Virtual reality as a visualization tool for structural engineers

With the advent of the Oculus Rift headset, virtual reality seems to be the next logical step in visualization for architectural companies.

Among an architect’s greatest challenges is conveying their designs to a client. Due to the ineffectiveness of traditional illustrations, multiple aspects of a finished project are typically different than originally envisioned. While a traditional illustration sufficiently demonstrates proportion, it cannot relay scale. A virtual reality simulation of a 3D model accomplishes both – for a cost that’s comparable to traditional illustrations.

But what about structural engineers, the ones responsible for ensuring an architect’s designs don’t defy gravity?

Recently, PocketCake ( had the opportunity to present its virtual reality services to Black and Veatch, a global infrastructure company headquartered in Kansas City.

Brian Melton, BIM (Building Information Modeling) director for Black and Veatch, said he was impressed by how well the user could comprehend the size of the environment in a virtual reality simulation. “I think this would keep the audience more focused as discussions are taking place, in turn getting better feedback and understanding of the design,” Melton said.

As invaluable as virtual reality may be to projecting space and aiding client comprehension, however, Melton said that for him its greater significance lay in its ability to display metadata logged in Navisworks. “We need to see what the structures are made of, what lies underneath, if (virtual reality) is going to be useful for us as a review tool,” Melton said. “It’s the infrastructure we care about.”

Melton also said that many of the conventional file formats for conversions (such as FBX and 3DS) are time consuming to export and perform sluggishly. “Navisworks is the standard for viewing models in our market,” Melton said. “If you could get your hardware to work with the Navisworks viewer, that might prove to be a quicker way to review modeled data and take advantage of the features that the Navisworks viewer already provides.”

PocketCake is currently in the process of developing a software that couples the real-time power of Navisworks with the immersiveness of virtual reality.


  1. Johnson McGee

    Using virtual reality to engineer structures would be way sweet! I think this could honestly be a good way for engineers to get an idea of what they’re building. If you can see it, and walk through it, you would do a better job designing it. This could revolutionize the engineering industry as we know it. How expensive is the technology? I hope it comes into common use.

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    Sam Isherwood

    Great idea. How’s the software coming along ?- I can’t believe autodesk haven’t got a plugin thenselves already.

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