Have you ever designed a road? I have not. Most of us haven’t, actually.
Road design is complex. One must consider various things: type of terrain, lakes and rivers, visibility, topography, noise, and cost. A road also has to withstand weight, heat, frost, and rain. And it must be safe to use.
Road design is long and complex, and usually done using CAD software. One has to define the path, make sure curves are standard, work on the profile, consider rainwater flow, design intersections, and evaluate its drivability… this way when you drive the road, you know what to expect. Road design is serious stuff, and it takes time.
Say you've just finished designing your road, and are proudly showing you design to your client. He might say: “Oh, this is nice, but on second thoughts, I think I’d prefer the road to be on that side of the lake instead..." This may irritate you, because you expect that simple modification to your design will take you quite some time to complete, as the other side of the lake is such a different environment…
There was room for a simpler, higher level conceptual road design tool. Bentley developed such a tool, called ConceptStation. But we thought we could go a bit further, and develop something so simple to use that even you, who probably have no experience in road design, could do it… Actually, that is not true. You do have some experience in road design. You started your training in there:
Source: User Aida, licensed under [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
…using basic tools, like shovels, model trucks, and... your own hands. And if I asked you, today, to do conceptually design a road using such tools, I bet you would know how to proceed…
So we decided to put road conceptual design in the hands of a larger number, by developing a simple VR proof of concept that would be based on hand gestures. We used a LEAP device to track the hands, mounted onto a HTC Vive head mounted display. Since roads are built in the physical environment, they have to cross fields, rivers, cities, mountains and forests; proper road design can only be done with good knowledge of that environment. To enable this, we bring a copy of the physical world into the virtual world, by taking photos of the site, and assembling them into a 3D mesh using ContextCapture, and doing the design on top of that mesh.
The same technique could also be used for construction safety. Construction sites are dangerous. Heavy machinery is used, many workers are present, and accidents do happen. In the U.S.A., construction related fatalities represented 21% of all the private industry fatalities in 2015.
Some governments require builders to request a “safe work permit”: a written record that confirms a site is safe, and ready for workers to work in. For instance, to make sure there is enough protection to prevent workers from falling, or draw a safety perimeter around an excavator work area. Such safety features have to be reviewed by an inspector, who must visit the site prior to releasing the permit.
We thought such safety construction features could be designed in a VR environment, using the same tools that we proposed for road design.
The use of VR in this case is particularly interesting for detecting potential safety hazards, as the site can be seen from a variety locations that might not be easily physically accessible. We think VR could enhance the chance of seeing a higher number of such hazards.
VR and reality modeling open a new door for engineering design: one that enables the designer to see and experience his creation in the physical world, before it is built. Perhaps one day, engineers will design directly in VR?
Nice example of a practical use of VR!