As Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR / AR) become more commonplace in our daily lives, with technology now readily accessible on mobile platforms, we continue to see greater integration across software and development platforms increasing the market spread. We are also rolling through hardware generations in mobile, console, and PC markets providing increasingly lower latencies with better visuals and more intuitive controls making the experience more user friendly and immersive.

You might think these advances offer little opportunity for product development, but in (virtual) reality they are opening up new doors there too. We take a look at three impacts that VR is having, specifically within Blender, but also within the world of product development.

01.

QUICK & ADAPTIVE TOOLS

For us at Blender, the increased software integration enables direct access into VR environments from our primary design software, Solidworks, and also through our premium rendering package KeyShot. For the former, there is no need for exporting or converting files, which only increases the speed-to-immersion. This is the critical factor when it comes to adapting VR into the design process. With relative ease we can jump straight into a virtual environment with colleagues and clients to conduct design reviews and gather a much more grounded understanding of the design. As these plugins are developed further, the tools and experience within the VR environment become even more refined, offering an even greater opportunity to gain superior insights into the final product.

The speed-to-immersion means we are able to review designs and ergonomics very early in the process without consuming excessive time or cost. We can pick up and examine parts as well as explode components at the touch of a button. In addition, with some simple AR mobile phone tools we can view 3D rendered products within the real world environment, viewing the design rendered directly onto a floor space or surface. A 3D rendered product augmented with a real world environment can be incredibly powerful. Current (largely mobile based) AR technology really only scratches the surface, with AR headset development becoming more consumer focused, we will truly begin to see game changing immersion

Inspecting individual components in the overall assembly of the latest Skimmer personal electric vehicle, utilising an exploded view in a draft level environment direct from Solidworks.

02.

VR VS PHYSICAL PROTOTYPES

This is really where VR allows design and decision making to reach new heights. With large scale products it is often difficult to truly visualise them from sketches or 3D renders alone. VR removes all ambiguity and offers an immediate sense of scale and environment. No rendered image can offer the same experience. Creating a large 1:1 scale prototype can provide this, however the cost and time to produce this is usually large and likely still missing the environmental grounding.
Further to the advantages of large scale design reviews, we also have the ability to review ongoing design changes against previous iterations or generations. We can easily present design changes and variations in the virtual environment, providing a very compelling and engaging presentation for project stakeholders at all levels without producing multiple physical prototypes.

Ergonomic studies are an incredibly important part of the design process and being able to conduct and repeat them easily is highly valuable. In addition to this we can introduce a Mixed Reality (MR) environment, where we physically set up a space and supplement the virtual environment with physical items that are relevant to the design. This might be as straightforward as a seat in a marine or air craft, or a platform or surface in a particular environment, in all cases this is an exceptional way to increase the experience and accelerate key decision making and buy-in from stakeholders.

Comparing and reviewing new Jolt Rider product models against previous generations in a draft level environment direct from Solidworks.

03.

NEXT GEN PRESENTATION

Utilising the photorealistic rendering capabilities of KeyShot (and KeyVR) we can push presentations to a much deeper level of on-the-fly customisation, we are able to create more specialised setups in order to present fully rendered, complex product configurations and animations to experience within the VR environment. This is an even more engaging way to present to stakeholders, but also to end customers, allowing them to configure their product before purchase. Specific product addons or materials can be cycled through on the fly allowing a customer to see their final selection, potentially months before it’s manufactured. Sharing and discussing product solutions however does not end with the design intent. For the right products, these environments can be used for training staff or service technicians.

The natural flow-on effect of utilising VR for larger scale products and environments, is the rapid distribution of these environments across borders, regionally and internationally. Allowing digitally integrated and connected focus groups and presentations across the world. A VR focused design cycle introduced early enough, can provide an edge over competitors and give potential stakeholders or investors confidence in a product’s development before it is manufactured, which can be implemented no matter the physical spread of the team.

Leveraging a high-level presentation mode in KeyVR to cycle material and fit-out options on a Sealegs marine craft.

VR and AR are really still in their infancy, despite much hype over the years the technology is now improving rapidly thanks to the gaming industry, which is driving down hardware costs and advancing the software development tools. As this and other complementary technologies evolve they will become much more ingrained in a designers arsenal. At Blender we have the latest professional grade VR hardware running on high-spec custom PC’s that have more than enough power to create a fluid and immersive room-scale experience. It can be hard to imagine just how immersive VR actually is without jumping into an environment and seeing for yourself. The supporting 2D imagery (as pictured above) will very rarely convince you just how impactful VR can be. Let’s discuss how we could leverage VR in your future product development and marketing efforts, the possibilities are virtually endless…

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Ben Thomsen

Ben Thomsen

Co-founder and Partner at Blender Design. He loves to solve problems and get stuck into the details to make awesome products.