VR Headset

Trying To Keep Up With My Kids and Their Tech Stuff

My kids weren’t too impressed when I told them I was one of the first people I know to have an email address, way back in the 1980s.

Or that I’d been through three cell phones before Steve Jobs figured out how to connect them to the internet. That was back when we used cell phones to call people.

They weren’t impressed, because those things have been indispensable parts of their daily lives since day one; they’ve never known what it was like not to have them.

Their lives began with the digital age well under way, so changes in technology aren’t that big a deal for them.

My parents, on the other hand, have lived most of their lives without gadgets like cell phones and ipads. They only grudgingly accepted them into their lives as a way to communicate with their children and grandchildren, relying on all of us as their personal tech support on Sunday afternoons when tech things go wrong.

Karen and I are in the middle somewhere. We started out with pencil and paper and landlines, but these days we’re rarely without a smartphone, tablet, or laptop computer within reach. We’re much more tech-savvy than my parents, but compared to our kids, we’re barely digitally literate (or so they keep telling us).

But as different a comfort level as these three generations have with technology, we all use it for the same thing – to connect with each other.  Sure, texting our kids isn’t the same as talking face-to-face, or even on the phone, but it’s still a connection, and we’ve learned how to fit those few quickly-typed words into the larger relationship we have with them.

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When I started my first job in Architecture in 1983, personal computers were just beginning to make their way into offices, and Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) was still a dream.  I learned to draw by hand on vellum and Mylar with “technical” pens, but jumped at the chance to also begin using CADD in 1992.

The promise of all that technology was better connection with design, and with the people my profession served. Strangely though, I found that over time, all those bits and bytes seemed to increase the distance between my clients and me, not lessen it.

I think a big part of the reason for that distance is that the creation of design – using technology – remains technical and esoteric, which means clients only see the results, not the process. But Architects should want more client involvement in the creation of the design, because that’s where that connection happens and that distance lessens.

That may be about to change, and rather dramatically.

You’ve probably seen a lot about Virtual Reality (VR) lately – Samsung is spending a lot of money promoting their VR headsets, which use your smartphone – technology you’re already familiar with – to create surprisingly realistic “immersive” gaming and travel experiences.

But that’s just the tip of the consumer-level iceberg. On the horizon is software and hardware that will allow Architects, Designers, and clients to experience fully immersive virtual reality simultaneously, designing “on the fly”.

Imagine that – you and me standing together in the same virtual space, placing walls, windows, cabinets, furniture – whatever we want, wherever we want it – while in the background, the software creates the technical drawings needed to build the project. It’s probably the closest we’ll ever get to building a full-scale mock-up of a house before we build the real thing.

Right now that technology has a long way to go, but the first versions of this gee-whiz stuff are already becoming mainstream in free and paid versions.

National builder Pulte Homes, for example, is introducing VR tours of it’s model homes. It’s not “design on the fly” but it does give prospective homebuyers a chance to “walk though” an unbuilt design before they commit to a purchase. Learn more about what Pulte is doing here.

Planner 5D is a free app that lets you input a rough floor plan, populate it with furniture and decor, and view the results on the simple Google Cardboard device. This is early, consumer-level stuff, but that’s how these things start out.

At the professional level, IrisVR is probably closest to integrating VR and the design process. IrisVR uses higher-end HTC Vive or Oculus Rift headsets. More importantly, it works with some of the existing CADD software that Architects and Designers already use.

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I’m excited to someday make use of all this developing VR technology, which I think will eventually transform the way we design and the way Architects and clients work together.  It will help meld the vision of Architect and client into one and dramatically change our roles in the design process.

My kids will watch it emerge and grow, and become part of their lives. And someday, their kids will might never know a time when homes weren’t designed in VR.

And me? Maybe my kids will stop over on Sunday afternoons to help me figure out why my new VR headset isn’t working.

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