In recent years, virtual reality has all but revolutionized the world of product design (at least for the companies that embrace this technology). In 2018, we discussed some of these advancements with GoEngineer and how the capabilities of VR have drastically reduced development costs and sped up development timelines.
Now, with the release of Oculus Quest earlier this year, VR has evolved from being a nice-to-have technology to one that’s integral to our process here at SGW Designworks.
In fact, due to the increasing accessibility (and affordability) of this technology, we have begun leveraging VR in new and exciting ways — ways we have yet to see our competitors adopt. To our knowledge, we are the only product design and development firm in the U.S. that is utilizing Oculus Quest to this extent.
What’s Changed in Our Process?
Five years ago, we relied on a combination of computer and TV screens for design reviews, plus physical prototypes to test designs. Then, beginning in 2017, we began using the HTC Vive tethered to a high end gaming PC for development and design use. Initially, there was not a good third party app to import Solidworks files into the Vive, so we created our own. Then, as the Vive matured, third party apps were released that facilitated this.
Right away, we knew from using the HTC Vive in our design and development process that VR is hugely valuable. Clients would typically travel to our facility for VR design reviews — sometimes in lieu of physical prototype design reviews and tests. This often meant we could eliminate the need for some of the physical prototypes we would normally build in development. However, this system is not very portable, and we realized that, as VR technology improved, so would our process.
Enter Oculus Quest. This system is wireless and self contained, which offers us portability we didn’t previously have with our Vive setup. We knew that, if we could import our engineering drawings into the Quest (there aren’t currently any apps that allow this capability), we could ship it to clients for design reviews in the comfort of their own offices. So, we brought in an Oculus Quest for initial testing about a week after the product was launched (around June 1, 2019).
After developing an import workaround, we now have four Oculus Quests that we routinely send to our clients during the development of their products. Sometimes we just need a client to review aesthetics. Other times we are demonstrating how certain parts interface with one another. Or we are testing for ergonomics. These are all aspects of product development that tend to be difficult to understand on a computer monitor, but are easy to test in VR.
Capabilities of VR: Client Benefits
Oculus Quest gives our clients an easier way to interact with their designs during the development process. We are able to load up a design into the headset, box it up, and ship it off to our clients, who are then able to see their products in VR and offer critical design feedback — all without traveling to Boise.
Since this implementation, we’ve seen a number of positive outcomes: specifically, an even quicker turnaround and decreased cost of development. Additionally, since we already work with clients all over the country, this tool enables us to engage those remote clients even more deeply.
How Future Developments in VR Will Continue to Impact Product Design
If we’ve learned anything about VR, it’s that this technology advances quickly. How SGW is using VR now is changing from just a year ago — and even six months ago!
Because of the wireless, standalone capabilities of the Oculus Quest, we use VR technology more frequently and with more clients than ever before. And, as early adopters of the Quest system, we now have six months of this technology under our belt. During this time, we’ve found the Quest to be a great tool that is actually more robust (in some ways) than our previous setup.
However, our use of VR is an ongoing evolution.
Two years from now, new hardware will further expand the capabilities of VR. 5G will likely change how VR works, as GPU / processing power moves to the cloud rather than living on the headset. This should enable us to put even our most complex models into a wireless VR headset and have them render smoothly. Just as with the Vive setup, however, we currently have to optimize our models so that they work in the Quest. But over time, good third party apps will be available to enable this.
However this exciting technology continues to evolve, we’re proud to say we’re on the front lines of these new developments.