Visualizing Mars: Integrating BIM and VR

By Fátima Olivieri, Efrie Friedlander, and Rolando Lopez

Rendering of the Mars City Base.

In this article, we will show how information within BIM can be integrated into virtual reality using the Mars City Facility Ops challenge as a case study. We will also share the insights gained while creating an immersive environment for a visionary organization using Revit, Autodesk LIVE, and Stingray.

The Mars Facility Ops Challenge

Mars City was founded by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) to recruit a new generation of professionals capable of working with high performance buildings. The program allows high school students to use building information models (BIM) and facility maintenance tools to manage a virtual base on Mars. Philadelphia-based architecture firm KieranTimberlake enhanced Mars City by using an immersive environment that engages students as they play out various scenarios in virtual reality. Members of the KieranTimberlake Mars City team will highlight challenges and opportunities captured in the case study, as well as broader applications of the workflow in architectural visualization, facilities management, and education.

The Mars City program layout.
Renderings of the Social Hub and Mission Control sectors within Mars City.
The KieranTimberlake Mars City design team in action.

The Role of Virtual Reality

As part of KieranTimberlake’s community involvement initiative, a team of architects and researchers have been evolving the design of this tool in order to create a more engaging and realistic virtual environment in which the Mars City work scenarios can take place. Alongside members from Gilbane Construction Group and Alderson Engineering, the team generated a BIM model in Revit using existing Mars City drawings provided by TLRI. This model then became the framework for the current virtual reality model.

Projects like Mars City that use BIM-based designs can start working before a shovel even hits the ground…

The Mars Facility Ops Challenge can pioneer the role of facility manager in the real world as well as increase exposure to building sciences in the classroom. Because it uses a BIM-based design to inform facilities management, the program Mars City demonstrates a new approach to virtual facilities management that the building industry will be able to adopt as a best practice.

Projects like Mars City that use BIM-based designs can start working before a shovel even hits the ground by compiling a database of more than 85% of the information needed to maintain a building. In the real world, utilizing such data prior to construction allows for more comprehensive facility planning, customizable operations and maintenance staff training, preventive maintenance scheduling, and preemptive disaster planning.

Virtual reality models are also increasingly useful tools for design iteration. Since it allows designers to effortlessly explore the relationship between space and movement, virtual reality offers the unprecedented ability to visually explore and virtually inhabit a building, decreasing the gap between digital design models and physical experiences. In using virtual reality to model potential designs, architects, contractors, and the overall building industry can further understand how design decisions will play out in the real world, giving clients and stakeholders a more holistic understanding of the design.

Using a similar workflow between Revit, Autodesk LIVE, and Stingray that KieranTimberlake’s Mars City team used, teams can move quickly from their working Revit model into a virtual reality environment, allowing them to easily incorporate VR models into their daily design workflow.

A VR headset is used during a Mars City client meeting.

The Path to VR: Workflow Between Revit, Autodesk LIVE, and Stingray

Tools such as Autodesk LIVE help facilitate the use of immersive environments and virtual reality within the design workflow. Because the majority of the architectural design and documentation process increasingly occurs within Revit, Autodesk LIVE provides the vital link to facilitate a streamlined virtual reality workflow directly from the working documentation and design software. For more advanced users, the interoperability between Autodesk LIVE and Stingray allows for increased customization, giving designers the ability to create specific narratives and storylines within the design process in order to craft a comprehensive educational experience.

The diagram below outlines the workflow the KieranTimberlake team established between the BIM model and the Oculus headset virtual reality interactive environment:

1. BIM model geometry and materials are uploaded and processed

2. Collision mapping, lighting, and Revit texture mapping are added in the cloud, and the LIVE model is downloaded to a local machine

3. Data from the Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) is collected within the Dashboard/WebTMA interface

4. Scenarios are inputted into the virtual environment as interactive storylines

5. Entourage is added, scenario-specific objects are animated, and materials are customized

6. Geometry, scenes, scenarios, and interactivity are aggregated and pushed into the virtual reality headset for deployment

The Revit — Autodesk LIVE — Stingray workflow.
An Autodesk LIVE model environment.

Efrie Friedlander, AIA, and Fátima Olivieri, AIA, are co-leaders of KieranTimberlake’s BIM Practices group. They are responsible for integrating novel practices with traditional BIM modeling, and their work has been published in peer-reviewed journals and websites. Alongside Rolando Lopez, they lead the project team for the award-winning Mars City project, a collaboration between KieranTimberlake and the National Institute of Building Sciences.

Learn more with the full class at AU online: Visualizing Mars: Enabling STEM Learning Using Revit, Autodesk LIVE, and Stingray.

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