Inspire : Inspire Winter 2016
23 COVER FEATURE VIRTUALLY ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE We’ve all seen them – buildings or urban designs that looked great on paper, but have real-world failures. According to Deakin University mechatronics expert Dr Ben Horan, virtual reality (VR) can ensure these design and engineering missteps never happen. “If we’re designing a sustainable city, wewanttobeabletonotjustseeaCAD model of it or pictures and diagrams, which would be conventional practice,” he explains. “With VR, we can actually go inside the city, have a look around, see how it’s going to work. We can determine what the impacts are to humans. “Often we see an environment where it just doesn’t work. Using conventional practices, we might be able to numerically determine things like energy usage and quantifiable data – but what about how it feels? If we have a VR representation, we’re one step closer to being able to realise those sorts of things before they happen.” CAVE Horan has created Deakins’ new Cave Automated Virtual Environment, or CAVE. Part of the university’s Centre for Advanced Design in Engineering Training, the CAVE is a 25 cubic metre area, where up to three users can be surrounded by three dimensional VR. Haptics technology means users are not just able to visualise complex models, but are also able to feel them, and how they react with their environment. “The walls are projected on all around you and you’re inside the art, so unlike looking at a 3D screen which of course has depth – you’re inside VR,” Horan says. “You can see an object next to you, you can look under an object, you can be inside. For example, take the design of a new vehicle or the design of a new building; you can walk around at a full scale and actually feel what it’s going to be like. “It is totally immersive, with full peripheral vision. For instance, you could be physically exploring the inside of an aircraft design and not only be able to visualise in high-resolution 3D vision, but, through haptics technology, be able to use your hands to touch and feel the various components of the aircraft interior – all before the creation of any physical prototype.” REAL-WORLD APPLICATIONS With VR headsets already widely available – from the cheap and cheerful Google cardboard, to the more sophisticated Oculus Rift – Horan says VR is not far from being used by savvy engineers. “Engineers and designers can wear a VR headset to interact with the CAD packages if they’re designing something – I don’t think that’s far away,” he says. The benefits of being able to visualise a complex model prior to construction are endless. Being able to visualise how a city will look in five, 10 and 20 years, rather than relying on raw data, will change the way cities are designed, as will the ability to display complex data in a way that people can interact with it. VR also has potential health and safety applications. “At a construction site or a mine, you can’t create real world, dangerous scenarios to educated people, but you can in VR.” And of course, it will change the way university students are taught. “You can provide students with information that may be otherwise difficult to visualise,” Horan explains. “Imagine a complex engine or mechanism in a textbook – it may be very difficult to pull back the layers and see the individual components and how they interact. But using virtual reality, that’s possible.” VIRTUAL REALITY Deakin University’s CAVE creates an immersive, 3D virtual reality experience.
Inspire Summer 15-16