Vir­tual re­al­ity: A pow­er­ful de­sign and de­ci­sion mak­ing tool in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

weather, moun­tain or sea, rocky or muddy grounds. In some parts of the world cer­tain nat­u­ral causes, such as seis­mic events and floods, have also played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the evo­lu­tion or an­ni­hi­la­tion of var­i­ous civil­i­sa­tions, em­pha­sis­ing the im­por­tance of cor­rect de­ci­sion mak­ing in con­struc­tion.

Nowa­days, the dis­sem­i­na­tion of science, the evo­lu­tion in the ma­te­rial prop­er­ties, the in­no­va­tive con­struc­tion meth­ods, the con­struc­tional in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and the im­pres­sive tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments in hard­ware and soft­ware al­low build­ing de­sign­ers and con­struc­tion engi­neers to make de­ci­sions with pru­dence but with­out fear. In fact, any pro­posed changes to­wards new ar­chi­tec­tural forms can pre­dom­i­nate be­fore these forms prove them­selves of be­ing earth­quake re­sis­tant, eco­nom­i­cal, sus­tain­able or har­mon­i­cally fit to the en­vi­ron­ment. A three-di­men­sional world built in a com­puter vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment, es­corted by an op­ti­mal de­ci­sion mak­ing al­go­rithm and as­sisted by ex­pe­ri­ence in con­struc­tion ac­cu­mu­lated through the ages, en­ables build­ing de­sign­ers and con­struc­tion man­agers to fore­see and an­a­lyse the struc­tural dif­fi­cul­ties be­fore these even ap­pear.

The build­ing de­sign process is sub­di­vided into three parts: the pre­lim­i­nary de­sign, the fi­nal de­sign and the de­tail­ing. The build­ing de­sign­ers usu­ally have the time to go through an it­er­a­tive process and, af­ter analysing all data and pa­ram­e­ters, to come out with an op­ti­mal and more or less er­ror free so­lu­tion. On the other hand, the con­struc­tion process is sep­a­rated into six stages: the struc­tural frame­work, the gross-be­ton lay­er­ing, the brick­work, the frame fit­ting for win­dows and doors, the plas­ter­ing and the fi­nal de­tail­ing. Se­cure de­ci­sion mak­ing at any stage is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult be­cause each ac­tion taken usu­ally af­fects pro­cesses in more than one stage. The con­struc­tion man­agers usu­ally deal with a wide range of mul­ti­stage prob­lems and must take fast de­ci­sions un­der pres­sure with­out be­ing fully aware of what side ef­fects might be cre­ated.

The ef­fects of de­ci­sion mak­ing in con­struc­tion are not easy to be ac­counted for and surely not suf­fi­ciently ex­ploited in cur­rent build­ing de­sign prac­tice. This stands not only when tra­di­tional con­struc­tion meth­ods are used, as for ex­am­ple in small scale build­ings in many Mediter­ranean coun­tries, but also when highly in­dus­tri­alised pro­ce­dures of ei­ther open or closed con­struc­tion sys­tems are fol­lowed, as those in large scale struc­tures and mas­sive de­vel­op­ments. Be­fore de­vel­op­ing any de­ci­sion mak­ing scheme, suit­able build­ing dig­i­tal mod­els should be cho­sen to rep­re­sent the phys­i­cal, func­tional and tech­ni­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of the build­ing. The to­tal struc­tural model fol­lows the Build­ing In­for­ma­tion Model (BIM) scheme in or­der to al­low a flaw­less in­te­gra­tion with some vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) soft­ware. In this way the data of the phys­i­cal and math­e­mat­i­cal mod­els of the build­ing are han­dled suc­cess­fully. Fur­ther­more, if in­dus­tri­alised pro­duc­tion is im­ple­mented, the struc­tural com­po­nents fol­low the In­dus­try Foun­da­tion Classes (IFC) scheme. These data han­dling schemes, as­sisted by com­puter graph­ics, lead to an ul­ti­mate 3D rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the build­ing com­po­nents whereas the con­tin­u­ous frame pro­jec­tions (ap­prox­i­mately 60 frames per sec­ond) help to main­tain a con­stant vis­ual con­tact and thus gen­er­ate of a vir­tual world.

The for­mu­la­tion of the build­ing phys­i­cal model is based on the fol­low­ing: Like any solid ob­ject, the build­ing it­self con­sists of solid struc­tural com­po­nents and lay­ers, as beams, col­umns, slabs, foot­ings, walls, doors and win­dows, rail­ings, in­su­la­tion, plas­ter, tiles, etc. Each solid com­po­nent is formed by a set of sur­round­ing sur­faces and each sur­face is bro­ken down into tri­an­gles paired by com­mon edges. Es­pe­cially when we ob­serve the re­sponses of the load bear­ing struc­ture as de­flec­tions and stresses, or un­usual struc­tural ge­ome­tries as hy­per­bolic roofs and par­a­bolic walls, the num­ber of tri­an­gles must in­crease in the in­ten­sive ar­eas. The more tri­an­gles used for the sur­faces the greater the ac­cu­racy of the im­age is, but at the same time this leads to in­creased com­pu­ta­tional time and there­fore much slower de­ci­sion mak­ing process. The snap­shots of mode­shapes par­tic­i­pat­ing in the over­all seis­mic re­sponse of the build­ing are shown in the fig­ures here. These are ac­tu­ally an­i­mated in real time struc­tural mode­shapes, giv­ing to the de­ci­sion mak­ers, de­signer engi­neers or con­struc­tion man­agers, a qual­i­ta­tive per­cep­tion of seis­mic be­hav­iour of the build­ing while the quan­ti­ta­tive val­ues re­sult from modal su­per­po­si­tion. All the above take place in real time, in an en­vi­ron­ment formed by con­tin­u­ous frame pro­jec­tions, main­tain­ing a con­stant three-di­men­sional vis­ual con­tact with the de­tailed build­ing model and pro­vid­ing stereo­scopic vi­su­al­i­sa­tion (via stereo­scopic glasses), hu­man in­ter­face, an­i­mat­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, speech re­sponse and all the tech­no­log­i­cal fea­tures that any con­tem­po­rary mul­ti­me­dia may of­fer.

This ar­ti­cle points out how mod­ern mul­ti­me­dia tech­nolo­gies can be used in the crit­i­cal area of the con­struc­tion in­dus­try for elim­i­nat­ing er­ro­neous, mis­lead­ing and some­times cat­a­strophic de­ci­sions. The in­no­va­tive, straight­for­ward and highly tech­no­log­i­cal tech­niques pre­sented add value to op­ti­mal de­sign and de­ci­sion mak­ing pro­cesses. Af­ter all, if the Chi­nese say­ing “one pic­ture is equiv­a­lent to 1000 words” is true, then view­ing 60 such pic­tures per sec­ond is equiv­a­lent to con­densed hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence fa­cil­i­tat­ing sci­en­tific ob­ser­va­tion and ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

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