What comes to mind when you think of applications for virtual reality? Gaming? Military? Education? What about prototyping? Believe it or not, VR is incredibly well-suited to enterprise applications, particularly within the design and engineering sector — as it presents a new way to approach consumer product design.
VR offers something new that has been missing for designers trying to communicate designs or ideas: the ability to convey a true sense of scale.
This is particularly important when it comes to physically large objects — like buildings or huge pieces of equipment. In the past, designers and engineers didn’t have an efficient way to communicate or demonstrate physical scale to their clients before a product was to be built. Now virtual reality provides that for designers and their clients.
Recently, we discussed VR with GoEngineer and illustrated how this technology eliminates the need for two to three physical prototypes. This, in turn, helps our clients save weeks of development time (and translates into thousands of dollars saved). In utilizing virtual reality as a design review and testing tool, we had already seen positive results with our clients.
Enter Black Box VR.
The Black Box VR Story — and the SGW Evolution
Touted as a “fully immersive virtual reality gym and fitness experience,” Black Box VR is truly breaking new ground. In fact, they are the reason we at SGW first embraced virtual reality.
When Black Box VR engaged SGW Designworks to develop their system hardware (in the pre-concept phase), we hadn’t considered bringing VR in-house. However, this changed as the project progressed. It eventually became clear that the hardware we were developing would need to “talk to” and be controlled by the VR system. So, to achieve the type of rapid iteration that SGW executes, we had to have the same VR system in-house that the client was using for their product.
Once we had our own system, we started to think about how we could use it — beyond the Black Box VR project. First, we played all the games. Then we started trying to bring Solidworks models into VR. This was clumsy, so we developed our own application to translate between the two programs.
Once we overcame that hurdle, it became clear: we can see things in VR that we previously would not have been able to see until a physical prototype was created.
This meant we could altogether eliminate a couple of physical prototype iterations on certain projects — which saves time and money. Fast forward a year, and there are good third-party apps available to bring Solidworks models into VR. We use those now because they are better than the translator app we developed.
Panel Discussion: Virtual Reality and the Design Process
Last week, our co-founder and president Tasche Streib joined BlackBox VR and architecture firm CSHQA for a panel discussion at the Idaho Virtual Reality Council headquarters. The topic: “Virtual Reality and the Design Process.” We were pleased to contribute alongside these standout organizations, all of which have taken the lead in using VR design tools — right here in Boise, Idaho.
During the panel, we learned that CSHQA has fully integrated VR into their workflows. They do this for much of the same reason we do: to communicate with clients and test concepts in ways that would otherwise be impossible via a computer screen.
Here, Tasche explains how VR prototyping has improved communication during the design process.
At the event, we also shared with the audience an SGW Designworks project that we used VR to develop. It is a large piece of ag equipment — 12’ tall and about 18’ long — that is used to spray vineyards. Attendees had the opportunity to experience VR for themselves. They were also able to actually see and interact with the design, exactly the way our client did during development.
We were able to show people how we identified — in VR — that a specific adjustment interface was out-of-reach (too high) for some of the people that would be using the equipment in the field. This is an example of a design change that was identified prior to physical prototyping. Attendees seemed to quickly understand how we are using VR in our development process, and why it is meaningful. Some in the audience are in the design and engineering field, and they were enthusiastic about what they saw.
What’s Next for VR and Consumer Product Design?
Although consumer adoption of VR is not growing as fast as some expected, VR is having a real positive impact in consumer product design and engineering — as well as in other enterprise applications.
We see Black Box VR as a terrific example of what is possible. Their bold vision and impressive execution have helped them become the world’s first fitness center of its kind — and we are thrilled to be a part of their success. After taking their prototype to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last year, Black Box VR received the CES Innovation Award. They were also awarded the “Best Startup of CES 2018” by engadget.com.
And they continue to make headlines. Later this month, Black Box VR will be unveiling their San Francisco location, and they are working on rolling out gyms throughout the U.S. thereafter.
As for product development companies leveraging this technology, we are poised to revolutionize our industry. At SGW Designworks, we are proud to be at the forefront of embracing these new developments. We’ve continued leveraging VR to prototype and test faster, with lower risk, and more cost-effectively than before. And we are committed to applying emerging technology and tools to our process. We believe this is essential to providing clients with the best, most valuable outputs possible.
To learn more about our work with Black Box VR, download a copy of our case study.