small ways. A traffic intersection is far safer for pedestrians now that designers could walk it themselves. A solar farm will produce more energy than originally intended (at no extra cost) because we watched how the sun moved while virtually on site.

The second thing I’ve realised is that augmented reality is going to change world. It’s not nearly there yet, phone-based AR has it’s uses but is largely still terrible. AR will only be properly useful when it’s in some sort of headset with inside-out tracking that frees the hands up. AR is the most natural interface human’s have concocted between our digital and analog lives.

AR will occupy the operational, day-to-day space in our personal and work lives. VR (at least in engineering) will be the main design and collaboration tool. VR will be used to design the warehouse and it’s systems, AR will be used to manage those systems once they exist.

These are high-level observations but they create shade for a multitude of possibilities to exist under them.

We will keep pursuing those possibilities and I hope you do too.