Real-Time Revolution: AEC Trends AECbytes Sponsored Article (October 12, 2018)

We see more uses than ever for real-time technology in AEC visualization, coming from all around us. The 2018 Architectural 3D Awards included two real-time categories, and Boeing recently hosted an in-house event to drive the use of virtual reality and other real-time solutions in training and simulation.

Real-time rendering not only removes long waits for final output, but also provides a means for architects to consider types of visualization that weren’t feasible for them before: collaborative customer meetings where they can edit designs on the fly, virtual reality tours, and various kinds of interactive presentations.

To better understand the ideas and decisions behind the real-time revolution, Forrester Consulting surveyed AEC professionals in the USA and UK about their attitudes toward real-time solutions. Their findings were expected in some ways, and surprising in others.

Real-Time Rendering and Design

Architects responded to questions about the design process, with 95% stating that they were interested in adopting real-time rendering solutions as a way to get feedback and edit designs with live feedback from customers. In addition, 30% said they’d like to shorten the design-build process with real-time technology, making this a strong driver for adoption.

Based on this information, it wasn’t surprising to see that 81% said they were trying out real-time rendering now, and 59% said they are planning to put real-time technology into production within the next 12 months.

Why Real-Time Now?

Changes in computing in general, and architectural visualization in particular, have driven interest in real-time technology to new heights. Many respondents were concerned about the hyper-competitive market, with 65% citing a need to reduce the time taken to create high-resolution, photoreal imagery. And with computing power now able to handle virtual reality and augmented reality, 83% are interested in researching the use of AR or VR to solve problems.

Visualization professionals also see a need for real-time technology in handling Big Data for applications like GIS mapping and cost analysis. A prime example is National Renal Care, a kidney care organization with multiple facilities. NRC uses real-time technology in conjunction with maps and spreadsheet data to visualize the geographical and financial relationships between their many locations across South Africa.

Barriers to Adoption of Real-Time Technology

A surprising 42% cited software costs as a barrier to adoption of real-time technology. This response seems to be based on a misconception that implementing real-time rendering requires expensive tools, when all that’s really needed is the CAD software you already use plus a real-time engine like Unreal Engine.

As for costs, Unreal Engine is currently being offered for free as part of the Unreal Studio beta, which includes a suite of tools to help import just about any CAD format into Unreal Engine while retaining metadata, assemblies, and other hierarchies. With Unreal Studio in a free beta period until September 2019, the cost of adding real-time rendering to an existing architectural visualization pipeline is $0.

Another concern of respondents was the time and expense of training employees on real-time technologies, with 30% expressing this as an inhibitor to adoption of real-time rendering. While there is certainly a learning curve for any new technology, Epic Games, the creators of Unreal Engine, is also addressing this concern with the free Unreal Engine Online Learning platform, a comprehensive suite of video tutorials on Unreal Engine and Unreal Studio.

Between free training and free software, the barriers to a real-time pipeline are about as low as they’re ever going to be.

Side Benefits of Joining the Revolution

Besides the obvious benefits of faster iteration on design and the ability to create immersive experiences for customers, adoption of real-time technology has a hidden side effect: greater employee satisfaction.

With all the new technology around design and media, employees desire to be more expressive in their careers, say 62% of respondents. Your most creative staff will want, even expect, to be able to experiment with the latest technology and explore the artistic possibilities. Incorporating real-time rendering into your production pipeline can keep these employees interested and satisfied, as opposed to looking elsewhere for their creative fix.

The Future Will Happen in Real Time

With all the activity and interest around real-time rendering, it won’t be long before it replaces traditional rendering for many AEC visualization pipelines. We might even have a future where real-time collaboration on design is the norm, and some very particular clients demand a virtual reality experience before they sign off on design.

Getting in on the real-time revolution now will take time and commitment, but will ultimately pay off when you can offer a wider range of visualizations and presentations to your customers in less time than before. And with all the free tools on offer right now, it’s a great time to get started!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in AECbytes sponsored articles are those of the sponsor and do not represent or reflect the views of AECbytes.