Immersive Reality at SOLIDWORKS World 2017: AR and VR for Engineers
Andrew Wheeler posted on February 27, 2017 | 7391 views

Earlier this month, Dassault Systèmes put on its annual showcase for SOLIDWORKS enthusiasts in Los Angeles. Besides a plethora of booths with interactive showcases and classes for attendees, there were some interesting talks and experiences at SOLIDWORKS World 2017 about CAD models being used in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

In 2016, AR and VR received quite a bit of attention from the mainstream media and trade journals, but most of the coverage focused on how these emerging technologies could impact media and entertainment, specifically gaming and video content—but not engineering or design.

But at SOLIDWORKS World 2017, guests were treated to some great talks about how SOLIDWORKS 3D models are being incorporated into visualization applications for engineers and designers in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) and manufacturing sectors. Beyond visualization and collaboration, I've been trying to find examples of working AR and VR apps that are relevant to engineers. 

SOLIDWORKS and Meta Partner Announcement

On day one, SOLIDWORKS CEO Gian Paolo Bassi announced a partnership with Meta by demonstrating how he used the Meta 2 AR helmet to upload a SOLIDWORKS 3D model and manipulate it as a hologram. He gave the community a look under the hood of a bright red Italian sports car, the Effeffe Berlinetta, and excitedly announced how immersive design allows you to step inside your design and share it with others. 

This snapshot of the video SOLIDWORKS CEO Gian Paolo Bassi presented at SOLIDWORKS World 2017 shows him using the Meta 2 AR headset that start-up Meta is bringing to market. An innovative start-up like Meta is only 1 of more than 750 other partners who work with SOLIDWORKS to synthesize and expand new experiences and services (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)
This snapshot of the video SOLIDWORKS CEO Gian Paolo Bassi presented at SOLIDWORKS World 2017 shows him using the Meta 2 AR headset that start-up Meta is bringing to market. An innovative start-up like Meta is only 1 of more than 750 other partners who work with SOLIDWORKS to synthesize and expand new experiences and services (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

On day two, SOLIDWORKS Vice President of Strategy and Community Suchit Jain underscored the company's commitment to immersive design with other AR- and VR-related partnerships (NVIDIA, Microsoft, AMD, Lenovo), including the 3DEXPERIENCE platform and HTC Vive, which I saw firsthand at a demonstration during international automotive day at Ford headquarters last year.

Next up, to demonstrate the power of immersive virtual 3D design, Sid Palaniappan, SOLIDWORKS senior manager Graphics R&D Deployment, strapped on an HTC Vive onstage and took the audience on a trip through a massive construction vehicle model designed by a SOLIDWORKS user named Resemin. Palaniappan showed how you can see the 3D model in a 1:1 ratio and take apart the giant design to display and handle it one component at a time. 

Sid Palaniappan, SOLIDWORKS senior manager Graphics R&D Deployment, demonstrates the power of immersive visualization via an HTC Vive loaded with a SOLIDWORKS 3D model built by a member of its community named Resemin.
Sid Palaniappan, SOLIDWORKS senior manager Graphics R&D Deployment, demonstrates the power of immersive visualization via an HTC Vive loaded with a SOLIDWORKS 3D model built by a member of its community named Resemin.

Top 4 VR and AR Companies at SOLIDWORKS World 2017

1.       Virtalis offers tools such as Visionary Render and VR4CAD. Visionary Render is used to render complicated and large VR model files in real-time stereoscopic 3D. With high update rates and low latency, users can create immersive visualization systems and share them with third parties. This provides them with a Slack for VR.

Virtalis chose SOLIDWORKS World 2017 to launch VR4CAD, which is a software tool that enables CAD designers to mark up CAD models for VR headsets like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or any other headset or 3D screen that requires the power of a workstation.

An attendee using VR4CAD at SOLIDWORKS World 2017. The software boils down to a less expensive version of Visionary Render, which is used by major players like BAE Systems, Raytheon and Rolls-Royce. The main benefit is that CAD engineers don't have to create an application in VR that requires a lot of Steam or Unity engine know-how. (Image courtesy of Virtalis.)
An attendee using VR4CAD at SOLIDWORKS World 2017. The software boils down to a less expensive version of Visionary Render, which is used by major players like BAE Systems, Raytheon and Rolls-Royce. The main benefit is that CAD engineers don't have to create an application in VR that requires a lot of Steam or Unity engine know-how. (Image courtesy of Virtalis.)

Along with SOLIDWORKS models, VR4CAD transforms Creo View, Autodesk Inventor, FBX, Collada, Unigraphics NX, CATIA V5, JT Open and STEP file formats into VR-ready content.

At its booth, Virtalis was demonstrating how to transform SOLIDWORKS files into VR content for an HTC Vive using just three clicks and entering attendees into a contest to win a VR4CAD annual license that costs $2,500, though the company is selling them at $1,250 for a limited time. Kind of pricey, don't you think?

2.       WakingApp’s cloud platform also allows beginners or those without the right programming skills to create interactive VR and AR content. Called ENTiTi Creator, this DIY platform allows users to create apps by using a simple drag-and-drop platform. 

Looks easy enough for anyone to try, so let me know what your experiences are if you decide to give it a whirl. You might want to read the 121-page manual first. But this one's free.

3.       CAVRNUS joined the folks in AMD's booth to demo its collaborative visualization platform that allows users to annotate and manipulate 3D models even if they are working on a team that is distributed all over the world. 

A few youngsters get their immersive CAD on at the CAVRNUS booth in Los Angeles at SOLIDWORKS World 2017 with some HTC Vive headsets strapped on. (Image courtesy of CAVRNUS.)
A few youngsters get their immersive CAD on at the CAVRNUS booth in Los Angeles at SOLIDWORKS World 2017 with some HTC Vive headsets strapped on. (Image courtesy of CAVRNUS.)

If you read its product brochure, you'll find that you can import CAD files, write about design on virtual whiteboards, share slideshows as well as create and record video documentation to share with others. 

4.       Meta has made waves in the mainstream press about its Meta 2 AR headset, which competes with Microsoft HoloLens and DAQRI Smart Helmet and will cost $949 to preorder the development kit that comes with an SDK and the helmet. It's cheaper than the HoloLens, which retails at $2,999 for the Development Edition.

The Meta 2 and SOLIDWORKS announcement from Bassi was one of the highlights of the whole event. So what is under the hood of the Meta 2 headset?

It does not use hardware trackers like certain VR head-mounted displays (HMDs) such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Instead, it offers users a sensor array built into the helmet for hand interactions and positional tracking. It has a 720 pixel front-facing camera, and is tethered by a nine-foot HDMI cable for power, data and video feeds. It also has a 90-degree field of view (FoV), four speakers for sound near your ears and a 2550 x 1440 resolution with a 60 Hz refresh rate. 

Meta recommends that you have an NVIDIA GTX 960 or AMD R9 280 GPU, Intel Core i7 processor, at least 8 GB of RAM, and use Windows 8 or Windows 10 for the best results. (Image courtesy of Meta.)
Meta recommends that you have an NVIDIA GTX 960 or AMD R9 280 GPU, Intel Core i7 processor, at least 8 GB of RAM, and use Windows 8 or Windows 10 for the best results. (Image courtesy of Meta.)

Before diving right in and paying for your preorder version, be sure to read Meta's lengthy T&S agreement so you know what to expect.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, SOLIDWORKS World 2017 didn't really have all that much to offer in terms of new information about AR and VR, though the partnership between Meta and SOLIDWORKS could yield some interesting things.

Other than that, there were a few new visualization/collaboration platforms that lower the bar for creating VR and AR applications, meaning that you don't have to be a Unity or Steam programmer to create some new apps. After some time in new users’ hands, they could possibly yield some interesting engineering apps for AR and VR.

Without programming, the interest level of engineers and designers may go up toward seeing what AR and VR can do for them.

In one of my next posts, I'll be investigating the most cost-effective ways that a group of engineers and designers can break away and create a dynamic AR software application that is specifically for engineers.

What kinds of applications beyond visualization and collaboration would you like to see from AR and VR developers?

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