20 Replies Latest reply on Jun 20, 2016 2:45 PM by Jim Steinmeyer

    SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality

    Ethan Kinney

      Over the past month I have have been working on an application which allows a user to take an SOLIDWORKS model that had been exported to OBJ or AMF formats and view it in virtual reality. The application is now available for download here. This application still requires a lot of work and is really just in a beta state.


      Why am i working on this?


      I want to be able to quickly see my designs in real life for validation purposes. I want to know what it will look like as if I'm actually holding it. But more than that, you can check for interference or safety concerns that you may not see in SOLIDWORKS. For example, say you design safety guards for a machine and want to see if they are adequate to prevent someone from sticking their hand in it. Normally in SOLIDWORKS you would need at minimum a model to represent a hand to try this senario (or you just over design to compensate.) With virtual reality / augmented reality you can actually view your hand and see if you can reach in yourself.


      Another application for virtual reality is the ability to "bring" your entire product catalog to a customer, no matter how large your product is. You can quickly showcase the product and explore different use cases with a customer without ever having to bring physical products to the customer or without having to take the customer to show off your product.


      Eventually, virtual reality will be a norm. Its just a matter of time. I would rather be an early adopter of this technology and see the direct benefits of it as opposed to trailing behind everyone else in its adoption. I would imagine SOLIDWORKS will have direct virtual reality integration in a couple of years, but why wait?





      Right now the application requires an Oculus Rift DK2 and a leap motion controller. I will be working on a google cardboard compatible version soon (Cardboard only costs about $6 for the headset vs. about $400 for the Oculus Rift). I may also work on versions compatible with other VR headsets depending on the interest in the application. The application is windows only right now and is built on the Unity game engine.


      Here are some of the current features of this application:

      • Head tracking (oculus rift) & Hand tracking (leap motion)
      • Load OBJ and AMF files from local directory
      • Drag object side to side and up and down with left hand grab
      • Rotate object about vertical axis with right hand grab
      • Scale object with two hand grab and spread
      • Fine adjustment control using a slider menu


      Here are the features I'm still working on:

      • Asynchronous file loading
      • Load FBX Files
      • Load & Manipulate Exploded View
      • Hide Selected Items
      • Browse BOM tree
      • Load large (>60000 vertices) OBJ files



      What are OBJ and AMF file formats?

      OBJ is a standard file type used by 3D programs such as Maya and Blender and is used primarily for assets that are in video games, animations, etc. To export a SOLIDWORKS file in OBJ format, you need to use a community generated macro located here: Free Solidworks OBJ Exporter v2.0.


      AMF stands for (Additive Manufacturing Format). This is a relatively new format and is not widely adopted yet and is primarily intended as a replacement to stl. The benefit to AMF is that it is very lightweight in comparison to stl or obj file formats and it still carries all the same information if not more. While SOLIDWORKS does natively export to AMF, it is missing some information in the export: vertex normals (important to rendering nice looking files) and texture mapping. I anticipate that these feature will be supported eventually, but for now it works well as a quick way to export a SOLIDWORKS model and view it in virtual reality.



      I would love to get feedback on this application so that I can make it better and a more compelling experience. In time I will add support for more devices.


      Attached is a video of me using the application. (No audio)



        • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
          Joseph Dunfee

          I have long puzzled why VR has not taken off in the world of CAD.  The hardware necessary to do "Fish tank VR", with the object apparently floating in the monitor, has been around for a long time. Stereoscopic 3D using projections have also been around for quite a while. But, getting it to actually work with your CAD system is quite another matter.


          Architecture should be one field that would benefit greatly from the use of VR headset, or even stereoscopic projection with head-tracking. But, history suggests that this is not as compelling an application as I would imagine.  Otherwise consumers would be clamoring to get this sort of feature built into their CAD programs.


          Perhaps this is the sort of technology that really requires a hands-on experience to really know what it is like.  Google Cardboard is certainly an easy and cheap thing to try out.  So many people have compatible phones, a company might send a free cardboard set-up to a customer if they felt it would help them sell a project.  But, the act of getting a CAD model into the viewer is not exactly a casual process.



            • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
              Ethan Kinney

              Joseph Dunfee wrote:


              But, the act of getting a CAD model into the viewer is not exactly a casual process.

              That's quite an understatement there, lol.


              One of the things that I was able to do was to export a CAD file of my soon-to-be-remodeled basement and put it into VR. I used the Rift and an XBox One controller to walk around in virtual reality to get a nice feel of what the remodel would actually look like. It was kinda crude (no colors or textures) but the concept worked magnificently. I'm sure if I spent more time on adding color, textures and proper lighting it could look really cool (also if I had a better laptop for VR...)


              I do agree that it requires a hands-on experience to see the potential of VR. I'm going to bring my set-up with to Solidworks World in hopes to get a few more people excited about Solidworks + VR.


              Give it another couple years and I have no doubt that there will be more integration between CAD and VR.



                • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
                  Joseph Dunfee

                  Ethan Kinney wrote:

                  Give it another couple years and I have no doubt that there will be more integration between CAD and VR.

                  A number of years ago (perhaps around 10) Autodesk had a stereoscopic toggle in their DWG viewing program.  This would turn on the stereoscopic mode of your Nvidai video card, which would work with LCD shutter glasses. But, in a later edition, they removed that feature.


                  There is certainly no guarantee that the implementation of VR will be any different.



                    • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
                      Ethan Kinney

                      Perhaps you won't have the ability to design in VR (at least for now), but the ability to export to a simple VR viewer program is bound to happen (I mean that's essentially what I posted above). I assume it will require VR to go more mainstream before this happens within SolidWorks.


                      Hard to say what will happen in the years ahead, perhaps they'll even come out with a more immersive technology than the current VR headsets.

                        • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
                          Joseph Dunfee

                          I think the hardware to do VR has been viable for over a decade.  Many office projectors can do 3D with the addition of shutter glasses. And Google Cardboard has been out for a while now. I would have expected both methods to have been immediate successes in the world of architecture. This would have permitted customers to see their architect's work and understand it immediately.


                          But, 2D flat drawings seem to be sufficient. Or perhaps there is no need for the architect to do the extra work.They may have already contracted with the customer, and the 3D VR just didn't matter in terms of retaining the customer.


                          I attended some meetings of a VR club in the Philly area.  One developer showed a virtual show-room.  But, I said the challenge to overcome, is to make it easy for your potential purchaser of the software to insert their own models to the showroom.


                          I was hoping Project Tango would allow that bridge to take place. Just use the Tango camera, and walk around the object you want to have in your VR model.  But, all the demos tend to show things like animated characters dancing on top of the furniture.  One vendor I spoke to, said the ability to scan a large room with useful accuracy and detail is lacking.


                          Of course, CAD users already have the model in the computer. But, for some reason, you have to learn to use the game development software to be able to view your model. There is apparently not enough interest in the VR software vendors, or the CAD vendors, to create the necessary software to view CAD models in VR. This lack of interest is probably due to customers not asking for it.



                            • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
                              Neil Larsen

                              If the technology is mature this time around I think there will be a use for it, but the public adoption will not as widespread as they would like to believe given the cost of a headset and likely a new graphics card. We have seen many attempts at 3d over the years and they amounted to a novelty more than anything. The angle of view was pretty limited and units rather clumsy to wear, expensive etc. etc.

                              I would be interested in viewing my CAD models for a sense of real scale but I have a strong imagination anyhow so it wouldn't necessarily do anything to enhance the creative process. It could be useful to convey things to people who cant read plans and such though.

                              I wonder did you give up on a Google cardboard version? I would have liked to try that out with some of my projects. The 60,000 vertex limit is too few though. If it could be doubled it would be better however something like 300,000 would be still much more useful and at say 1.2m really open up possibilities.


                              BTW since when are posts moderated before they are shown? or am I being singled out for extra scrutiny for some reason??

                                • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
                                  Joseph Dunfee

                                  My comments are being moderated as well. I suspect that is just a new thing they are doing for all posters.


                                  Yes, I dropped the cardboard project.  In the past I had also investigated the haptic feedback systems.  There was a system called Falcon that would give force feed-back for a 3D stylus. If I recall correctly it was under $300. Add that to a "Fish-tank VR" system, and it might have allowed you to manipulate objects virtually, and given quite a natural manipulation system.


                                  But, perhaps all the expectations were overblown, or perhaps they found that there were technical hurdles that were not possible to overcome. 


                                  However I am still puzzled that it is not already common in CAD systems. All the vendor is provide the software hooks to get the CAD display to play nice with a Oculus Rift. I would think it would have been quite easy to do, since that product is fed directly wired to a PC. Architecture is obviously the field where the Head Mounted Display would benefit the most.  The Fish-tank VR type set-up would be best for objects that can fit on your desk-top.


                                  Neil, you said that you, " have a strong imagination anyhow so it wouldn't necessarily do anything to enhance the creative process."  I will share a store related to that;


                                  Perhaps 25 years ago, I drove a ways to get to experience the first VR game, "Virtuality" when it toured near me.  And in spite of the display being pretty good, I was disappointed   I think it was because I had already been immersed in doing 3D CAD work by looking at a 2D monitor. We didn't even have real-time rendering, so I was looking at a wire-frame display. But, I had trained myself in how to form a 3D "model" in my head from what I was seeing on my 2D monitor.  When real-time rendering became common, perhaps that was the nail in the coffin for professional VR displays. They just weren't beneficial.



                                    • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
                                      Neil Larsen

                                      My feeling is that a mixed reality tool like MS Hololens may be something more useful for working up concepts, design review and training. Being totally immersed in VR is disorientating (I've only tried Google cardboard but I felt quite sick after 5-10 mins) and I think the capacity for handling as detailed a scene as we might like for engineering purposes will remain out of reach. If there was a basic non history based CAD toolset where reasonably simple objects originating from primitives could be readily placed and pulled around like mime it might be useful. I am thinking of say blocking out a bulldozer where you might create a cylindrical bogie and bend over and place it on the ground and then make an array and mirror it, stand back, walk around and consider aspects. Then say you grab the front one and pull the spacing out some... It will need to be very responsive though ie. very little lag. At the end of your session you import a simple representation of the model into SWX like a 3d sketch or 2d block where it can form the basis of further work.

                                      I think imagination has its limits to project simultaneously, as in you can in turn perceive the whole and focus on parts but they don't form a large canvas you can readily observe another or see them in context. You need to recreate them again on the fly. I suppose its sort of like another MS invention where you are able to zoom way way in on a picture or shift from one picture to another of similar perspective. If you could construct a persistent dimensional and circumstantial skeleton for your imagination with a mixed reality headset it may free up the need to carry simultaneous estimates of position and scale in your head and allow you to move along to anchor other detail elsewhere rather than rescan, as it were, and of course others can participate in your imagination with you as you go as well. Hope that made sense. Call it SWX Augmented Conceptual Design or something catchy. Please no reference to 3d Experiences though...

                          • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
                            Jim Proctor

                            PTC is on the case already....I'm sure Dassault is aware.


                            PTC Acquires Vuforia

                          • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
                            Jim Steinmeyer

                            They are holding a big roll out streaming event nest week too. ThingEvent Home

                            • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
                              Shaodun Lin

                              Very cool project.

                              • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
                                Scott Lyon

                                I would very much like to see something like this able to be used in an easy manner. being able to show design models in our plant environment would be a huge help. the 3D scanner + app from Structure Sensor (Occipital) is about to (or maybe has) released a bridge engine to do just this using an iDevice. Bentley is also working on a method for incorporating models with AR using their recently acquired 3D model generation program called ContextCapture. That's the program used to convert pictures into point clouds used by Auto Desk and several other website based conversion services. I'd say in a year or two we'll be swimming in options. I can't wait.

                                  • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
                                    Joseph Dunfee

                                    I, have been very interested in the potential ability to cheaply do a 3D scan of a warehouse-sized building..In particular, I was looking at Google's Project Tango.  I read the new structure sensor by Occipital is supposed to have  brought accuracy down to 1/4".   I was hoping we could just buy one of these easy-to-use units, and mail it to clients that are out of the country so they can scan their facility themselves.  This would be done in preparation for us designing a refrigerated food storage solution. As it is now, we must fly someone out. Otherwise there tends to be a risk of the customer omitting some important detail, such as a pipe that reduces the potential ceiling height, or a fuse box that can't be made inaccessible.


                                    But, from what II have read so far, the inaccuracies that happen when you try to stitch a scan of a large facility really add up. Also, one of the software developers for it, said that it would likely not capture the trussing that form the roof structure.  The type of system that projects dots are just not any good for that sort of scanning.  I think it has to be a fanned-plain laser to actually be able to detect that sort of structure.  But, even though the technology for that should be pretty cheap now-a-days, you can't just go out and buy one that can do a room for a few hundred.


                                    And even with the laser scanner technology, I don't know if the software has finally matured to the point where it can recognize a pipe or I-beam for what it is, and complete the unseen portion. Also, walls are never perfectly planar, and you want some accuracy, but to have a million facets on one wall is also way to dense. So, until these issues are solved, you have to a lot of manual work with the point cloud created by the scan.



                                  • Re: SOLIDWORKS and Virtual Reality
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                                    Virtual Universe Pro can import Solidworks models and use them in a simulation using VR headsets and controllers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1gd7AP0eTg