For some naval architects, virtual reality (VR) is proving a useful addition to the toolbox. One such company to have adopted VR is Dutch yacht design studio Vripack, which has been making use of this technology over the past two to three years as part of its six-year mission – launched in 2014 – to reduce the construction time of any new yacht by at least 25% without sacrificing vessel quality.
Vripack project manager Jeroen Droogsma tells Ship & Boat International: “We’ve primarily been using VR for our clients, our internal staff and for shipyards. For clients, VR is a means of design validation – they can see exactly what the finished yacht will look like, inside and externally, which can make them more confident about the end result.We can take a ‘mobile system’, comprising a laptop and HTC headset, to client meetings, whether sitting in an office or on a boat, so they can experience the proposed designs first-hand.”
Vripack currently uses Unity, a multi-platform package popular within the gaming industry, and one used to make a number of 2D and 3D apps and games including Assassin’s Creed and Wasteland 2.“Unity is open-platform, which is an advantage as we can script and write our own content and integrate all of our 3D AutoCAD-generated technical drawings,” Droogsma adds. If anybody considers the gaming industry to be frivolous, it’s worth remembering that it financially outguns the international film industry at present, and was worth an estimated US$91.5 billion in 2015. Gamers today demand more immersive, realistic and visually stunning graphics than ever before and gaming critics won’t hesitate to trash substandard or flawed products that fail to deliver.
Moving on to Vripack’s second VR consideration, the adoption of this technology has helped to enhance the designer’s internal work processes. “Our draughtsmen can process a lot of 3D info and check their own drawings using the headset,” Droogsma says. “It makes a big difference – they can see many more features and access more visual info than they would by relying on the drawings alone.”
On one hand, VR produces a realistic preview of the onboard layout– the positioning of seating, tables, displays, partitions and cabin features, for instance – but it can also highlight factors related to naval architecture. Droogsma continues: “For instance, when we’re designing frames, VR answers questions such as, ‘Can you weld in this particular area?’ The area may incorporate a big space, but you need to know whether you can access it to weld – this is information you can’t obtain by paper alone.”
Thirdly, VR has proven an effective tool when dealing with shipbuilders. As is the case with its boatowner clients, Vripack is able to pack up a laptop and headset and transport the virtual experience directly to the shipyards – inviting the builder to don the headset and ‘walk around’ the virtual vessel. “We’ve used VR when working with German builder Bavaria Yachts,” Droogsma explains. “The platform helped the yard to run checks quickly and to save a lot of work. What might have previously taken weeks of work was completed in a couple of hours.”
In some cases, Vripack has calculated, the group might be able to cut failure costs, constituting a phenomenal saving. As a result of the aforementioned contract, virtual prototyping was used extensively in the development of Bavaria Yachts’ 12m x 4.2m, GRP-fashioned E40 motor yacht.
With all of this said, Vripack is clearly an early adopter within the yacht design sector. By his own admission, Droogsma says: “I’m not sure if the marine industry is ready for VR yet. Some sections of the industry still suffer from a ‘mental block’ when it comes to using it." However, he remains optimistic, adding: “Our aim is to prove the benefits of VR to the sceptical – it’s just a matter of time.” Further down the line, Vripack envisages the in-house development and utilisation of a holographic representation of a yacht, enabling clients and company personnel alike to dispense with the headsets and virtually inspect and tour an in-house, life-sized hologram. This feature may be one which comes to fruition in the next decade, Droogsma hints.