Tag Archives: Virtual Reality

Is Augmented Reality the next design tool?

What role Augmented Reality (AR) will be playing in the architecture practice and the design of our built environment? How will companies use this technology to attract more consumers? Lets look at those two very different ways to use the power of AR:  as a design tool and as a consumerism device.

Looks like Microsoft is taking the first route with the Hololens. With a variety of polished video presentations, they are showing the Hololens as this amazing new tool to help design interiors, buildings or even a whole new world. It even let you communicate in real time with your teammates from another continent. As an architect, Greg Lynn seems enthusiastic after having use the HoloLens at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 (interview from Dezeen here).   For interior designer lacking of vision, this video shows the potential. And to be be really blown away and transported in the future, check out this TED talk from the visionary Alex Kipman.

Of course, I can’t agree more with him on the fact that all those 2D interfaces, displays and screens that have invades our life are born obsolete. We are moving creatures always exploring around us, using our whole body with all our senses to interact with our environment. We are not supposed to be locked behind a screen all day. But, I am digressing onto my research topic here. Even though this is very exciting topic,  we still don’t really know how we are actually interacting with those virtual objects embedded in our physical surroundings. I will look into VR and user experience in another post.

In the meantime, looking at the other side of the coin, the consumerism version of AR, perhaps Keiichi Matsuda vision with his “Hyper-Reality” production is closer to what will happen sooner than later.

HYPER-REALITY from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

If VR is not the answer, AR is not neither. What I am really looking forward to is when those two technologies will merged into a Mixed Reality (MR) integrated into some sort of contact lenses.

VR or 360 panoramas apps for sharing?

Have you tried any of those Virtual Reality (VR) headset yet? Did you enjoy looking around being immerse into a totally different environment. Have you even had the opportunity to move around and interact with some object or even other avatar?

Actually, you can even create your own VR environment quite easily. Although, it depends on the level of “realism” you would like to achieve: you can upload panoramic photos or video of your physical environment, which will be realistic visually but not very immersive because of the lack of interaction or you can upload your own 3D environments fully programmable.

As an architect, I was  looking for a 3D VR application that would allow me to share an experience of the project I was working on online with the other architects and designers or even with the client.

I have tried a few of those applications, here are my findings. The best option, from a budget and mobility point of view, these days is to opt for a format that can be “experienced” with a smartphone and a google cardboard style headset. Another option, much more expensive,  is to choose the heavier solution using a head mounted display linked to a powerful computer, not as convenient but brings more immersivity. Today’s post will focus on the former.

Considering buying a VR headset is a bit of a hassle; so many option out there.  Basically, any cheap Google cardboard style headset  is good enough. The one I picked up is the MergeVR: using soft material, it is more comfy and it offers buttons to interact with the VR environment. It fits easily any size of smartphone. It works wonders with my LG G5.

That aside, back to the software. After having modelled the whole project in details, instead of having to render dozen of stills from all the angles, I thought a VR experience would be a better solution to immerse the client in his project. Two main choices from there: either you want to walk around inside the 3d model, or you render 360 images that let you look around from a fix location. I tried both, not able to share much without giving my login I am afraid. Here is what I found:

  • InVR : Easy to upload any 3D model. Can be straight from inside Unity through a plugin or via an FBX upload. The mobile app is ok, no sharing yet.
  • Iris: divide into two :
    • Iris Scope for 360 panoramas accessible via smartphone/cardboards. The  app is neat and quite professional. That is the one I used to show to the client. No sharing though.
    • Iris Prospect to share 3D model like obj, sketchup or Revit, although for those, you will need Oculus or HTC Vive.
  • Roundme: 360 panorama online made easy. This is more for everyone uploading their photos. Probably the most user friendly  for sharing 3D 360 panoramas. Check this sample that I upload there when working on this Saydnaya prison project.

  • WebGl: which is actually the option we develop for the final project. Saydnaya prison. However, we didn’t had enough time to develop the whole VR environment. It is “only” 360 Interactive Panoramas you can access from a desktop/laptop web browser.

There are of course some other apps on the market. The one mention above are working on Android. Let me know if you find anything else worth mentioning.

Happy VR.

Memory Triggers from a Prison.

Under the arche.
Part of my research project is to investigate the way humans perceive and remember their surroundings, from an architectural point of view. Results from the first set of experiment using 3D Virtual Environment (3DVE), see ArchiMemory XP 2.3, brought me some insights on what architectural features are most efficient at enhancing participants memory.
This is typically a top-down approach: by placing architectural elements  (doors, windows, arches …) at specific locations inside a 3DVE, we can use them as triggers or symbols to construct a meaningful journey for the participant. For example, a door is used as a transition from one type of information to another; a window is used as a digression device to give a hint on something else without taking you away from the main subject.
Lets look through that window, for a mo!
 A few month ago, I had the opportunity to work on an important project about syrian’s prison with a special research group in Goldsmiths: Forensic Architecture (FA). I couldn’t say much until the official release of the website we worked on due to the secrecy of the mission. Now that Amnesty International has released the website, I am taking the opportunity to briefly explain  the project in the light of my own research.
Saydnaya's prison - Aerial 3rd floor
Saydnaya’s prison – Aerial 3rd floor

The purpose of this project is to make the public aware of the existence of torture prison in Syria where humans right are baffles everyday. No NGO or any journalist have ever been inside, we don’t have any document, picture or report on this prison. What we do have is a satellite view and a few ex-prisoners testimonies.

Prison's Corridors
Prison’s Corridors

FA investigation started by doing long interviews of those witnesses. Based on their memories, an architect and a sound designer rebuild in real-time a 3D model of the prison. Because prisoners were blindfolded when arriving at the prison, most of their memories are based on sounds, movements and proprioception. Only after a few weeks, they got to their main cell, they were able to see the walls and the other people faces. Even though, sounds were a big part of their memories, my job was to focus on the visuals including 3D models, lights and textures. I will explain more about this in a separate post.

Triggers in Corridors
Triggers in Corridors
Back to the main room.
Working on this project gave me the opportunity to understand my research topic from a bottom-up approach.  In this case, memories are already in participant’s minds. They are vivid and strongly attach to all sort of emotions and perceptions due to the high stress environment where they happend. In a opposite direction as my previous method, here the process was to extract and rebuild those spaces from memory.
Those interviews were a constant demonstration of how memory works. The further we got in the interviews, the more we realised that memory is triggered by details like objects, architectural elements or colors.  Being in a cell with no window or arche, those triggers can take very different shapes. It can be a water pipe with his specific sound, re-purposed as a communication device or a hatch in the door through which the food was coming.
From the truck on arrival.
From the truck on arrival.
Before closing the door.
Even though those two methodologies are very different by essence,  one being to enhance memory, the other being to retrieve information from existing memories, they have a lot of common ground. From a cognitive psychology point of view, the main factor  activating those memories is “trigger”. Either we find them by telling the stories we remember and go in as much details as we can, or we place those triggers along a new journey to create that story.

To have a hint of those prisoners memory, visit the website and explore the 360 panoramas (more about this in next post) here: Saydnaya Project

Gobsmacking VR/AR Event

Smoothly organized event, with drinks and nibbles, Vitamin Clinic was exploring our evolving relationship between our physical and virtual/digital world.

Tilt Brush
 Artwork, 3D printing, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality installations and devices were available to challenge the way we perceive and interact with our environment and the digital realm. Here are just a few of the company demonstrating their expertise:
  • Drawandcode was presenting a maze game using a mixed of AR and VR to make a very social interaction.
  • Virtualumbrella offered the best experience of the event with the HTC Vive and Tilt Brush.
  • Phygital is a pretty exciting company showing different setup for VR and AR: VR chair for the roler coaster experience using Oculus Rift, a huge touch screen showing many of their different interactive installations.

 Recall of my first experience with the HTC Vive:

During the evening, I had the opportunity to try the HTC Vive with different applications. Upstairs was a relax setting in a corner of the room. A laptop on a coffee table, a couple of chaps sitting in a sofa as spectators, two cameras on their tripot opposite to each other four meters apart.

I placed the headset over my eyes and got the two controllers in my hands. Suddenly, I find myself with a sword in my right hand. Really, moving the sword in the air, to the right, to the left. Then, I took a couple of step forward and started to cut those fruits falling from no where into pieces, not the bombs! Fun!

The second experience with the same settings, transported me on a roof in a futuristic city under drone attack. With a shield in my left hand to protect myself from the drones’ strikes, I was able to choose between different energy field to shoot at them with the gun in my right hand.

Using whole body to move around to avoid being hit and shooting at the same time in all directions, this was full on. A very immersive experience even though, that is not why I am excited by Virtual Reality.

The best experience of the evening with the HTC Vive was the Tilt Brush one. This happened downstairs with more space dedicated between the two cameras. Again, headset on, controllers in the hands, although this time I got in a very different environment: a dark neutral background and a define round surface to walk on.  My left arm was equipped with a bulky futuristic device from which I was able to choose between different colors, tools like paintbrushes and sizes. The brush I choose extended my right hand. I  started by drawing  three feet, then a table top, filled it in. I had to turn around the table to make the fourth feet.  Then I painted leaves on the table, stacked some more, tried another tool and started to sculpt over very bright and colorful shapes of all type. Liberating! No more restriction of the page or the screen. I was creating something with no constraints. It can be small in front of you in the air or on a stand, or it can be big all around you.

The only thing that reminded me the physical world was the bunch of cable hanging from my head to the powerful computer running the software. Otherwise, that was the most immersive and mind blowing VR experience so far. By creating my own environment in real-time, the feeling of freedom and creativity got me in a flow in a snap.

Even from the outside, looking at someone exercising his creativity using the Tilt Brush is fascinating. You can see the person moving around, doing big arm movements, then on the screen appears the painting-sculpture.

I am looking forward to try this again soon.

Testing Oculus DK2 – Leap Motion Virtual Reality Blocks Demo.

Last week, I had the opportunity to try out the Oculus Rift – Leap Motion Demo in Goldsmiths Digital Studio. Here is the set up: with the Oculus Rift on your head,  you stand in the middle of the room, a couple of wire climbing up to the ceiling. There is enough space around you to take a few steps in every directions. A small camera sitting on the front wall will capture the movement of your head  in real time: rotating, tilting and panning. Stick on the face of the Head Mounted Display (HMD) is the Leap Motion sensor which will capture your hands movements in front of you. An ambient music is running in the background for everyone in the room to listen to. Sounds, triggered by your movement as well as your reactive expressions will give any observer present in the room a great incentive to try the device for themself. That’s all they perceive from the outside though.

From your point of view (the participant), it is a very different situation. You are immersed in a simple world made of a grid like grey plane levelled up with your chest and surrounded by a black environment. A variety of solids (3D geometric shapes) like cubes, cuboids and other polyhedra randomly spread on the grid surface will attract your attention. Right in front of you is a little character guiding you through available gestures you can use to interact with those solids. By pinching with both hands, you can create more solids, by opening one hand you are able to point at different shapes to choose from with a finger of your other hand. You can actually interact with all those solids around you, pick them up, build walls or even throw them away. Then,  with both hands flat out, palms up, moving gently up, gravity will go away, and all the polyhedra will float above you. The opposite gesture, palms down, will bring gravity back and all the solids down to the ground.

This interaction makes you feel a sense of power and control over things you can only dream of. By playing for a few minutes, because the interactions with those solids is so subtle, your sense of touch will rapidly becoming more accurate and develop some level of haptic feedback.

So, yes, great experience overall, being able to see your hands in Virtual Reality is definitely adding up to the feeling of immersion. It is not just looking around in a 360 panoramic view. By being able to interact with your environment directly using your hands and moving things around, the sensation of presence in another space is undeniable.