Virtual Reality: The new frontier for Industrial Design

by Evan Keen
Office of Communications and Marketing intern
Monday, February 27, 2017 - 11:01am

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Industrial Design student Sam Weaver uses a controller as a laser pointer while he is in virtual reality while his instructor, Professor Jason Morris, watches on the computer. (C. Albright photo)

Western Industrial Design student Matt Hoogestraat is standing in the middle of an oval shaped room with the sea stretched out around him in all directions. Around the exterior of the room are tables with odd designs hovering above them. Matt teleports from table to table, examining the designs until he finds one with his name on it and his designs above it.

While all of this is happening, Matt is sitting in the office of his professor, Jason Morris, motionless with a helmet and goggles on.

This is virtual reality.

For the first time at Western, the Industrial Design program is using virtual reality to help students review their work in an augmented space thanks to the power of the HTC Vive, a headset used to create virtual reality.

Morris’ class is responsible for designing a home appliance that expands on the Amazon Echo’s ability to respond to the user and control other technologies. Students create their ideas in a 3D CAD program like Solid Works or Rhinoceros, then import these designs to Morris who puts them into a virtual space where students can view it in virtual reality, or VR.

“I’m working on a home security project,” said Hoogestratt. “The concept is that instead of having a lot of peripheral devices like door sensors and motion sensors you would have one mobile drone that has sensors on it.”

Matt’s design calls for a build of the drone and a miniscule sensor that is placed in all rooms of the house. These designs were created in Solid Works and imported into the virtual space where students can then go view the designs.

When asked what VR brings to Industrial Design, Morris said that this is what designers are trying to figure out. One thing that’s already noticeable with this new technology is how much time it saves in the design process.

“If the students modeled these designs by hand using a foam material it would have taken several hours of physical model making,” said Morris. “But with VR, everyone did five to six models in a week, which allows for a quicker translation to a physical figure.”

While the use of VR is only in its preliminary stages, the benefits it can bring to the Industrial Design program are seemingly endless. One avenue that Morris is excited about is VR being implemented with 3D printers; designers could create their work in a virtual space and then instantly print the designs for others to see.

What Morris finds the most exciting is that the future of VR is so unpredictable and that the possibilities for Industrial Design are just now being uncovered.

“I think that these virtual galleries of student work will be able to be experienced and viewed by anyone worldwide,” said Morris. “Further out I think designers will be able to shape and mold their designs while in VR and use a 3D printer to create their work.” 

For more information about the use of VR in the Industrial Design program, contact Jason Morris at Jason.Morris@wwu.edu