Fostering Innovation and Learning through Immersive Virtual Facility Prototyping
The design and construction of facilities requires the conceptualization of complex systems and processes. While many industries have embraced rapid prototyping processes and technologies, the use of prototypes in the building industry remains in its infancy. Expensive scale models and mock-ups of building components are used to analyze design and construction. However, they represent only a single snapshot or configuration of the construction process. 3D and 4D computer aided design tools allow virtual models to be constructed, however they are typically challenging to manipulate and limited by small scale display for individual users.
There is a need to develop better methods to visualize and manipulate virtual models of facilities and construction processes within the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry. This proposal describes a five-year career development plan to create a Virtual Facility Prototyping (VFP) process and tools that will provide a foundation for the wide-spread implementation of virtual facility prototyping in the AEC industry. The plan focuses on the development of a process model for prototyping that will closely integrate research, teaching and industry outreach efforts. The VFP process will lead to a structure for developing innovative industry prototyping techniques and will provide the foundation for visual and problem-based student learning modules.
The research goal of this career plan is to develop methods to efficiently create and use immersive virtual facility prototypes that foster more innovative building and infrastructure product and process designs in the AEC Industry.
The focal point of this plan is to define methods and design appropriate technologies to create cost effective virtual building prototypes for use in industry and education. More specifically, this research will explore the efficient development and use of VFPs to foster innovation through the improved communication of the design and construction process information between project team members including the architects, engineers, contractors, owners and suppliers. Building from initial successful research results, case studies and structured experiments will be used to demonstrate how communication and problem solving between collaborative teams can be facilitated through the virtual and full-scale representation of design and construction processes.
The educational component of this project will focus on the development of case study learning modules using the virtual building prototypes in an active learning environment. These learning modules will be developed through a new graduate course offering and implemented within the undergraduate curriculum in architectural engineering. They will also be freely disseminated to other universities for more widespread use. The advanced visual communication will significantly improve the ability of students to comprehend, learn, and gain experience with reviewing designs for constructability and planning the construction of complex building and infrastructure projects.
The use of VFPs in engineering education will have a profound impact on the visualization of complex systems and construction processes by students and clearly demonstrate successful techniques for applying advanced visualization tools. When combined with problem-based learning exercises, VFPs will help create active, engaging learning environments and improve the attraction and retention of top caliber students to engineering disciplines. In particular, the potential exists to improve the appeal of engineering to women, who have, in some research, been shown to benefit from improved visual educational methods.
Beyond the classroom, the impact of this project on the AEC industry will be significant and broad-reaching, as it will redefine how facilities are conceptualized, designed, and constructed in virtual environments. This project will also demonstrate the value of VFPs in creating collaborative problem solving environments to other industries, such as ship building, aircraft construction, and large equipment manufacturing industries.
National Science Foundation