What Other Industries Can Teach Us About VR

| May 25, 2017


by Bill Fishkin

While BIM is the “measure twice, cut once” adage writ large for AEC industries, other professions have embraced the benefits of virtual reality beyond clash control and design review. Take note; lessons may be learned.

Aerospace leader Lockheed Martin was an early adopter of VR for design review and collaboration. According to ​Via Satellite, Lockheed has saved over $10 million by incorporating VR into their development process. Lockheed also understands VR’s ability to spark imaginations and plant seeds for the future.

Lockheed’s absolutely inspiring and incredible “​Generation Beyond: Mars Bus Experience​,” a school bus outfitted with virtual reality, mimics a trip across Mars. As the bus travels around Washington, D.C., elementary school passengers experience the Martian landscape through the bus windows. By overlaying the virtual landscape over the actual topography and streets system of D.C., every turn the bus takes provides a new view of Mars to the touring school kids, all while inspiring a new generation of kids who will likely be the first to land on Mars.

For Lockheed, Generation Beyond is an investment in the future; they know that the kids they inspire today are tomorrow’s aeronautical engineers.

Lesson: Encourage clients to play the long game. Fully realized virtual models don’t just facilitate collaboration; they can be used to generate investor interest, speed up approval processes, build community support, and for end-user marketing.

For the medical profession, virtual reality has been a game changer. ​Anatomage​ utilizes VR to bring detailed, realistic 3D models to medical staff-in-training. Anatomage’s Table, dubbed the “world’s first virtual dissection table,” is so highly accurate that the need for human cadavers has been nearly abolished at many medical schools. 3D models of multiple anatomically precise structures combine to create a VR cadaver which never degrades, does not emit odors, and is always accessible for training purposes.

And visual details aren’t the only key to authenticity. Force-feedback gloves, like those created by ​Dexmo​, are powerful training tools for everyone from heavy equipment operators to neurosurgeons. Dexmo’s exoskeleton gloves mimic the force and feel of everything from bike tools to tissue and organs, allowing users unlimited access and increased training opportunities.

Lesson:​ For VR, the secret sauce is in the details. The more detailed the virtualization, the more life-like, and memorable, the experience.

Motivated by both a need to create understanding of the issues they address, and for fundraising to support their efforts, nonprofit organizations have begun to embrace virtual reality.

Donations to Syrian refugees doubled after donors viewed the VR video ​Clouds over Sidra ​, according to UNICEF. Originally shown at a fundraising conference in Kuwait, and directed by Chris Milk, the video tells the compelling story of a Syrian refugee living with her family in a camp in Jordan, and raised over $3.8 billion in aid to Syria.

A trip to the grocery store can be a landmine for those with dementia. Creating an understanding of those challenges was the task of Alzheimer’s Research UK when they produced ​A Walk Through Dementia. Accessed via Google Cardboard, viewers experience the frightening confusion even mundane tasks represent to dementia patients.

Lesson: ​Virtual reality is a storyteller’s medium. Don’t just model the systems of the structure; tell the story. If you are building a high-end hotel, show the luxury. If a state-of-the-art hospital is your next project, model the technologically advanced equipment required for the facility. Those additions will tell a significantly more impactful story.

Lessons learned

Get the most impact from your VR experiences by creating detailed demos with a longer lifespan and more uses than required for design review and clash control. Let your VR tell the story of the project for the benefit of your client and their clients.


Bill Fishkin is president of Theia Interactive.


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