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Monday, March 20, 2017

Virtual Reality and Revit in the Real-World ( Success Story with HTC Vive & Enscape 3D )




I know every single person who reads this blog is familiar with the explosion of Virtual Reality (VR) over the last few years.  I know, because I have also been saturated with everything "VR". My first personal experience with VR was using Google Cardboard over two years ago...   As you can imagine, VR has come a long way since that post.

Initially, emerging technologies can battle with the concept of pragmatism.  The first thing you hear with something like AR, VR, Dynamo, etc.. is "cool, but how can I use it in the 'real-world'"?

Today, I wanted to talk about a recent real-world experience with VR.  More specifically, with Revit, the HTC Vive, and Enscape 3D.

... Continue reading to hear about the success story and my thoughts on the aforementioned technologies (including a breakdown of the hardware and software we used)...




** Full disclosure, this is a real project with real clients and I have kept the project name, clients, and their faces anonymous for this post (because I did not ask every single person who appears in a photo for their permission).**

Over the last two years or so I have been dabbling in the world of virtual reality.  I've tried the Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear, Microsoft Halolens (yeah... yeah.. I know, it's more "AR"), and the HTC Vive.  As of right now, the Vive has taken the lead in my book.


Why has the HTC Vive taken the lead?



The answer is the simplicity of use and setup.  This could be due to Steam VR (the backend platform the Vive uses), but we had the Vive up and running less than 20 minutes after opening the box. Without trying to sounds negative, the Oculus Rift took a little more effort to get up and running for me.

Great, so now you went out and bought an HTC Vive because of The Revit Kid... Now what about using it with my Revit models?

Similar to the VR headsets, I tried quite a few add-ins and standalone software for viewing Revit models on the HTC Vive.  Here are some brief summaries of the software I tried to connect the Vive and our Revit model.  The goal of this project was to fin a "one-click" solution to viewing models on the Vive.


Testing out the Software


(The following summaries are based on the software's ability to simply take a Revit model and display it in virtual reality.  I am not fully reviewing each piece of software stand-alone.  Additionally, this is not a list of every VR software out there... if you want to add one to the list with your thoughts, please comment below ).


Unity / Unreal / CryEngine:

Most, if not all, of the gaming engines are VR compatible now.  Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit of effort to get your Revit models into these programs to begin with.  For that reason, I didn't even start down this road.  If you are someone who has a quick and efficient workflow you use to get your Revit models into one of the game engines mentioned above it may be worth your effort.


Autodesk 360 Rendering:

Autodesk's 360 Rendering for Revit has always been great to me.  In fact, it is very easy to make a "stationary" 360 degree panorama rendering for Google Cardboard or other VR platforms.  For this project, we wanted to be able to walk through the space so that ruled out A360.


Autodesk LIVE:

Autodesk's new "LIVE" software looks extremely promising.  It appears to be a blend between a real-time rendering software (like Lumion or Artlantis) and the old "Autodesk Showcase".  We wanted to try out Autodesk LIVE with the HTC Vive but we could never get it to actually work.  Even with a single room model we consistently froze when importing and "unpacking" the model in LIVE.  If anyone has experience in Autodesk LIVE, comment below.  Due to a deadline, we gave up after an hour or two of troubleshooting.


V-Ray for Revit:

V-Ray for Revit is constantly evolving.  I plan on reviewing the latest version in the near future.  Similar to Autodesk 360, the only "VR" renderings we could get out of it would be stationary 360 degree panoramas.  These are great, but we were looking for the ability to walk and explore the model.

Lumion: 

Those of you who have followed this blog know how much I love Lumion.  In fact, I am currently drafting an updated review of Lumion 7 (which is AWESOME).  So keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks.

Lumion has some great stationary 360 degree panorama options (called MyLumion).  Even though you are stationary, it is very easy to place "viewpoints" that are clickable and allow you to navigate the model.   Unfortunately, this portion of Lumion is in Beta and we can't get it to work with the Vive yet.  It works awesome with an iPad or and internet browser... My hope is that Lumion will work virtual reality into their already "real-time rendered" workflow.  Being in "Build" mode with VR goggles would be awesome!

IrisVR: 

When we tested out IrisVR with Revit and the HTC Vive we were starting to make huge leaps in the direction we wanted to go with this project.  The ability to enter our models in "one-click" from Revit.  By all accounts, IrisVR's "Prospect" software did exactly what we wanted.

The workflow was simple: install the add-in, click "view in VR".

This is exactly what we wanted.  Not only were we immediately navigating our models in the HTC Vive but we were also able to "mark-up" the model with the Vive controllers.  Very Cool!

The one and only reason we decided to keep looking beyond IrisVR was the rendering quality within the Vive.  IrisVR's Prospect beat all of the programs mentioned above when it came to ease of use with Revit but we weren't that thrilled about the quality and realism of the graphics.  The "immersion" was there but the rendering felt a bit "cartoony".  For that reason, and that reason alone, we decided to try one more piece of software.

And the winner is...


Enscape3D:  

I remember meeting someone from "Inreal Technologies" (the creators of Enscape3D) many years ago at RTCNA (I think it may have been 2015 or 2014).  Back then, Enscape3D was a great concept in the making.  A real-time rendered window that opens while in a Revit session and live-updates with your Revit model.

Unfortunately, when I tried the very early versions of Enscape3D (over two years ago) I ran into tons of crashing problems and rarely ever got it to run.  Eventually, I just kind of moved onto other software and watched from the sidelines as Enscape3D gained traction, evolved, and became more stable.

Well, fast-forward to the present, and I am now an Enscape3D believer.

Just like IrisVR (above), Enscape3D was a "one-click" solution for getting our Revit models into the HTC Vive.  Literally, one-click.

Why did Enscape3D out-class IrisVR (in my opinion)?

The quality of graphics/rendering.

As I watched Enscape3D grow from a great (yet crashing all the time) concept to a staple in the Revit-world I also noticed major improvements in the rendering quality with each release.  Well, after finally jumping back into Enscape3D, I can tell you that I am thoroughly impressed.  Not only are the still image renderings very good (see below), but what you see in the HTC Vive goggles is of the same quality.

Through all of my different software and hardware trials I was disappointed with the graphics within the VR goggles.  They always seemed a bit reduced to me. Think, Playstation 2 versus Playstation 4....  Well, Enscape3D appears to have set the bar for real-time graphics with the HTC Vive directly out of Revit.  Kudos.






Our Complete Autodesk Revit Virtual Reality Setup:


So, before I tell you about the project itself, I have a feeling you will find a list of the full VR Setup we used valuable:

Hardware:


Intel Core i7 7700K Quad-Core 4.2GHz (4.5GHz TurboBoost), Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 8GB, 32GB Ram, Etc...  I have been using this laptop for 3 weeks now and it is an absolute powerhouse.


...For a "Portable Setup" (Thanks for the list, Ben!):

1 - Surge Protector
1 - 25' Extension Cord
1 - Projector or TV for others to see what the person who has the headset on sees (if the room you are using does not have one)

Software:

Latest Version of Autodesk Revit

Enscape3D





The Project: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Mock-Up


Now it's time to talk about the "real-world" case-study of the Revit, Enscape3D, and the HTC Vive.

If you have ever worked in healthcare you know how end-user based the designs have to be.  There are so many people that use the spaces (administrators, patients, family, nurses, doctors, etc..).  With a tight schedule and a bunch of end-user sign-offs required, we were asked to virtually "mock-up" a section of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NNICU) at a local hospital that is being renovated.  The goal was to have working sessions with end-users (nurses, doctors, patients, etc...) and determine the locations of equipment, casework, furniture, and so on...

With a very small investment, virtual reality with the HTC Vive was the obvious solution.  The other option would have been labor intensive physical mock-ups in the field.  Needless to say, those will cost more and add unnecessary waste to the project.

Our Workflow:


My colleague, Derek, and I immediately discovered an efficient workflow.  We both took about two days and modeled the spaces in Revit (with Derek doing a lot of the heavy lifting... thanks man!).  

A snapshot of the Revit model to date...

From there, it was a matter of adding materials, lighting, and miscellaneous details (ie. diffusers, exit signs, etc..).  When it comes to "realism" and "immersion" the little details really help add to the effect.

Another snapshot of the Revit model to date.
While Derek was adding the details I had Ensacpe3D open on my laptop and tweaked the materials/lighting to get the desired image and quality.  The great thing about using Enscape3D is it does not change your workflow.  If you set up your lighting and materials to look great when rendering natively in Revit they will look great in Enscape3D.

Here are two examples of the "renderings" Enscape3D created... Impressive! Those people are the "RPC" replacements and show up in 3D within Enscape...


Enscape3D "Capture" Rendering... Impressive!


To date, we have presented three times to the end-users of this space.  During these meetings, the users would discuss anything from sink locations to where their phones will go on the Nurse's Station.  The client's are so pleased with virtual reality as a tool that we are going to set up at the hospital next week for the entire day while they bring in different users to comment on the space (even some patients, mothers, and fathers, will be coming in).

Here is a photo from one of the meetings:

Nurse exploring her new workplace on the HTC Vive....

Ultimately, the combination of Autodesk Revit, Enscape3D, and the HTC Vive allowed us to save time and money (reducing the amount of labor intensive physical mock-ups), give end-users confidence in the design and feel they were part of the process, and lock-in design decisions quickly to maintain an aggressive construction schedule.

So, next time someone asks you why you want to buy an HTC Vive, here is one story you can tell them...  ;)