I recently posed the question, Are We Virtually Ready?. I wrote this article in response to reading about the exciting things announced and showcased at this year’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC). After all these years, the Trons, the Enterprise Holodeck, Jarvis on Ironman, are we now on the cusp of virtual reality becoming mainstream? Or maybe it already is mainstream and I didn’t know?
One company that believes we are ready for VR is WorldViz. The company was founded in 2002, long before many of the current headsets were even ideas on the drawing board. It’s a privately held company that specializes in the development and delivery of virtual reality (VR) hardware, software and custom solutions. Though they’ve been around for some time, Intel invested several million dollars into WorldViz in a 2015 Series A to help accelerate their growth in their core enterprise markets.
WorldViz comes from very interesting history. Its VR technology started to take shape in the 90’s at MIT and later at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as human cognition and visual perception researchers began to investigate how VR could be used to answer specific scientific questions. One such researcher was Andrew Beall, one of the founders of WorldViz, who proved VR could be very useful in the study of experimental and social psychology.
I had the pleasure of talking with Peter Schlueer, co-founder and the president of WorldViz. He told me how in 2002 they felt VR was going to be “game changing” and decided to commercialize the solution.
At first, they focused on academia, as universities began to see its potential for research. WorldViz soon branched out into industrial solutions, starting mainly with Fortune 500 companies. Today they are used by many of the Fortune 1000 companies, and as the technology becomes more attainable (aka comes down in price) they are now seeing smaller design and manufacturing companies getting on board. Uniquely, WorldViz is not focusing on video games like the other headset manufacturing, their main customer base is engineering, manufacturing, architecture and research.
WorldViz Virtual Reality Solutions Reel
Who is WorldViz?
So, who and what is WorldViz? In a nutshell, they provide virtual reality software and hardware to the enterprise and public sectors. Their patented and patent-pending products and services help businesses solve real-world challenges in areas such as product design, education, training, marketing, consumer research and many others.
You can think of their main product, Vizard, as the middleware that makes VR possible. Why middleware? Vizard takes 3D content, makes it VR ready, then WorldViz provides the hardware framework and services to transform that content into a user experience.
WorldViz’s core products are:
- Vizard, the development platform for VR business application design. Vizard includes VizConnect, a software solution capable of tying together the ever-increasing number of VR hardware and software products on the market.
- VizMove Walking VR, currently the world’s only “warehouse-scale” VR solution.
- VizMove Projection VR, a 3D immersive projection system ideal for small groups of people
- PPT, a high-precision, wide-area motion tracking system.
WorldViz also provides a slew of professional consulting and content creation services to help companies tie it all together.
So you think you want a VR solution? How does WorldViz determine what you need? They do so with their group of dedicated Solution Architects, that as Peter describes it, start asking questions. It doesn’t take long for them to determine what the right solution is. Typical questions?
- What problem is trying to be solved? [customer presentation, collaboration, training, etc]
- What is the size of the prototype being presented? [does it fit on a desk or need a warehouse?]
- How large of a group will be viewing it at one time?
- Will everyone be local or will they meet remotely?
- Do you need a portable solution?
Peter highlighted three things that he feels are key for the VR industry moving forward. These are areas where WorldViz is already a leader, and areas where WorldViz continues to focus its efforts. First, virtual reality needs an efficient “open” pipeline for 3D content to flow into. Second, there needs to be an open platform or method to handle the explosion of hardware devices and software applications that are currently hitting the industry. Third, businesses need a method to efficiently collaborate, remotely, within a virtual reality space.
Why Virtual Reality?
What’s the advantage of virtual reality over traditional methods? Peter pointed to studies that show virtual design mockups can provide a 90% cost reduction over physical mockups, and eliminate the waste generated by these physical mockups.
As an example, Peter mentioned a fast food chain who used VR to aid in the design of its California expansion. In the past, the design, and more importantly, the design approval, would have required four or five physical mockups of the restaurant – something that could be seen in the “real world” to get a true appreciation of the design. Using WorldViz technology, it could be completed without one physical mockup.
Another advantage? Training. Think about using a screwdriver to virtually take apart an airplane engine and then put it back together… all virtually!
What about for manufacturing? WorldViz’s technology can bring CAD data alive by visualizing it immersively at real-world scale and let people interact with it. Imagine designing workspaces, engines, cars, airplanes – anything that currently requires a CAD drawing – and experiencing it in full-scale immersive VR. That can aid in the early-stage design decisions on manufacturability and ergonomics, and can aid in better designer-client collaboration. It can improve training, safety, and massively reduce production costs and time-to-market.
The WorldViz Solution
For VR to work it needs content. As Peter puts it there needs to be an efficient “open” pipeline into VR. It needs to be an easy workflow to bring CAD into VR and back in the CAD world.
With the WorldViz solution, the 3D content comes from 3D CAD assets (models) and 3D scanning (they promote 3rd party providers like DotProduct3D). But, you can not simply present 3D CAD models and 3D scanned point clouds virtually. This is where the WorldViz Vizard software workflow is used, to massage the 3D content to be virtual reality ready. The massaging is performed by the WorldViz team (for a fee) or they can train you to make the conversion and build the VR model yourself.
WorldViz describes the Vizard software as a development platform. This means you bring your 3D assets together into an interactive simulation, Vizard provides visual debugging and inspection tools to see realtime stats on polygon and texture usage so that you can make the best presentation possible. Vizard is built on the programming language Python, which is open source and very extendable.
“Create engaging virtual worlds and immersive applications with the most comprehensive virtual reality development platform in the industry.”
Vizard includes the built-in VizConnect technology. As the market is young there really is no standard platform or communication protocol. WorldViz prides itself on being open to any hardware, regardless of the manufacturer. Using VizConnect, companies can deploy virtual scenes to 100+ supported motion input devices, VR headsets (Rift, Vive and others), 3D displays, CAVEs, haptic devices, and more. VizConnect additionally provides clustering capabilities to run your simulation across 64-separate computers!
WorldViz currently sells four types of systems: Sitting, Standing, Walking, and Projection. They also provide portable options, meaning you can travel with a full VR system in special travel cases that includes a laptop, a headset, and motion tracking – a great way to impress your customers with a VR presentation.
With WorldViz’s VizMove, Wands and Precision Position Tracking (PPT) devices users cannot only visualize in VR but also interact. With VizMove and PPT, walking, running, crouching, turning, gesturing are all possible. And with the Wands, users can pick up items, move items, or do things like switching to different configured environments.
Virtual Reality for Design?
I asked Peter what he thought was keeping us back from actually designing in a virtual environment. He says it’s up to the CAD companies to translate their UIs to something that will work in VR. Thinking about it after it’s very true – our CAD systems are based on using the mouse and keyboard, things that do not exist nor translate very well into Virtual Reality. Second, designing in VR is going to take a shift in how designers work. He compared it to the move from pencil to 2D CAD and then the shift from 2D to 3D.
Virtual Reality for All?
WorldViz is proof that Virtual Reality is here and obtainable, and no longer just for large organizations. Peter feels Facebook getting involved with the Oculus Rift will help accelerate the process. I for one am very excited by these developments.