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Unity survey sees big gains in AEC visualization use

Unity survey sees big gains in AEC visualization use


Since the inception of the first console in the 1960s, the video gaming community has always found a way to leverage emerging technologies to enhance user experiences. In just the last 20 years, those experiences have evolved from the manual joystick of a Frogger arcade to the immersive virtual reality of 3D goggles. All the while, enthusiasts and spectators alike have continued to look to the game engine world as the barometer and catalyst for disruptive technology.

Such visual experiences have historically lagged behind in the built environment, however, where most firms still rely heavily upon traditional 2D, static images to convey project design art. But the tide is turning in the built environment, and lo and behold, it is the gaming world that is leading it. Major game engines like Unity 3D have started investing big resources in this space, and our industry may never be the same.

This month, San Francisco-based Unity Technologies released the findings of its first major international survey of architectural, engineering and construction firms, based on responses from 967 visualization experts in 95 nations. The goal was to better understand the current status and trajectories for dynamic visualizations within the AEC community. “We wanted to capture insights that would prove beneficial for the sector and examine changes that technology will make,” explains Unity VP Antony Douglas. 

Still image from Unity video game "Assassin's Creed"

Still image from Unity video game "Assassin's Creed"

The survey focused on three areas of inquiry: bid process; design process; and the future of design communication.

Bid process

Nearly two thirds of respondents said they “use technology often or very often during the pitch/bid process to communicate their ideas (e.g. rendering engines, real-time, mobile apps, VR, etc.),” according to the survey. Of note, word-of-mouth marketing still generates the best leads, and price is still the biggest factor in winning a contract.

“We are entering an era of innovation in how we communicate design and pushing the realm of architectural visualization artistry to the next level,” concludes Jeff Mottle, CEO and "visualization evangelist" at Calgary-based CGarchitect, an online magazine. "Clients are beginning to expect visual technology at any pitch, and customers are figuring out new ways to deliver the goods."

Explains Scott Dewoody, director of visualization at global design giant Gensler, “If we can communicate to a client what they’re going to feel, and what they’re going to experience, then we’re more likely to be successful in getting buy-in for that pitch."

Design process

Still image from Unity architectural rendering

Almost all respondents (97%) believed that visualization technology is imperative to the overall design process.  Additionally, more than half (53%) admitted that still-image renderings are the highest revenue-generating visualization activity within their company. However, despite strong success with visualizations, companies aren’t yet motivated to pursue new architectural rendering technology. In fact, 80% of the respondents said they were satisfied with their overall software packages; the top six being 3Ds Max, Adobe CS, V-Ray, AutoCad, SketchUp and Revit

Not surprisingly, demographics also are a significant driving force in the tech revolution. So, we should expect to see “further integration of technology as a younger generation grabs hold of decision-making roles,” notes one respondent.

The future of design communication

The Unity survey also asked “which technologies will be most impactful on the field of architecture and visualization over the next 10 years?" Real-time rendering came out on top with 75% respondents selecting this as most influential. Other answers foresaw GPU (graphics processing unit) rendering, 3D printing, VR (virtual reality) technologies, and BIM software, all gaining traction over the next decade.

Again, demographics have emerged as a major factor, as more gamers find themselves in leadership positions.

Doug Wolff, innovation director at Britain's ZeroLight, the virtual showroom specialist, says the ongoing tech boom is only a byproduct of an underlying culture shift within the non-tech industries.  “The new wave of high-level executives controlling these industries has grown up around video games and real-time technologies," he notes. "This means they are embracing [new technologies] at a rate never seen before."

So, how long must we wait to see the widespread implementation of immersive experiences?

According to Unity, the movement has already started. More than three quarters (77%) of the market believes that within the next ten years, 3D real time visualizations will be a part of everyday workflows. And 61% report that they have already had clients ask them for real-time interactive 3D models in design or workflow.

Perhaps the survey's most significant message may lie in one of its more obvious findings. Whether your business is large or small, if you have resisted technology and somehow failed to prioritize it yet, in the tech field or not, your business is doomed. As the Unity survey notes with considerable understatement, “overwhelmingly, growing businesses take advantage of technology more than non-growing businesses.”

Unity is used to create much more than video games! Check out a small selection of the awesome projects developed with Unity for purposes beyond your entertainment.

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