In recent years, virtual reality has almost revolutionized the world of product design (at least for the companies that use this technology). We discussed in 2018 some of these advances with GoEngineer and how VR's capabilities have dramatically reduced development costs and shortened development times.
With the release of Oculus Quest earlier this year, VR has evolved from an engaging technology to one that is an integral part of our process at SGW Designworks.
Indeed, due to the increasing availability (and affordability) of this technology, we have started to use VR in new and exciting ways. To our knowledge, we are the only product design and development company in the United States to use Oculus Quest to this extent.
What has changed in our process?
Five years ago, we used a combination of computer and television screens as well as physical prototypes to test designs in design reviews. From 2017, we started using HTC Vive, which is bound to a high-end gaming PC, for development and design purposes. Originally, there wasn't a good third-party app to import Solidworks files into Vive. That's why we created our own app. Then, as the Vive matured, third-party apps were released that made it possible.
When we used HTC Vive in our design and development process, we knew that VR was extremely valuable. Customers typically travel to our facility to do VR design reviews – sometimes instead of physical prototype design reviews and tests. This often meant that we could eliminate some of the physical prototypes that we would normally build in development. However, this system is not very portable and we found that improving VR technology would also improve our process.
Enter Oculus Quest. This system is wireless and independent. This gives us portability that we have never had with our Vive setup. We knew that if we could import them into Quest (there are currently no apps that enable this feature), we could send our design drawings to customers for design review in their own offices. About a week after the product launch (around June 1, 2019), we submitted an Oculus Quest for the first test.
After developing a workaround for the import, we now have four Oculus quests that we routinely send to our customers while developing their products. Sometimes we only need one customer to check the aesthetics. In other cases, we show how certain parts communicate with each other. Or we test the ergonomics. All of these are aspects of product development that are generally difficult to understand on a computer monitor, but are easy to test in VR.
VR functions: customer benefits
Oculus Quest offers our customers an easier way to interact with their designs during the development process. We can load a design into the headset, pack it and send it to our customers. They can then display their products in VR and give critical design feedback – all without traveling to Boise.
Since this implementation, we have achieved a number of positive results: in particular, an even faster execution and lower development costs. Since we are already working with customers across the country, this tool enables us to involve these remote customers even more intensively.
How future developments in VR will continue to affect product design
If we have learned something about VR, this technology is evolving quickly. How SGW VR now uses has changed from a year ago – and even half a year ago!
Because of Oculus Quest's wireless, stand-alone features, we use VR technology more often and with more customers than ever before. As a first-time user of the Quest system, we now have six months of experience with this technology. During that time, we found Quest to be a great tool that (in a way) is more robust than our previous setup.
However, our use of VR is a constant evolution.
In two years, new hardware will further expand VR's capabilities. 5G is likely to change the way VR works, as GPU / processor power moves to the cloud instead of living on the headset. This should allow us to integrate even our most complex models into a wireless VR headset and render them smoothly. Just like with the Vive setup, however, we currently have to optimize our models so that they work in the quest. However, over time, good third-party apps will become available to make this possible.
Regardless of how this exciting technology evolves, we are proud to be at the forefront of these new developments.
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