How many times have you read articles claiming that the promise of virtual reality (VR) is about to be realized and that soon we will all be wearing VR devices and exploring new virtual worlds? Is it finally happening or at least taking big steps in the right direction?
The major technology players are already in, with platforms for hardware and content – Facebook (Oculus rift), Microsoft (Hololens), Google (Magic Leap, which raised an unprecedented $542M at the end of 2015), Samsung (VR gear), Sony (PlayStation VR), and even Apple with their latest set of acquisitions in the domain (Faceshift, Metaio, Polar Rose and PrimeSense).
The projections for this market are big, very big! Virtual reality headsets and content will be “the next mega tech theme” in a market worth more than $60 billion in a decade, according to Piper Jaffray Cos.“Virtual reality will take time, but will profoundly change our lives….We liken the state of virtual and augmented reality today as similar to the state of mobile phones 15 years ago,”the analysts wrote in a May 2015 report.
As often happens with new technologies, these projections may seem too optimistic, but the spirit of change is becoming evident. However, a major bottleneck is the availability of content that “works” in VR. Some startups, such as Visual, Jaunt, WakingApp and Faceshift are working on such technologies. In the consumer markets, entertainment and gaming seem to lead the way. NextVR provides live virtual reality experiences with broadcast quality. For instance, basketball games delivered in this format give the audience the experience of sitting close to the court next to the sidelines where the cameras are located or the recent theatrical hit “The Martian” offered by Fox Innovation Labs with full interactivity and positional tracking. While the value of VR for the consumer markets is evident, the industrial market may be taking the lead in adopting and utilizing this technology to develop new ways of interaction with complex graphical data.
Figure 1: Virtual reality
VR allows companies to test scenarios and designs, and experience products even before they’re made. It allows engineers from multiple disciplines to collaborate while maintaining common understanding. Similarly, it’s the enabler for setting up efficient and practical training programs, while simulating real work scenarios. It seems that as more affordable VR devices become available, the demand for solutions that leverage VR capabilities will jump significantly. This opens new opportunities for Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and graphical simulation tools that generate the type of content required by these devices. High definition (HD) 3D experience allows engineers to visualize realistic mockups of the products and processes they design and simulate them to a high degree of accuracy. The immersive experience of VR headsets allows wearers to interact with HD engineering data. In this environment they can also verify non-engineering aspects, such as perceived quality, and emotional elements like the size, brightness and shape of individual design elements.
For the past several years companies have been working on implementing VR technologies in their processes.Skoda Auto, for instance, established a virtual-reality ergonomics lab – see Siemens’ Virtual commissioning at Skoda Auto case study. The lab team works with motion capture technology that is integrated with the Tecnomatix applications Jack and Process Simulate Human – human simulation software.This allows Skoda to analyze the feasibility and acceptability of work operations through human simulation, especially with regard to the different heights of workers. The experience and outputs obtained in this way can be further used to present best practices and lessons learned, and for training shop floor workers on basic ergonomic principles. Expected objectives include improving working conditions for employees, reducing occurrence of injury and associated costs, addressing ergonomic requirements during the preproduction project phases, and digitally verifying the feasibility of assembly operations in compliance with ergonomic standards and laws. View the Skoda Auto video about motion capture.
Another great example is the use of VR by Siemens mobility. The virtual train cabins are rendered with near-realistic dynamic 3D image, including the lightning and the material texture. A fictitious station model is also loaded to present the car / coach in a friendly environment. Alternatively the station could also be a model of a customer’s existing station to enable the viewer to walk through the whole car, walk outside of the car and look in every direction for a real immersive experience.
Figure 2: Mobile VR allows Siemens mobility customers to experience the design in a holistic way.
VR is expected to change the interaction of engineers with data since keyboard and mouse input isn’t optimal for use with VR. The availability of technologies such as Kinect for replicating gestures, haptic devices that provide tactile feedback from interactions in virtual space, and the development of speech recognition capabilities powered by deep learning techniques will complement VR solutions to deliver an even more realistic immersive experience. It seems that you cannot get a better presenter for such concepts than Elon Musk and his SpaceX team interacting with the Siemens NX data.
Siemens PLM Software takes this technological direction very seriously. Together with the technology partners and customers, Siemens is experimenting with various technologies, starting with Leap Motion, Intel RealSense, Google Cardboard, Unity 3D, Oculus Rift, etc.Some customers have already built such virtual labs to experiment with the large deployment of these technologies. There are also commercial solutions available, such as the collaboration between Siemens PLM and More3D to enable VR with different Siemens PLM products (Plant Simulation, Process Simulate, NX, JT2Go, Tc Vis). The technology allows for projecting the 3D scenery of the application in a live mode (including motion simulation) onto different projection devices.
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Figure 3: Plant simulation model in a VR mode using More3D technology.
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