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  • 12 Mar 2017
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How construction is getting ahead of the game

Game engines are increasingly being used by architects and contractors, but why? Chris Bradshaw, senior vice president of media & entertainment at Autodesk, provides some answers.

How can game engines be useful to the architecture/construction industry?

First, architects and designers can experience their own designs in a simulated environment, exploring different iterations and approaches in an immersive way. One of the biggest challenges in construction is around how to build structures and buildings, and being able to test this through different simulations is incredibly valuable.

Second, game engines enable architects to place their clients into designs, so they can better understand what the structure will look like before it’s finalised. This is a very different experience to looking at still renderings or viewing an animation that someone else has put together.

In turn, this allows clients to provide more detailed and accurate feedback on which elements of the design they like, and which aspects need tweaking.

How important could game engines be for the built environment industry?

There is a great deal of potential for game engines, particularly in the operations and maintenance space. Take organisations responsible for maintaining waste water treatment plants, for instance. There is a lot of heavy equipment, big pumps and filtration systems that all must be monitored, maintained and repaired.

Game engines can be used to train up new recruits on how to carry out this work. Creating a virtual environment of a specific pump station, for example, will enable the staff to really understand the space. How far away is the pump from the wall? Can they get their hand around the back of it to fix it?

"For some organisations, game engines are being used as a standard part of the design process today. These companies have already figured out how to integrate interactive experiences and immersive design into their workflow."

Chris Bradshaw, Autodesk

Knowledge sharing between more senior members of the team – who have a lot more experience of each pump room – and the next generation of workers should also be encouraged.

By equipping the more junior members of the repair team with AR goggles, they can work closely with senior staff to let them know exactly what they can see in the virtual environment, and what they should do in response.

What can the built environment industry learn from the gaming industry?

I’d actually flip this on its head and say the gaming industry has a lot to learn from the built environment industry. For example, when a gaming company is creating a building for a game, they would ordinarily have to build it from scratch in software like Autodesk Maya or Autodesk 3ds Max, neither of which were originally designed to build buildings.

As a result, we’re increasingly seeing the gaming industry ask how they get Autodesk Revit models into something that’s already been designed and built, using software such as Autodesk Fusion 360 to rapidly integrate elements into games.

Bringing the design environment into an interactive space is going to transform the way that people think about creating games, because they’re going to be able to get the as-built world into the entertainment world much more easily and quickly.

Is the gaming industry looking at construction as a growth market?

In a way, yes, but it’s not quite as simple as mapping one industry on to the other. It’s about applying elements of the real-time environment and interactive capabilities to the construction domain and transforming the way that organisations think about design and build.

How long do you think it will be before game engines are a standard part of the design process and how long will it be before we see an Xbox in the majority of architecture offices?

For some organisations, game engines are being used as a standard part of the design process today. These companies have already figured out how to integrate interactive experiences and immersive design into their workflow, and they have the skills and resource to use these capabilities on the projects where it makes most sense.

It will become more mainstream once the process has been made faster, better and cheaper. We believe we have the capability to do this at Autodesk, given our deep expertise in design and the technical capabilities that we have within our portfolio of entertainment products.

I don’t believe we’ll see Xboxes (or their future equivalent) being used for architectural walkthroughs any time soon, as they simply weren’t built for this purpose. Just because they have the capability to do this doesn’t mean they’ll be the platform of choice for architects, and so I can’t see this happening.

Which has more potential to seriously impact the construction industry over the next five years, VR or AR?

With VR, the user is in a completely immersive, enclosed environment that can’t be meshed with the real world. It’s great for entertainment because the user can be totally wowed by the experience, but they don’t have any real mobility – they’re restricted to a small environment.

With AR, we can overlay a virtual world on to the real world, enabling construction workers to see what a building is going to look like when it’s complete, or what a site might look like in two months’ time, for example.

The technology will enable people to be taken into an environment where they can work collaboratively with remote colleagues, show them what they’re seeing and share their experiences as if they are physically there themselves.

It is for this reason that AR has much more potential to seriously affect the construction industry over the next five years than VR.

Image: Kirsty Pargeter/Dreamstime

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