Development of a 3D conceptual design environment using a commodity head mounted display virtual reality system
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Design processes for engineered systems are resource intensive and have a significant impact on a product’s profitability. Over half of a product’s total costs can be attributed to design stage decisions. The development of product designs often involves creating complex 3D models in a 2D environment, a non-trivial task. Current design workflows involve the utilization of robust modeling software on a 2D display. However, previous research highlights the benefits of visualizing full-scale 3D models in an immersive Virtual Reality (VR) environment. These environments aid a user in understanding complex 3D geometry. Despite the benefits of VR, these systems have traditionally been large and costly, preventing widespread implementation within companies. However, the commercial availability of high-fidelity, commodity VR Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) provides an opportunity to explore the potential benefits this technology may bring to engineering design.
This paper details a proof of concept VR environment displayed in a commodity HMD; specifically, the HTC Vive. The environment supports creation of full-scale 3D product geometry at the conceptual phase of a design process. The environment contains a World-in-Miniature (WIM) model for enhanced interaction and usability. WIM manipulation allows a user to modify full-scale geometry by adjusting corresponding parts on the miniature model. Free-form mesh deformation was also implemented to provide designers with flexibility and efficiency not found in traditional design packages. Vital design metrics (e.g., cost, weight, and center of mass) were incorporated to allow a user to perform preliminary design analysis to assess product feasibility. The environment was designed to provide an intuitive user interface with only a subset of features found in traditional design packages, tailored to conceptual design needs. This work aims to be a building block for the fruition of a conceptual design environment in immersive VR, motivated by proposed benefits of such a scenario. The design environment in this work is not intended to replace traditional Computer Aided Design (CAD) packages, but rather to enhance the conceptual design phase by providing conceptual designers with a system optimized for the task at hand. Throughout the development process, unique challenges and affordances associated with commodity HMDs were identified, explored, and detailed in this work.