Why measuring design using smart Virtual Reality is not only possible but makes good business sense

Can we measure design and if so how does this change how we design places? Our cities? Our neighborhoods?

These are some of the themes being addressed at an upcoming event, MPavillion in Melbourne later this month. No mention is made of the potential of emerging technologies, like virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) and the role they may play in measuring design so with this in mind we thought we would — virtually of course — put together some potential burning questions that might spring to mind in this area and outline our responses.

Call it a virtual panel discussion Snobal style!

Image: Hoddle Street Streamlining

How can VR and AI help help measure design?

There is often a mistaken perception by government and business that think VR isn’t ready yet for business applications.

It’s partly because when people read about VR at the moment it’s typically in terms of its application to gaming. Business ask questions around if VR will add value and ROI to current or future business processes. Or sometimes there is confusion over terms — thinking 360 video is VR for example.

But future focused design & engineering design companies, stakeholder engagement firms, construction companies and product designers are currently using our AI assisted VR — or as we say smart VR — software to collaborate on design and to test those designs with end users or citizens. To track what they think and feel about design — all before it is physically built.

Can you explain this a bit more?

Ok. A high profile example our software is being used on is the Hoddle Street Streamlining.

Hoddle Street is the busiest arterial road in metropolitan Melbourne and the focus of an Australian first continuous flow design to reduce congestion. Community and stakeholder engagement is a critical part of the project managed by VicRoads with its engineering partner, SMEC.

In the Hoddle Street Community Hub our software is now accessible to the public and enables the local community to come into the space and experience in interactive, immersive virtual reality what design will look like when physically built from the perspective of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

Instead of asking people to imagine design our software enables them experience design, with the aim to make the design concepts safer, more enjoyable and more convenient for people to use.

[You can read the more here.]

Image source: SMEC

But what about actually measuring design?

The software also enables designers and engineers to collaborate on design in virtual reality.

To import files, collaborate, take measurements, take photos, capture 360 video of the virtual environment and even experience the traffic modelling through integration with traffic modelling software.

There is also the ability to measure the design.

To track end users interactions in the virtual environment. See what they are interacting with, for how long, what they are looking at and even what they like and don’t like about the design. That’s incredibly valuable when you think about it and something you can’t get from a fly through, architectural drawing or photo.

Designers, city planners, engineers can then use this data to iterate, improve and test design and ensure what is built is the very best it can be.

So are you saying that using VR the community can also potentially collaborate on design with urban planners?

For a long time urban design has been locked up by ‘experts’ — people who can read architectural drawings and 2D maps. Feedback from the community has been done traditionally via stakeholder engagement consultations or public hearings with the use of architectural drawings, written documents, fly-through’s and video to communicate design intent.

Now with VR, engaged citizens and the community can experience the design before its physically built. They can provide informed, what we like to call — lived virtual experience- of the design and share what the like and don’t like about the design before its physically built, enabling their input to become integral to the design.

In fact, our AI assisted VR enables urban planners to effectively empower end users to work with them in helping solve design challenges.

What do you see the future role for VR and urban planning and development?

It will become the standard for design and stakeholder engagement.

Take major infrastructure or urban developments for example. Given how salient VR is for articulating design it’s not too far a leap of the imagination to see that in the near future a time will come when planning authorities will mandate that stakeholders and the community are provided with a VR experience of the design to increase their understanding and to enable lived virtual experience.

It won’t be enough to put a notice in the paper saying plans can be viewed online or direct people to a website and having users download PDFs of the designs or to hold community consultation public hearings to enable input. It will be expected that a virtual experience of the design will be provided. It will be expected that end users can meaningfully provide input and collaborate on the design. And it will be expected that the experience of the virtual environment is tracked and measured and used to improve the design concept ensuring what is eventually built is the very best it can be.

We call it building things better.

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