Immersive automation saves architects time and increases margins by 500%
To create a low-cost platform which allows architects to produce immersive 3D demonstrations of their prospective designs, allowing them to go directly from their existing 3D data through a no-code extended reality (XR) authoring platform to produce the 3D scenes, which are presentable across a wide range of hardware devices, both in person or remotely viewed.
Innovative architectural 3D printing technology company Fixie and the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), part of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, collaborated on a project to create a solution to help architects author their own immersive content and presentations without requiring any additional advanced skills.
Architects utilise a combination of media and softwares to communicate their design proposals to clients. However, innovative presentation methods are expensive and require expert skill sets to implement, compelling the architects to outsource these services, generally as one-offs, from specialised consultancies.
While large firms have inhouse computer-generated imagery (CGI) teams for this, the project wanted to provide smaller firms and individual architects with an augmented reality (AR) presentation tool, that can also be used remotely for virtual presentations through both the browser and in AR on mobile.
The collaborative XR-creation platform, which builds on Fixie’s previous research into 3D-printing automation, now provides a one-stop-shop for independent and smaller architectural firms to 3D print and design XR presentations in a single solution. It removes the need to outsource, giving architects control over their existing 3D data. The innovation is an automated, immersive, visualisation-production pipeline for architects; where CAD data can be brought into XR to automatically export project-winning and fee-generating communications.
The project, backed by £500,000 of Innovate UK funding, was undertaken during peak remote working through the Covid pandemic to explore the emerging field of WebXR and remote delivery of multi-user session XR content across a range of devices simultaneously.
The project focused on the interaction between physical 3D printed model production and the creation of overlaid AR presentations. These immersive presentations are authored and delivered through Fixie’s existing online platform that allows architects to easily create physical models from their digital 3D designs.
This project took learnings from the 3D-printing automation supported by the AMRC, which extended the current capability of the platform to be able to import existing architectural models and automatically convert and optimise these into a form suitable for subsequent use.
The pipeline now extends to an editor in the browser where a user can create presentations on the same platform that they are ordering and configuring the models within. The editor itself requires no coding or additional model configurations and can simply add assets and narration elements to the scene, provide notes and animations for use on different ‘slides’ or views.
The platform also provides other authoring and viewing features to help architects communicate their digital design and story more efficiently. It offers collaborative, multi-user sessions that allow slides to be edited by multiple users simultaneously. Comments can be saved to allow a persistent chat between users and ‘ping’ comments can be used to access specific slides. The platform also incorporates real-time strategy style cameras to navigate the scene.
A viewing app has been created which allows for anyone to join a session from a mobile phone in AR or via the browser, and all viewers can be kept in sync, controlled by the presenter who can walk through the presentation as intended.
Engineers at the AMRC successfully developed a tool to be used by architects that makes presentation in 3D as simple and mainstream as creating presentations with slides. With the help of the tool, an architect can upload and create a presentation for AR remotely within an hour. However, the project also discovered that currently, WebXR itself does not provide sufficient capability for high-quality, high-performance AR tracking.
Fixie’s platform is accessible through widely available and affordable technology, such as web browsers and smartphones, providing an entry point for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and individual architects to create new experiences and remote presentation methods at a low cost. Firms will save 30% of work time through automation and can increase margins by 500%, or £6,000 per presentation.
Architects can also easily present ideas to people who are remote, with viewers capable of seeing the 3D model in AR on their smartphone/tablet in front of them to greatly improve their understanding of context and sense of scale whilst listening to the architect, reducing the chances of miscommunication and improved sales conversation for the architect.
This innovation could be extended to incorporate many further elements to improve the authoring tool to assist with the presentation and narration, as well as the viewing component with the likes of VR integration.
For further information, please contact Thomas Baker, software technical lead for advanced visualisation: