|ARCHITECTURE AND VIRTUAL REALITY - IS A CONVERGENCE NEAR?
16 January, 1994 - From Usenet group Alt.Architecture
Fake Space Labs - Menlo Park, CA
My co-worker John Young and I recently experienced Architectural V.R. at FSL via the Fake Space Boom3C (used by NASA among others) connected to an SGI Crimson Reality Engine. (about $200,000 in hardware alone).
The virtual environment was of a single-family residence modeled/textured by Chris Gruel (Formerly employed at Production City in Mill Valley - our animation-to-video shop of choice)
The interface uses opto-mechanical tracking with a high resolution (Stereoscopic 1280x960 24 bit color) viewing display connected via a universal joint to a flexible boom. Handles with thumb buttons are mounted on both sides of the suspended display unit. In this simulation, one button engaged forward motion, and the other reverse motion. The direction of motion is based on the physical location/rotation of the viewing unit in space; i.e. you move in the direction you are looking. For example, if you look up and press the forward motion button, you move up (in the z axis). If you look down and press the reverse motion button, the ground plane moves away as you move up.
As a tool for understanding spatial relationships and kinetic experiences during the design process, V.R. is unparalleled. The ability to "hover" in space, to "zoom" through the design, to approach details slowly and move around them; this is a designer's dream come true. In this particular simulation, no constraints were placed on speed/direction of motion, and no collision detection was active. You could literally fly through walls. On one occasion, I stood in the living room, looked down, and pressed the reverse motion button. I "lifted off" and watched the living room recede away during my ascent until I "broke" through the roof, and watched the house recede as I ascended into the Virtual atmosphere.
Missing from this simulation was direct interaction with the Virtual environment. Also missing was "reality" limitation modules to allow "human-like" movement through the space when desired. Also missing was "object-kinetics" such as doors opening when approached, or faucets turning to get a virtual drink. (Yes, even the faucets were modeled in the bathroom sinks.) These are all software issues which Chris is currently working on.
But the most important addition is Interaction. We were shown a video from NASA's wind tunnel simulations where the boom is used in conjunction with a glove input device. The glove was used to position emitters around the Space Shuttle to model the wind currents around the Shuttle from the emitter's position in space. Apparently, the NASA programmers also created a "pull-down" window interface that allowed model manipulation from menus appearing within the virtual environment. The Architectural analogy to this would include AutoCAD "pull-down" menus to aid in environment manipulation.
The ideal V.R. interface for designers will include not only visualization and interaction, but the ability to create designs while immersed in the Virtual Environment at a reasonable cost.