Extended reality: it’s more than just a game for BIM

14 April 2019 | By Stephen Cousins

Tridify develops tools that quickly convert BIM models into games engine-based 3D immersive environments. Alexander Le Bell explains construction’s increasing fascination with gaming tech, the impact of “extended reality” on BIM workflows, and the coming revolution in immersive co-design.

Why is construction increasingly tapping into gaming sector knowledge and where will it take us next?

It is part of a global digital shift towards the use of extended reality (XR), including virtual and augmented reality and digital twins, which has massive implications for computing platforms in all sectors. AEC has traditionally lagged behind with digital tech so the huge number of tools arriving simultaneously is having a profoundly disruptive effect.

Game engines are making BIM models more usable for people that don’t have a technical understanding of software and coding. A key factor is the move beyond the use of VR for visualisation and marketing purposes, to build entire buildings in a 3D digital format where we can experience spaces, test performance and then use it to 3D print it or automate construction using robotics.

The end goal is a digital twin that can be used to operate the asset throughout its lifespan. In many ways, an interactive XR model is the ultimate operating system for any building, which is easy to visually understand and manipulate. Gaming engines, such as Unity and Unreal Engine, have a major role to play in the creation of that digital eco-system.

Why are gaming engines proving more effective than solutions developed within construction?

Gaming engines were created to realise digital worlds and they have evolved over many years to run very smoothly. It is not the case that the gaming sector is moving into the AEC arena, rather that AEC has an inherent need to utilise that sort of technology to visualise and navigate construction models more intuitively.

The end goal is a digital twin that can be used to operate the asset throughout its lifespan. In many ways, an interactive XR model is the ultimate operating system for any building, which is easy to visually understand and manipulate. – Alexander Le Bell, Tridify

The sectors are converging and it will be interesting to see if BIM engineers and architects end up with more of a games software-based understanding, or if coders at games developers start to adopt different aspects of BIM software. It’s a gap there that can be bridged in various ways.

Have you noticed a crossover in job roles between games developers and coders and BIM software developers and technicians?

Yes, we see some cross-fertilisation between the sectors. Tridify employs software developers who have been coding 3D immersive environments for the past 10-12 years, building games and all kinds of interactive environments, increasingly for BIM.

How did Tridify get into BIM and how do your tools enhance BIM workflows?

A few years ago we realised that it is quite challenging to create immersive environments based on BIM models, so we started to develop tools to automate various functions. We offer a range of simple workflows that provide time and cost savings to end users by removing manual processes, optimising the models and retaining the BIM data.

Our strategy has been to base workflows and tools around open standards and systems, such as Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) and compatibility with most game engines, including industry leaders Unreal and Unity.

A key service is a cloud platform where users can upload BIM models and convert them into a game's engine environment. Integrated tools make it possible to quickly assign physical qualities to BIM components, for example, instead of manually telling each light fitting to illuminate, an automated algorithm creates the lighting.

In VR, colliders need to be assigned to walls and floors prevent users from walking or falling through them. Our tools make it possible to assign them to elements across the entire model simultaneously, which saves lots of time and allows developers to focus on creating better, more immersive experiences.

Who are your main customers?

Tridify is providing technology and tools for anyone creating immersive XR models. Our tools are used by software developers, architects and BIM engineers. We have been working closely with some of the largest construction companies in the world, so we understand the use cases and what they are trying to push.

Will augmented reality and virtual reality be “business as usual” for construction users in five years?

Looking at current technologies and how fast they are advancing, the landscape will look very different for sure. Every year leads to more photo-realistic environments, more interactivity and immersion.

Social XR will be the next big thing and will happen at a massive scale. This will see regular lay people, including clients and tenants co-design buildings in VR and AR with architects. It will enable architects to more effectively communicate their work and more closely respond to the end users’ requirements.