How Aviation is Using VR to Transform Design and Marketing Presentations
Company presentations are usually the realm of tedious PowerPoints, but for designers across a host of industries, VR is offering a new, more immersive option. Lucy Ingham takes a tour of aviation research centre ZAL’s VR lab to find out how the technology is bringing designs to life
In the bowels of Hamburg, Germany-based aviation research centre ZAL is a technology that is poised to transform marketing and design presentations. On first entering the dimly lit room that houses the centre’s VR lab, you’d be mistaken for thinking what lies in front of you is simply a 3D cinema screen; an assumption supported by the pairs of glasses lined up on the tables that face it, ready for the assembled attendees to put on.
But then the person taking the presentation puts on their own glasses, and it’s clear that something is different here. While they look like 3D cinema glasses, they have a series of sticks attached to them, each with a ball perched on the end, and the controller the presenter picks up has similarly bizarre appendages, resembling an unholy union between a 1960s satellite and a Nintendo Wii controller.
“You're looking at a screen which is 6m wide and 3.5m high, which makes it the largest VR screen in northern Germany, and the screen alone costs over €100,000,” says Lukas Kirchner, press officer for ZAL. “The glasses in front of you – if you put them on you should be able to see a 3D image of our logo here.”
Presenting in 3D: how a VR lab works
For the attendees of a presentation in a VR lab, the experience is similar to 3D cinema, except that the person presenting can not only choose what is on screen, but interact with it, pulling 3D models apart and reconfiguring them as their audience watches.
“I have the director's glasses right now. I can take the logo here and redesign ZAL's corporate brand,” explains Kirchner.
“My glasses are also connected with the perspective changes, so as I move, the image moves.”
“You can feature up to 30 people here in the room with this, and look at how can you engineer new parts, for example, for the aircraft to fit into the plane.”
Attendees can also get up and view the screen’s 3D contents from different angles, allowing them to inspect a design in detail, as long as the presenter stands still. As a result, presentations become a collaborative affair, with those in attendance able to suggest changes or request different views of the 3D models on display, which can be immediately enacted and iterated upon.
“This is what the room was designed for: say you have a chief engineer who wants to show what happens if they pull part of the fuselage apart, or something like that, and you can show this project to people in the room from different partners, and everybody can have a look at it,” explains Kirchner.
“You can feature up to 30 people here in the room with this, and look at how can you engineer new parts, for example, for the aircraft to fit into the plane; how can you design new cabin elements which you can show off to potential partners. You could also use this to design factory processes.”
Why use a virtual reality lab
VR labs are already something of a staple among aviation heavyweights, but labs like ZAL’s are bringing the technology to a wider corporate audience.
“What we do here is make virtual reality accessible for companies who work in engineering, but also in design,” says Kirchner.
“If you go to Airbus or to Lufthansa Technik, they also have large virtual reality labs, which are a lot larger and more fancy than this one, but it's usually done for marketing, so if I have an airline customer come in and I want to show him his new fancy plane.
“You don't have the option as a supplier or as a university to use their lab. We want to make this accessible for the smaller companies here, and for universities, and also for non-aviation partners such as the gaming industries and everybody who is interested in using a large-scale virtual reality lab.”
“What we do here is make virtual reality accessible for companies who work in engineering, but also in design.”
Any industry that requires clients or colleagues to commit to a physical design before it has been completed has the potential to benefit, because the true value of the VR lab is its ability to bring abstract plans into a form that feels real and tangible.
“If you're an engineer and you're doing a research project, this enables you to do much better presentations than you would normally be able to do with PowerPoint, and different kinds of research – bringing in partners, asking questions, explaining concepts – than you would just do with pen and paper,” he says. “It’s very interesting for engagement.”
Rent your own immersive meeting
The aviation industry’s adoption of the technology is perhaps no surprise, given the space constraints that engineers face, however ZAL’s lab has allowed small companies to compete with the heavyweights, particularly when it comes to client presentations.
“We had a design outlet that used this a couple of weeks ago to present a new cabin concept which they have designed for private jets,” says Kirchner. “They invite customers here and show their concept here on the big screen, so people can have a closer look at how the design works.”
“We had a design outlet that used this a couple of weeks ago to present a new cabin concept which they have designed for private jets.”
However, it helped that the technology is very easy to use, with controls that can be mastered in a matter of minutes and a system that supports any VR-compatible software, now standard on the majority of design suites. ZAL also offers a very flexible platform, enabling daily or hourly rent, with or without supporting engineers.
Few companies will be able to justify a €100,000 spend for their own VR lab, but if more centres like ZAL offer the platform to rent, the presentation will be able to finally step into the future. And for companies in the Hamburg area, it has already arrived.
Images courtesy of ZAL