BIMcrunch Editorial: BIM with Oculus Rift – Revolutionary tool or overhyped fad?

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“You have to try it to understand what it feels like.”

Those were words from BIM.TechnologiesAdam Ward, who conducted an Oculus Rift introductory training presentation at Space Group’s Newcastle HQ a few weeks back. Of course, I listened to him and gave the technology a go. Yet is the virtual reality wearable technology the future of Building Information Modelling or is it just simply a phase that unlike BIM, will just disappear into irrelevance?

How does Oculus Rift work and how can it partner up with BIM? The Oculus Rift is essentially the next level of model immersion; BIM software lets you see what your finished building will look like before the build has even started whereas the Oculus Rift lets you be in your finished building before the build has even started. Pretty nifty.

You attach the state-of-the-art headwear to your head and normality is thrown out of the window. Immediately, you are transported out of regularity and are within the 3D model that you have created. Admittedly, it’s a strange experience for the senses as in actuality you are sat down or stood still, yet virtually, you are moving around a building, walking from room to room. Is that strange sensation a bad thing? It may be a personal preference.

So, you have your complete architectural BIM model and want to attain the next level of engagement with it – how do you transfer the model from your BIM software to the Rift-enabled format?

At the training presentation conducted by Adam Ward, BIM.Technologies’ Technology Director explained the basics of getting to grips with the Rift. In his exemplar, he used an Autodesk Revit building model, yet plenty of other software packages can be linked with Oculus Rift – it is certainly not exclusive to Revit. Don’t worry defensive ArchiCAD users…

Adam stated that the Oculus can handle “almost any size model” and “will work with any version of Autodesk Revit, that doesn’t matter”. From Revit, the model should be taken to Autodesk 3DS Max so that Oculus-enabled textures can be applied. From there, the jazzed-up Max model can then be transferred to Unity, the software the Oculus Rift is compatible with. Other game engines such as Unreal can also work in-tandem with the Oculus Rift and are also harmonious with BIM software, yet for my tutorial, I was introduced to Unity.

The first step is to take the model and apply standard Revit textures to it before the transfer to 3DS Max. “To save yourself hassle in 3DS Max, apply as many standard Autodesk textures in Revit to make the import go smoother”, said Ward.

Once that step is complete, save the file as an fbx, Autodesk’s visual interchange format and then import it to 3DS Max. “You only go into 3DS Max to generate more advanced visuals and convert materials,” added Ward. “Get in and get out as quickly as you can.” An important message here from Ward – there’s no need to waste time at the stage. Convert the materials you added in Revit and then you’re set for Unity.

You have learned what it does and how it works, so now why should you invest in Oculus Rift? There are a plethora of positives that help architects and clients alike. The first is obvious and the technology allows for clients to achieve a level of interactivity that they never have had before. The fact is possible for you to feel like you are walking around your building before a single brick has even been laid in actuality is awesome. A great USP for companies to impress clientele.

It is also great for architects who can lock-on their headset and gain a sense of the space inside their model. They can also find design issues that they may have not been spotted when looking at a BIM model. An increased perspective can never be a bad thing.

Another overlooked positive from my perspective is that it is great for contractors too, who can use the Rift to carry-out health and safety inductions. A Project Manager may wish to show clients or new workers around the site, yet perhaps the floor is unstable in places or some areas are unsafe to walk around. If so, users can instead familiarise themselves with the virtual replica.

It is safe to say that Oculus Rift usage within a BIM workflow has unlimited potential. To showcase a finished building in virtual form to a client would be a majorly cool experience. I was able to walk from a school that BIM.Techologies had designed and it looked excellent. Object families from recognisable names fill up each room and you can even see water running from taps and the repercussions of blowing wind. Although a lot of plug-ins are available right now to make your models as realistic as possible, who know what the future holds? All I can suggest for your future is to consider this investment. Although architects and contractors can also see benefits, the customer gains so much from this technological experience and the customer is most important, right?

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Check out Jack’s past Editorial entries by clicking here.