The Future of VR - Ep1: Interview with Cody Lodi, Heather Skeehan and Adam Cisler of Weber Thompson and GLY Construction

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 | GLY

Heather 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