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Innovation & Job News

For local firm, virtual reality imparts new dimension to design



Cleveland architecture and design firm Vocon is employing virtual reality software to give its clients a sense of depth and space on their projects before a single brick has been laid.
 
Utilizing the HTC Vive headset, Vocon creates "walkable" renderings precisely to scale with a client's plans. Users get a full visual representation of their work, allowing them  to identify potential design issues ahead of time.
 
"We're giving clients a tool to understand their plans earlier in the process than we've ever been able to do," says project architect Michael Christoff.
 
Vocon integrated 3D software late last year, with a half dozen clients using the technology so far. Real-time views of a space let users study, for example, the visual difference two feet can make in the height of a ceiling. One company changed the placement of maintenance equipment after getting a virtual viewing of how it would appear in reality. Layouts are even changed on the fly — to the point where renderings can be studied in different types of sunlight.
 
"When people put on a pair of goggles, they have a better understand of the decisions they're making," says Christoff. "It helps them walk through the space and look at every nook and cranny."
 
Before VR, Vocon made 360 degree panoramic renderings that were static and fell short of delivering real immersion.
 
"Now clients can walk from one room to another, or sit in a space and look around," Christoff says. "Walking around a space gives them peace of mind about a design. It's not a mystery anymore."
 
As part of its marketing process, Vocon sends a headset and digital files to out-of-town companies. Vocon technology guru Brandon Dorsey schools clients on how to use the Vive software, which can be mapped to an XBox One controller.
 
"It takes about 15 to 20 minutes teach someone," says Dorsey. "It's an intuitive technology that anyone can use."
 
Christoff wants to roll out VR to more Vocon customers this year. The technology, he adds, is not limited to office spaces. For instance, city planners can harness the software for citizens interested in studying a virtual master plan design. And while high-end headsets are expensive, budget-conscious residents can purchase a Google Cardboard headset for $15.
 
Whatever the case, Vocon officials are satisfied with their leap into the virtual world.
 
"I'm seeing us make better design decisions earlier in the process," says Christoff. "Any tool that allows us to make a better looking project is an important tool for us to have."

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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