Skip to main content
Start of main content

How remote VR meetings help design teams overcome the challenges of COVID-19

April 15, 2020

Imagine walking through your new facility with your design team, before it’s constructed and from the safety of your home. Welcome to InsiteVR.

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed how project teams work, certainly in the short-term and possibly forever. In-person design reviews are now done over screenshares or screenshots using Skype, Zoom, or email, to middling results. But one platform—InsiteVR—is taking online design reviews to a whole new level. 

Stantec’s Ideas editor met virtually with two of our augmented and virtual reality experts—Chuck Lounsberry and Rael Romero—as well as InsiteVR co-founder Russell Varriale. Over Skype, we talked about how the platform can help designers and Stantec clients keep projects moving forward in this time of uncertainty. 

Note: This discussion has been edited to provide clear and concise information for our readers. 

First of all, what is InsiteVR? 

Russell: It’s an architecture, engineering, and construction virtual reality platform that lets designers, owners, and end-users review 3D design models in immersive coordination meetings. 

How is it different from other VR design platforms?

Russell: Other tools typically focus on visualization—one person in VR looking at a fly-through or leading other people around a design model. But InsiteVR is a meeting tool. We stream large 3D models onto the Oculus Quest headset so multiple participants can review a design as if they were walking through a completed project. They can go where they want, talk to each other, point out concerns. It’s a truly collaborative experience. And by enhancing collaboration, we see a reduction in major issues that prevent budget and schedule delays. That’s our guiding principle. 

Even watching the process in 2D, I can see how effortless collaboration is and how everything discussed is easily documented. 

Russell: Exactly. When you’re in VR, you’re not just sharing your screen. You can see people gesturing, see where they’re walking, what they’re pointing at. It’s a much more natural way to review a design. 

Rael: Your engagement increases, too. Meeting on Skype or Zoom, you might be looking at your phone, checking your emails. Maybe distracted by your lunch. But when you’re in these models and everyone is going to go to the mechanical room, people can tell if, say, Chuck’s not engaged. We can actually see where his orientation is in the model and say, hey, Chuck, come over here and look at this and see how this is lining up. 

Let’s talk about how this platform can help clients with keeping projects moving forward in light of COVID-19. 

Rael: Using the platform, it’s as if design consultants, owners, and even end users are sitting next to each other in an office, reviewing and marking up designs. Except, of course, now everyone is meeting from the safety of their homes. 

Chuck: And not to sound hokey, but I find that the platform helps to overcome some of the loneliness and the social distancing that comes with having a dispersed workforce. It’s enjoyable to be in sessions with other people that you haven’t seen in a while.

Project team members review, in virtual reality, an Aera Energy project design using InsiteVR. 

This technology existed long before COVID-19 hit. What are some of its other benefits?

Chuck: One of our design teams working on a new residential tower in Boston was able to cut a 6-hour roundtrip from their schedules. 

Russell: Part of our job is to help teams quantify budget and schedule impacts from using VR. With 2D plans, and even other VR tools, you might miss spotting issues. We’ve found that, on average, teams using InsiteVR can prevent two-and-a-half RFIs for every hour spent in the VR model. That means we can resolve RFIs in minutes instead of weeks and avoid months of possible design delays. 

Rael: The QA/QC process is better as well. We have a lot more confidence in the designs we hand off to our construction partners. 

You mentioned end users. How does the platform get them engaged with design? 

Rael: On the Comox Valley Water Treatment Plant project in British Columbia, we had one of the client’s operators do a VR walkthrough of a new plant before it was constructed. At one point, the operator said, “I can’t reach this valve. I’m going to break my back if I have to get on my knees every time I’ve got to turn this, and I’ve got to turn it twice a day.” So we changed the design and prevented possible worker’s compensation claims. 

Chuck: And on a hospital project, we had some healthcare providers use VR to review the design models. They said things like, “This shelf is too small” and “You need to put this outlet on the other side because when I need to intubate a patient, I need to plug the machine in over here.” 

In one review, a nurse pointed to a cabinet in a hospital room that opened up into the room and asked if it could open up into the hallway as well. That way, if there was a sanitation concern with the room, staff wouldn’t have to go into it to restock the cabinet. That actually became a design standard. This type of feedback makes our designers better, makes future designs better for our clients, because these details become part of our institutional knowledge. 

And Stantec clients? Do they use the platform? 

Russell: I was in a meeting with a Stantec client, Aera Energy, last week. The entire team, including the client, was working from home as they reviewed an oil and gas facility design. The client liked the process so much that he brought in another member from Aera for the next meeting. That person actually used his son’s Oculus Quest, which we installed our software onto. 

Not all owners get involved in the design process, but we can support those who need to be involved at every step. Owners love the depth perception and sense of scale the experience provides and find that being immersed in the model makes issues stand out much quicker, especially for maintenance, facilities and operations staff. 

InsiteVR lets you take a bird’s-eye view of your 3D model. 

What kind of issues?  

Russell: Aera’s construction specialist was able to quickly identify an area of the project that was too small for heavy equipment and cranes to access to remove existing piping. The specialist had missed this issue in previous traditional design reviews using Navisworks but identified it within minutes while using the VR headset. So they adjusted their design and construction plan based on the finding. 

What types of projects is Stantec using InsiteVR on? 

Chuck: Right now, mostly buildings, energy and resources, and water projects. But BIM 360 just announced a Civil 3D function, so we’re looking at getting this up and running for transportation, community development, and other types of infrastructure projects. Basically, anything that’s working in 3D can use this platform. 

Rael: As long as we’re using an Autodesk workflow out of Revit, then we can get clients set up in BIM 360.

This all sounds like the setup might be complicated. What kind of computer and internet connection do you need? I’m thinking about people who may not have powerful home systems and are on a company VPN. Won’t this crash them? 

Russell: You actually don’t need to be on a computer. All you need is a Wi-Fi network and an Oculus Quest headset, which we can provide. 

That’s it?

Russell: That’s it.  

To learn more about how Stantec is using InsiteVR to reduce RFIs, improve schedule and cost performance, and collaborate remotely, review our case studies and contact Rael Romero or Chuck Lounsberry

• Case Study: Comox Valley Water Treatment Plant 

• Case Study: Boston Residential Tower 

• Case Study: Aera Energy Plant


About the Interviewees

Chuck Lounsberry leads Stantec’s design visualization group as part of our Digital Technology & Innovation team. He  believes that by translating ideas into images, he can provide people with a better, more powerful way of understanding their projects.

Rael Romero manages advanced visualization technologies for Stantec project teams around the world as part of our Digital Technology & Innovation team. 

Russ Varriale is the co-founder of InsiteVR, a platform that helps project teams resolve issues in their BIM models through immersive coordination meetings.  

End of main content
To top