I must admit I stole the title of this blog post from Steven Rosenbaum, in a Forbes’ tech article (see the article here). Though his article is about consumer VR, I think he is in full alignment with most CAE industry analysts when he makes the observation that “various [technology] prognosticators have proclaimed that 2016 will be the year that virtual reality flies off the shelves and under the Christmas Tree.”
# shipped units has indeed grown dramatically from over the last year, with estimates in the order of 140-1 000k units for 2015 and 4-12.5m units for 2016 (source: The Financial Times on 08.10.2016: “Tech rivals vie to make VR headsets fit for the masses” and idc). And Oculus estimates to sell 355 000 units of its Oculus Rift in 2016 (source: https://www.theinformation.com/sonys-playstation-is-an-early-winner-in-vr-market) [i].
Some of these VR headsets will end up in the hands of CAE professionals, which is the backdrop for the two big issues explored in today’s blog post: 1) Will they be used for professional CAE use? 2) How to VR-enable one’s CAE software and one’s CAE department?
My personal motivation for exploring the issue of VR technology [ii] for the CAE community is twofold: i) Me and my colleagues in Ceetron have in H2 2016 received a fair number of requests from the CAE community, including from top-tier OEMs and technology-leading end users, about VR support in our SDKs and end user products; and ii) we released in September this year a test version of our free 3D viewer with support for Oculus Rift (see photo of one of my colleagues in our Tønsberg office using it for test purposes).
Of course, parts of the CAE community, for example in oil and gas, have for years been keen investors in VR gear, in the form of caves and powerwalls. However, usage and benefit realization never took off in proportion to investments (typically in the order of hundreds of thousands of USD). Fact is that such hardware was never a big hit with analysis-centric Ph. Ds preferring to ponder technical issues at their desks. See Dassault Systèmes’ 2016 decision to replace their demo caves with headsets (source: http://fortune.com/2016/01/08/dassault-systemes-htc-vive/), which is reflective of a broader industry trend away from expensive high end systems.
Before our readers grab their credit cards and go Christmas shopping for VR gear in the form of headsets for their CAE departments, I believe there are five questions that they might want to consider:
- Where is the CAE industry on the VR adoption curve, and where does your company aspire to be on the same curve?
- What differentiates VR for CAE from VR for consumer use?
- What support do major CAE software providers offer in their main CAE products?
- What hardware should you source for professional CAE use?
- How to roll out the use of VR in your organization?
Regarding (1), adoption rate, I think we must go back to B-school: Everett Rogers specifies in his book Diffusion of Innovations a staged model (see figure to right) consisting of innovators (first 2.5%), early adopters (next 13.5%), early majority (next 34%), late majority (next 34%), and laggards (last 16%). Based on a count of Ceetron’s OEM customers and end user customers, I think it is fair to say that OEM space is already in early adopter stage, in end user space we are in innovator stage [iii][iv] . Looking into the crystal ball, I think it is fair to say that we in Ceetron believe that end user community will move from innovator stage to early adopter over the next 2-3 years, which means that as many as 1/6 of organizations with serious CAE departments will be using VR gear on a regular basis [v].
(Note that the situation in CAE space differs from that in CAD space, where we have seen interesting and broad use of VR with i) support for enterprise VR and consumer VR hardware; ii) emergence of specialized VR services and product providers like TechViz (see http://www.techviz.net/); and iii) establishment of industry meeting places in the form of web sites (e.g., http://www.cad-vr.com/), journals, academic papers, and conferences dedicated to VR in CAD. We believe that CAE space is at least some years behind CAD regarding the use of VR technology and that the technology development and industry structure may unfold differently in CAE.)
Implication for your organization: Decide where you want to be on the adoption curve, but in case you decide not to invest in VR technology, be prepared that for a situation where your competitors will be way ahead of you on the curve. And at least, in 2017 allocate some of your R&D funds to a VR project.
Regarding (2), VR hardware for CAE vs. consumer VR hardware: We believe that VR hardware for consumers will essentially dominate VR for the enterprise in general and VR for CAE in particular. There are some peculiarities regarding CAE: i) addition of computational results (scalars, vectors, and particle traces); ii) various picking operations (looking at computational results for a specific node or element
s); iii) fairly rich menu-based operations like creating a cutting plane, looking at an iso-surface, and comparing models from multiple disciplines; and iv) analysis-oriented rather than action-oriented. However, I believe that these peculiarities will be addressed in software, not in hardware. This is generally corroborated by the slow pick up in CAE of enterprise-type VR headsets like Canon MREAL (though prices starting out in 2013 at USD 125 000 per head
may have contributed to slow pick up, see https://www.engadget.com/2013/02/21/canon-mreal/; see photo of the device to the right).
Implication for your organization: Select CAE software that supports high-end consumer devices rather than enterprise VR gear, and source high-end consumer VR hardware rather than enterprise VR hardware.
Regarding (3), support for headset-based VR by major providers of CAE software packages: I have analysed the web sites of a number of the major vendors and open source packages, including: Autodesk, Siemens PLM, MSC, Dassault Systèmes, DNV GL, Intelligent Light, GNS, Ensight, Beta, VCollab, and Visual Sciences Group. I did also characterize each vendor along a VR maturity scale, based both on hard factors like actual support for devices and committing road maps, and on softer factors like customer success stories and community statements.
In my opinion, three companies stood out as scoring high on VR maturity: Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, and Ensight. A number of CAE product companies talk the talk about VR, but do not walk the walk. The rest appear (today) to have limited strategic interest in VR.
Implication for your organization: i) If you want to VR-proof your CAE workflows, include VR headset support (at least at road map level) as evaluation criterion when purchasing new CAE software. ii) Understand the constraints that your existing CAE application portfolio may impose on possible VR hardware to standardize on. iii) Do your own assessment of the VR maturity levels of various CAE software vendors.
Regarding (4), sourcing of VR hardware for CAE: There are four categories of devices: low-end consumer devices (Samsung Gear, Google Daydream View), high-end consumer devices (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Microsoft HoloLens), enterprise VR (Canon MREAL), and cave-based VR. Purchase prices for the four categories are: < USD 100, < USD 1 000 (though HoloLens is priced at USD 3 000-5 000), > USD 10 000, and > USD 100 000.
Just ignore low-end consumer devices. Also, in our opinion enterprise VR is a dead end in CAE, witness the slow pick-up of Canon MREAL, which was released in 2013, but appears unsellable in CAE outside very niche applications. (Ensight is as we understand it today the only CAE software company claiming to support Canon MREAL, though it is supported by a fair number of providers of CAD software, see for example http://www.techviz.net/techviz-and-canon-partner-to-deliver-3d-visualization-and-mixed-reality-solutions#.WGJUiRsrJhF.) Witness also what happened with the cave industry, referred to in the beginning of this blog post, which has more or less collapsed.
Implication for your organization: i) If weighting reasonable price, support offered by large CAE software packages, and futureproofness, consider Oculus Rift. ii) If wanting a more gaming-like experience than what Oculus Rift can offer (with its somewhat seated experience), consider HTC Vive. iii) If planning to experiment with mixed reality, consider Microsoft HoloLens.
Regarding (5), rolling out VR in your organization: There are two ways: i) bottom-up. driven by enthusiastic individuals with a need, keen interest in VR, and the resources; or ii) top down, as exemplified by Kotter’s widely used 8-step process for effective change management (see for example http://www.kotterinternational.com/the-8-step-process-for-leading-change/).
Implication for your organization: Select good pilot use cases, support young talent with a keen interest in VR, and be prepared for a situation that your organization will consist of a mix of innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. And, it is not obvious that your most senior CAE professionals will belong to the early stages of the adoption curve.
A word of caution: One may ponder whether the current interest in VR headsets is just a flop, whether in total or for CAE only. A leading, robust and fine-grained (temporally and product-wise) indicator can be obtained using Google Trends. Here are search trends for ‘* price’:
No clear conclusion, but the chart above seems indeed to suggest that the market’s interest in VR headsets is already tapering off (with the exception of a spike this Christmas week). This is for the market in total, the implications for CAE space are uncertain.
That said, in Ceetron we believe that the case for headset-based VR in CAE strong, and that we will see significant pick up of the technology over the next 12-18 months. If you are an OEM and want to contribute to this transformation of engineering workflows, I have two pieces of technical advice for you:
- If you aspire to VR-enabling your desktop-based solver offerings, you may want to consider Ceetron Export Component in combination with our free VR-enabled 3D Viewer for free distribution to your customers. (This is out of the box; if you want to create full 3D visualization solutions yourself, you may want to consider 3D Components.)
- If you aspire to VR-enabling your cloud-based solver offerings, you have a tougher endeavour in front of you, as virtual reality has historically been about high-performance hardware in combination with thick clients. You may however want to consider Ceetron Cloud Components in combination with a VR-enabled general browser (see for example https://webvr.info/ or https://mozvr.com/) or a VR browser (e.g., https://www.engadget.com/2016/10/06/oculus-vr-web-browser-carmel/).
And if you are an end user with an aspiration of VR-enabling your engineering workflows, I can only concur with Steven Rosenbaum’s statement at the end of his article: “There are plenty of choices for [CAE professionals] looking to dive into virtual reality this holiday season. Yes it’s early days – but the hardware is solid and the software is already abundant.” Well, for the CAE professional, the abundancy is in practice somewhat constrained by support for various headsets in the various solver packages.
Feel free to contact me for a chat about what Ceetron can offer in this area (my email address is provided below). In a follow-up blog post, Ceetron’s CTO Fredrik Viken will explain at a technical level how to VR-enable your solver or model repository. By the way, Fredrik just told me that they have just received a Rift Touch in the development department and that support for Rift Touch has been scheduled for 2017.
I wish our readers an enjoyable festive season.
Tor Helge, Ph. D.
Managing Director, Ceetron AS
[i] Some sources report significantly higher numbers. The difference may be explained by difference between shipments and orders taken. The difference may also be related to whether or not low-end devices are included. Gartner appears to be on the lower side, see http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3198018. Most industry analysts adjusted their number for 2016 upwards throughout 2016.
[ii] We will in this blog post focus on headset-based VR, as it is seen as most relevant in CAE space. However, one could imagine mixed reality / AR applications in CAE, including digital twins and certain medical applications.
[iii] Note that there is an issue of how to define adoption: First, we have looked at adoption at an organizational level, not an individual level. Second, we have defined adoption as manifested in technology, road maps, and workflows.
[iv] Certain end user industries, for example offshore oil & gas exploration, are already way into early adopter stage, with its extensive investments in (but less practical use of) caves.
[v] Similarly, we expect OEM space to move from early adopter to early majority within the same time horizon.