Building Surveying: Using VR and the Oculus Quest

Virtual Reality (VR) is a new technology which has the potential to be embraced within the construction and surveying industry. In this post I am going to touch on the Oculus Quest, how the Oculus Link can be used to get more from the Quest and looking at some of the available VR experiences.

Oculus Quest

The Oculus Quest is a fairly affordable entry level VR headset. The Quest is unique because it requires no PC or connecting wires to operate. With the new Oculus Link which is currently in the Beta stage it can now also be connected to a PC to access even more apps, one of which I will go into later on.

The system certainly has its advantages and disadvantages. The main downfall of the headset is the comfort of the device. I have been used to the PSVR which was a fairly comfortable device to use which is in contrast to the Quest which is too front heavy.

This aside, the Quest provides a truly transportable device which can be set up quickly and easily. The standard set up provides an excellent VR experience. I sat down and went through a narrated tour at the British Museum to learn about ancient Egyptian and Assyrian sculpture and Egyptian mummies. This got me thinking about the role of VR in surveying and building conservation.

Historic England and Historic Scotland have been working on 3D modelling and photogrammetry projects so I think more VR experiences are almost a certainty for the future. Building information modelling (BIM) has been banded about for years now but its only relatively recently that these designs are being accessed through VR to share designs with clients.

Oculus Quest Front

Another fantastic use of VR is the ability to view 360 degree photos. 360 degree photos have grown in popularity recently with platforms like Facebook allowing people to view them direct from their phone or PC. Viewing a 360 degree photo using your phone allows viewers to interact with the photo and drives a much higher level of engagement. However viewing the same image with a VR headset like the Oculus Quest is a game changer. I have captured a 360 degree photo of Dundonald Castle using my DJI Mavic Air 2, I allowed a few friends to view the castle using the Quest and they were really impressed.

This really opens up the possibilities for capturing excellent immersive experiences and sharing them quickly and easily. Areas that are inaccessible by foot can now be explored by using the combination of drones and VR. From historic structures to virtual home tours (which may be more prevalent in the current times) there are plenty of exciting opportunities.

Oculus Link

The Oculus Link has just arrived and is in the Beta stage, this means the software is still being worked on and I suspect it will be the start of next year before it is fully rolled out. Oculus Link software works with most high-quality USB 3 cables, the cable I use is a JOTO USB Type C bought from amazon for £8.99. Oculus are going to release their own premium 5m custom optical fibre cable later this year. You can find out if your PC is compatible with the Quest online.

As My computer is compatible I downloaded the Oculus software on to my PC and connected it to the Quest. At first I was getting an Error “com.oculus.os.vrmtpapp has stopped working”, I was using the front facing USB A connector in my computer so I tried the rear USB connector and the system worked fine after that. I know a few people have had similar issues and this seemed to work for me.

I would think that allot of these bugs will be ironed out when the software is fully released.

Google Earth VR

Once I was linked up to my PC I was able to access apps which would have previously only playable with the Oculus Rift. The first app I downloaded was Google Earth VR which is a free app which puts the whole world within your reach.

This app basically allows you to fly around the planet like superman checking out a detailed 3D map along the way. You can zoom in and go into street view as well and look around from street level.

You start out in space and then zoom into any part of the map after undertaking the tutorial. The images you see are created with satellite imagery as well as aerial photography giving quite a detailed view, especially so within their featured places like the Florence Cathedral or the Colosseum in Rome.

Google maps and street view will have been used by most in the building maintenance profession at some time or another. This VR experience just adds another level to the perspective you can take away and really excites me for the future. The only downside as with any moving space within VR it can make you feel a bit woozy after prolonged use.

Oculus Quest Stylised

Another fantastic use of the VR is the capability to view 360 photos which are becoming more popular in recent times. 360 photos can be viewed through a variety of means and are much more interactive as they give the user the chance to look around the environment. VR adds a whole new level of immersion to this experience.

Oculus Home

The Oculus Quest has a nice cosy night time cabin as the main home virtual environment, once connected to the PC via the link you are able to customise your ‘home’. I have spent more time customising my virtual home environment than I have in any of the games so far, it can become really addictive making multiple homes and exploring the possibilities.

Once I completed the tutorials I found it very easy to quickly create a space using the stock items available. Moving, rotating and resizing items then became almost second nature. If you are stuck with how you would like your home to look you can check out some of the environments that others have created, I found an excellent Star Trek environment which had been created with immense attention to detail.

You can easily see how those in interior design would make use of this type of application to let their creative side flow. From my simple forest cabin to awe inspiring outer space environments the possibilities could really be limitless.

VR 3

Conclusion

My main take away whether it is surveying or building conservation, I think VR has a bright future ahead. Whilst most VR units are aimed at gaming and entertainment, I see the use cases as being much wider.

As the technology is progressing and becoming better and more affordable we will see more people embrace this technology and hopefully see more of our historic environment captured in the virtual world.

If you have a VR unit mention down in the comments below as to how you use the device and what the technology could mean for surveying.

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