There has been a steady increase in the adoption of BIM in the construction and engineering industry, and also in facility management in the past few decades. The next step is to create a framework that will allow BIM models to be translated into virtual reality models in real time. The current issues in developing virtual reality models are many, and need to be addressed. Some of the issues are that the process takes up a lot of time, and is also complicated. Every workflow structure is different depending on the software that is used to create the BIM model and the third part application that is used to create the BIM model. This could take a significant amount of time.
When this is considered as an issue, it is observed that when a design change is made or a modification in the construction process is introduced, it will affect the BIM model which is a representation of the finished building. There is no interface that allows one to map changes from BIM to VR. When we consider the fact that converting BIM to VR is a specialty, most firms will not be equipped to handle this process with in-house staff and will resort to third party contractors and consulting firms that are experienced in doing this. This will further increase complications as this will involve more collaboration, and meetings. Ultimately, this increases the latency and response time involved in the process.
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Another issue is that with the current method of mapping BIM to VR, it is difficult to maintain consistency and integrity of the model if modifications occur frequently. For instance, if there are several parties involved in the construction of a building, it is acceptable that a cloud based BIM system such as BIM360 is used in order to improve efficiency, communication and make collaboration easy between all teams involved. This will increase the complexity of tracking the changes made and incorporating it into the VR model as the initial process of converting a static model from BIM to VR takes a significant amount of time. If frequent changes are involved, then this may cause errors in the final output of the VR system which is not desirable.
J. Du et al introduces the concept of BIM-VR real time synchronization system, or BVRS to address the problems mentioned above, which consists of four major components: BIM, Cloud servers and database, game engine and VR headsets. BIM refers to the base software that is used to create the model. Some examples of a BIM software would be Revit and Navisworks. The cloud server is a common method to account for storage of the output of the software and to incorporate efficient collaboration between all parties involves. A game engine that supports VR is used to create a VR model of the BIM output. Unity 3D is a common game engine that is used to create VR models for construction and engineering in addition to powering some of the most popular games in the market right now. Gaming is a highly monetary industry which implies that Unity 3D will receive constant updates and support to keep up with the ever changing trends of the industry. A VR headset is required to experience the VR model. Some popular VR headsets are the Oculus Go and HTC Vive.
J. Du et al presents the entire process of BVRS which involves mapping objects in BR to the original objects in BIM so chances in the model are incorporated. The research done by the authors seem promising as they indicate that it is definitely possible to come up with a solution which will solve existing issues that plague the BVRS process. However, it is seen that there is no unity or integration in the software involved in the process. The author was forced to write plugins for his choice of BIM platform which would act as an interface to allow for mapping to be done between the platform, cloud server and VR output. This research proves that it is possible to work on a small scale level. There are outputs shown where columns and furniture is moved to a different position in the BIM platform with the corresponding changes being reflected in the VR output which is viewed using a headset.
The lack of integration between the different components of BVRS suggests that if there was an update or a change in the way the BIM platform functions or the way the game engine works, then a new mapping plugin would have to be written, tested and implemented. As the industry is ever changing with constant updates and tweaks, this will be a repetitive process. There are several specialty consulting firms that provide this service as a part of their services and although they are capable of performing this task with accuracy, it is not ideal due to the reasons mentioned above. It would increase the response and latency time and increase the overall lead time of the project. In the construction industry, time and schedule are becoming exceedingly important and any increase in lead time will not only delay the delivery of the project but also increase the costs involved as it leads to an increase in utilization of resources.
A solution to address the above issue will be to come up with an umbrella of resources produced by a particular company like Autodesk. This will automatically improve integration between the different components of BVRS which are all produced by the same parent company. This will involve certain difficulties such as a company that does not produce VR headsets may be in a situation where they will need to be able to produce hardware to support their software or vice-versa. This can be overcome as it is common for major companies to collaborate with each other to overcome each other’s shortcomings.