Architects and engineers find a transformative solution in Nvidia Omniverse

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Not long after Pixar unleashed Universal Scene Description (USD) in the world, NVIDIA saw the potential it held for its new development platform, NVIDIA Omniverse. USD, an extensible, open-source 3D framework was originally Pixar’s solution to the unique workflow challenges involved in creating complex animated features. It’s often described as “the HTML of the metaverse,” in that it powers collaborative construction of immersive 3D scenes.

But the combination of the framework with NVIDIA RTX™ technology, and the recently announced Omniverse Cloud, which moves the entire platform to the cloud, making it accessible across devices, has unlocked powerful use cases across industries and far-flung workforces in the 3D real world. Omniverse connects teams worldwide to design, build and operate virtual worlds and digital twins, making it a powerful collaboration platform for enterprise. It’s been embraced by game developers and designers, engineers, used in manufacturing and robotics.

It’s now coming into play more than ever in the architecture, engineering, construction and operations (AECO) — industry, says George Matos, senior product manager of AECO at NVIDIA. This new type of collaboration, where teams, assets and software tools are united, is changing how structures are conceived and built.

“The platform allows teams to collaborate in a way we never thought possible,” Matos says. “Instead of replicating the way collaboration has been done for 20 years, it’s opening up a far more streamlined, powerful way for teams to work, enabling new ways of incorporating essential data into a singular viewpoint for design and approval.”

Major architectural firms are already discovering this, such as the world-renowned, award-winning Zaha Hadid Architecture, and Aireal, a patented geospatial augmented platform that offers a powerful self-service visualization tool. More on their work in the case studies below.

Omniverse in the AECO world

There are a few major challenges in architectural design. Collaboration, clearly defined design intent, and maintaining a single source of truth top the list. But there’s also the need to smoothly integrate disparate data from a broad array of software, tools and datasets; faster design iterations; physically accurate, photorealistic simulations; and more. Omniverse upends these issues, while adding entirely new capabilities, such as simulating real-world factors like environmental data that can have a profound, sometimes derailing impact on design decisions over the course of a project, in a traditional linear workflow.

With USD at its heart, Omniverse can hook together the most commonly used 3D design and visualization applications, including Autodesk Revit, McNeel Rhino, Trimble SketchUp, Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3ds Max and more to allow project members to collaborate while using and empowering their existing workflow. Users share a single view of the project’s 3D scenes, or a single source of truth, making real-time collaboration anywhere in the world possible. And with workflows no longer locked into linear formation, iterations, design cycles and approvals are sped up dramatically.

“A large part of the ROI comes from how many more iterations a design can go through during the course of a project,” Matos says. “It makes designs better than they could have ever been previously, because of that speed.”

NVIDIA also offers a developer toolkit for creating custom tools and plugins in Python or C++ as well as custom UIs to accelerate design workflows. The platform also provides physics technologies for physically accurate simulation, and a multi-GPU RTX renderer that supports both real-time ray tracing, interactive path tracing lzand NVIDIA Iray rendering that can be streamed to any device.

Zaha Hadid case study: Focusing on the things that matter

Award-winning Zaha Hadid Architects is known for the strikingly fluid forms and complex geometries of its designs around the world and its influence on contemporary architecture is widely recognized. The firm works across the design scale, from small experimentations to master plans for airports and more.

Currently, close to 50 percent of their work comes from winning competitions, says Shajay Bhooshan, associate director at the British-based firm. Turning out creative work quickly is of paramount concern. In the real world, the company frequently enters competitions for jobs in China and the Middle East, where their fellow challengers are fierce, projects move quickly and workflows, conducted in a broad array of software tools across departments, need to be streamlined.

Project Name : Hangzhou International Sports Center, Hangzhou, China
Image credit : Zaha Hadid Architects , Proloog

“We need to design and produce evocative images and renders and animations for competitions, and once it’s won, produce drawings out of our designs,” Bhooshan says. “We also informally exchange the true geometric information with various parties, like engineers, fabricators and so on. There’s a zoo of things we use to enable these three disparate workflows.”

Omniverse has enabled the firm to address the biggest pain points in each of these endeavors, he says: workflow unification, multi-author collaboration across tools and software, version control and the ability to view a project on any device — for instance, a client review on an iPad.

Teams dive into the animation features to animate views of the structure in progress, and use the physics features to create more organic, physically plausible shapes. The Omniverse geometry engine gets a workout in client renderings, and the platform’s APIs have let them customize their processes. For instance, their workflows are extremely iterative, Bhooshan adds, and supporting that work style is where the platform is really shining.

“We’re building better connectors and utility tools to improve our productivity and already we’re seeing some early benefits,” he says. “Multiple departments have to iterate collaboratively, and now several people can work simultaneously on different things. It builds better awareness between the departments, even if we’re not directly working on the same object, as we see the project getting updated.”

The platform also enables version control and adds discipline to the way projects have to be structured, bringing some of the software development mindset of a repository to the 3D world.

“Initially it adds more work, but over the duration of a project, it should significantly improve loss of fidelity, loss of design intent,” he says, “Along with improving productivity.”

Zaha Hadid has been actively looking for ways to achieve a more efficient and streamlined level of production for all of its projects especially as an increasing number of clients come to the firm with an interest in staking a claim in the metaverse — buying or renting virtual land and erecting their own community spaces. The firm has been building a broad array of structures in the metaverse, from the real to the highly imaginative, for clients in industries where rapid turnaround is status quo.

Project Name : Hangzhou International Sports Center, Hangzhou, China
Image credit : Zaha Hadid Architects , Proloog

“That’s where we think it’s also very good to borrow from the agile, game studio mindset,” Bhooshan explains. “Historically, [architecture] is a very lethargic industry, both because of regulation and because of the high volume of investment and money involved. But Omniverse is a step in the right direction to improve productivity in the A part of the AEC industry.”

Leveraging a USD pipeline on Omniverse to aggregate and easily access otherwise siloed data, unlocking it for teams and device to structure architectural design processes and collaboration has offered tremendous value in terms of turnaround already, Bhooshan adds, but streamlining production also directly improves the end product in a very concrete way.

“There’s a tendency in the physical world to think of architecture as the routine production of commodity buildings, but it’s actually about delivering positive, high-value user experiences,” he says. “If all your resources are consumed in just getting things produced, you don’t have much time to focus on the thing that matters to the end user, which is the spatial experience.”

Aireal case study: Transforming the quality of experiences

Aireal offers architecture, engineering and construction clients powerful self-service tools to visualize and understand real-world structures in an immersive, virtual 3D space with geospatial augmented reality technology. Augmented content can be placed with millimeter-level precision globally, indoor and outdoor.

Residential masterplan builders and their customers, the future homeowners, can, for instance, place a home on an empty lot before it’s built, fly into the residential community at street level and fully customize the exterior and interior to see how their dream property can come to life. Its Omnistream platform embeds those experiences directly in a website, so that users can navigate entire residential communities of these home visualizations.

The Butterfly Park from Hillwood’s Harvest community Omnistream experience by Aireal. Image courtesy of Aireal.

The company jumped on the possibilities of Omniverse not long after NVIDIA launched the platform, explains CEO and founder Kevin Hart — immediately recognizing a tool that tackled Aireal’s major pain points.

For instance, the Omniverse markup tool hands control to their clients, so that they can navigate a virtual experience on their own, explore a 3D design and drop comments directly in the project, or work with Aireal in real time, and watch updates made as they happen.

“On average, 18% of builder Capex is wasted due to rework and change orders,” Hart says. “Builders who have used our technology have decreased that number down to 6%. Visual articulation has given buyers confidence in the aesthetics of the future project.”

Behind the scenes, concurrent workflows in a cohesive platform have also improved business processes, making the team a well-oiled machine, Hart says. Each member of the team works in their preferred software, with no version control issues like Git merge conflicts. This makes for a cohesive platform that allows them to move away from the linear, consecutive execution of a waterfall approach and into a more collaborative environment.

“Omniverse lets everybody work freely, as if they’re truly building something in the real world, in physical space,” says Hart. “Our time frames have also consolidated drastically as a result, which obviously helps all of our clients be happy. Everybody wants everything yesterday. The sooner we can get it to them, the better.”

And because the visual experience is the whole point of a visualization, the cloud XR support that Omniverse offers was a game changer. Previously, the company was able to produce scenes with 20 million polys — which is state of the art, but not quite photorealistic or cinematic quality. With the cloud, they can process high-quality 3D models and visualizations in real time, to stream into the geospatial AR experience, with no limits on poly count.

“We have photogrammetry projects with millions and millions of polys, and they look like they’re right in front of you, coexisting with reality, affected by real-world lighting and environmental effects,” Hart says.

“It takes the quality of what we’re presenting to an entirely new level. When you’re trying to articulate visually to somebody a future space or a type of material that they can’t physically touch, those little details matter to help communicate that vision. That allows us to deliver an even better product to our existing customer base.”

Through the use of Omniverse, other Nvidia tools and stacks, and tools they created themselves, they’ve also actually launched an entirely new business, that will be launching its first product in the next six to eight weeks: Spaces by Aireal. It’s an AI interior design tool with automatic staging, Hart explains.

With Spaces, using Nvidia functionality, the client can upload any picture to the system, which digitizes the item in full 3D, including texture, materials and geometry at scale. Or the user can select from a catalog of more than 50 different furniture partners and decor companies. A machine learning model, trained on more than 900,000 space plans to understand what type of room it is, the size of the room, and the ideal configuration, finds the exact asset to automatically place it in the room the user is designing. From there, the user can purchase any of those items in a seamless fashion.

Spaces by Aireal Beta demonstration. Image courtesy of Aireal.

The next product is an AI-powered design tool that will be trained on the aesthetics of some of the world’s most popular designers. It’s trained using images of finished products, and suggestions can be filtered by the budget that the user sets.

“It’s not only transforming the designs and the quality of the experiences we offer, but it’s literally allowed us to create new companies — I don’t think there could be a bigger compliment for a piece of technology,” Hart says. “It’s that powerful of a tool. Every pain point that it solved, those are my favorite features, because they’re not pain points anymore.”

Learn more about howUSD and the groundbreaking NVIDIA Omniverse platform is revolutionizing the way architects collaborate, iterate, and create immersive 3D experiences. Join NVIDIA at GTC, the conference for AI and the Metaverse, to learn more about USD:

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