HP is exploring what they’re calling the “VR snacking” concept: a simple way to enhance traditional CAD workflows with the benefits of VR visualization.

From phones to tractors to planes and office buildings, pretty much any mass-produced product today begins its life as some sort of computerized design. And yet designing 3D products on traditional 2D screens leaves much to be desired; flat displays can’t convey depth or scale in human terms, and manipulating 3D visualizations with 2D inputs is cumbersome to say the least.

Rather than throw out the well defined CAD playbook by trying to move designers entirely inside of VR, HP is experimenting with using VR headsets to enhance traditional CAD workflows, adding value to the status-quo rather than disrupting it.

While there’s already a handful of 3D modeling and design apps made for VR, and several which allow CAD files to be visualized and reviewed in VR, getting into and out of a headset is still a cumbersome process often taking several minutes. That might not sound very long, but it means designers can’t use VR headsets to quickly and easily check their designs without strapping on equipment and launching dedicated apps.

HP Labs, the company’s R&D group, wanted to find a way to allow designers to do quick VR spot checks on their work so that they could iterate much faster. It really boils down to asking “how can users transition from desktop to VR and back with as little friction as possible?”

The company’s solution, which they call “VR snacking,” is simple with a hint of genius: remove the headset’s straps and mount it on a stand which makes it easy to pick up, use, and set back down.

Image courtesy HP

Now I know that doesn’t sound terribly innovative—afterall, you could just sit the headset on your desk next to you—but it’s actually very clever approach for several reasons, all relating to increased speed and ease of use for the sake of faster design iteration.

For one, putting the headset up on a stand with a grip makes it much easier to pick up the headset with one hand. Headsets are fairly large and heavy, and holding one up to your eyes isn’t going to be fun if you’re doing it every few minutes. Supporting the headset at a central point and making a simple handle out of the stand makes one-handed usage easy, freeing the other hand to continue to operate the computer and interact with the CAD task at hand.

Photo by Road to VR

Raising the headset up off the desk has other benefits too. It reduces the distance between the headset and your eyes while allowing you to keep your arm in a lower, more comfortable position when you hold the headset up to your eyes. Both make it easier and faster to pop into the headset for a quick look and then go right back to tweaking the design on the computer. And last but not least, raising the headset up off the desk means less desk clutter (the same reason I have a headphone stand).

This simple approach amounts to a significant shift in ease of use compared to strapping into a headset the old fashioned way, let alone standing up and picking up controllers for a room-scale experience. There’s certainly times where you want to diver into VR for the full room-scale experience, but HP thinks the “VR snacking” concept could be a winning combination for adding VR value to traditional CAD workflows.

The company’s motivation for this exploration is quite clear: between HP’s enterprise customers—which use the company’s existing computer products for CAD in fields like architecture, engineering, and product design—and their impressive Jet Fusion 3D printing solutions, HP clearly benefits from enhancing the workflow of anyone doing computer aided design.

For now HP is just calling this a proof-of-concept. It isn’t clear how far they plan to push the idea, but the time seems especially ripe considering their upcoming “Copper” VR headset which aims to take VR design and visualization work to the next level with significantly improved resolution.

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  • Engineer_92

    A wonderful idea. I could definitely see myself using something like this

  • > getting into and out of a headset is still a cumbersome process often taking several minutes

    Erm. What?

    I think you’re confusing “VR headset” with “Scuba gear”. Or maybe “Astronaut’s suit”.

    Ask any VR developer how they check their work. I have to “snack” VR dozens of times a day and I don’t need this ridiculous setup. I have the headset on the desk next to me and I lift it up to my face. Let me check….

    Yep. That took about 1 second…

    • benz145

      Not just putting on the headset, but also launching applications and moving between them (I should have elaborated on this part).

      If you’re working in Unity you have the benefit that the app already supports a simultaneous VR view. Not many CAD tools have that kind of function today; in many cases the designer would need to export the design and pull it into some VR app, then look through the headset, then go back and repeat the process.

      You also say you “snack” dozens of times per day, but if a simple stand like this managed to double the number of times you were willing to look through the headset, that’s a potential 2x potential in the PC to VR iteration loop.

      • Engineer_92

        Working with these tools, it makes a lot of sense. Developing for VR is not equivalent to designing in CAD

        • Hivemind9000

          I’ve done a fair amount of work in CAD and can’t quite figure out why this is necessary (VR snacking while designing vs VR viewing for review). Do you really need to see it in VR while you’re designing if there’s no interactivity component? I guess it’s nice, but necessary?

          • Engineer_92

            Not necessary at all. I work in civil engineering and I can only see this as being a positive when dealing with large scale projects. Being able to put a VR viewer up to my face without putting it on is the kicker here. For example, being able to see my proposed alignment with whatever changes I need to make to any vertical or horizontal curves would help a ton. Most CAD programs already contain a walkthrough feature but being able to make tweaks to something like that on the fly and seeing how it would look after each adjustment is definitely a plus. I’m not sure about other disciplines, but I like this idea for the civil side of things. No it’s not necessary, but if it helps with productivity, necessity shouldn’t matter for an engineering company

          • Hivemind9000

            Understood. I can see it would also be useful for other “at scale” applications like architectural design – where you need to see the design from a human scale perspective. I only used CAD for designing small mechanical components, so it wasn’t really of much use in that context.

  • themobiledivide

    This isn’t necessarily a new concept but the stand idea is I guess. Adobe uses this with premiere immersive editing environment where you can go between standard video editing timeline to immersive with a click. When I was using a Lenovo WMR hmd with the flip up panel it was very useful to make an edit, view it in 360 then go back to 2d very quickly.
    As the market matures I think its easy to see VR as an additional tool that you can use today. The complete self contained UX experiences and devices are still some years away.

    • Caven

      The Nintendo put their stereoscopic headset on a stand back in the ’90s, so even the stand idea isn’t particularly novel.

  • Mateusz Pawluczuk

    Very clever :D VR is maturing and I’m pretty sure not that long ago such idea shunned as a “glorified view-master” but these days VR doesn’t have to prove itself anymore, we have roomscale, out of home, standalone etc. Same with VR180.

  • Hivemind9000

    No good for me. I need both hands free for controllers. What I really need is a comfortable, flip up headband set up for my Vive (and my Pimax which is apparently arriving any day now). Nothing more annoying than balancing the headset on the top of my forehead while making code tweaks. Anyone know of anything like this?

  • Lars Skinhøj

    I smell a good article opportunity here for you Ben ;)
    I’ve done a fair amount of work in CAD programs too, but apart from Game-engines like URE4, I would very much like to know – what exactly are these “several apps which allow CAD files to be visualized and reviewed in VR”?? – I have been looking for an effective app like that for a while. I know that some Renderers like V-ray and Corona can make 360 pictures (taking several hours) and very expensive presentation software like Lumion can make quick 360 videos, but will set me back crazy much every single month. If I could just find one simple app, where I could import Sketchup or Revit files and review or work with my Oculus like described in this article without too much trouble – I wouldn’t worry about the headstrap at all! – I would be a happy designer!

    • Lars Skinhøj

      RoadtoVR has never done an article or review about 3D modeling and design apps made for VR – I think that could be a great opportunity!

    • beestee

      I’m about to blow your mind Lars, look up Enscape and try it out.

  • ErgoNick

    Looks a lot like a Victorian stereoscope. Nothing wrong with that. Handy for passing around. Cute.

  • Oh, HP has invented a handle. Cool :D :D :D