Astro Bot: Rescue Mission. Beat Saber. Iron Man. Sound familiar? If you have a house full of gaming fanatics, they should. They’re some of the most popular virtual-reality games on the market.
In fact, on any given weekend, your kids — and, admit it, you as well — probably stand in the middle of the living room, VR goggles on and controllers in hand, virtually embarking on galactic adventures, slicing through colored blocks or suiting up as an Avenger. Between the vibrant, super-realistic graphics and the lightning-quick load time, VR gaming and gear make the video fun of just a few years ago seem basic, even archaic.
While he doesn’t don a superhero outfit, Bart Bouwhuis, partner and co-creative director of the yacht-design studio Vripack, does employ VR, as does his entire team. In fact, they do so for every project these days, whether an exterior or interior design or both. The projects range from production boats to superyachts.
“We use VR from the conceptual stage to the very, very last detailed design, where everything is [in] — the switches on the wall, the flowers on the desk, everything,” he says. It’s a sea change from “the old days when we were faxing drawings. And that was cool at the time.”
VR is transforming yacht design and construction around the world in tremendous ways. From saving thousands of work-hours to further saving untold sums of money — helping owners, designers and shipyards avoid expensive mistakes along the way — the technology is not only increasing efficiencies but also is improving the customer experience.
According to Anastasia Yushkova, the CEO and founder of Anchor-VR, which specializes in the superyacht industry, virtual reality brings high value to general product development. In fact, she says, VR and its close cousin, AR (augmented reality, in which real-world images are overlaid with digital enhancements), decrease construction time by 25 percent, reduce mockup-review meeting time by up to 50 percent, and can potentially lower failure costs by up to 70 percent. Companies such as Airbus and Boeing, as well as the automotive sector, have been using the technology for a few years, she adds, converting complex CAD data into VR at a variety of stages.
While this approach is new in yachting, the advantages are the same. “It allows quick design-review sessions among all the stakeholders,” Yushkova says. Builders, designers, owner representatives, and some owners themselves “may check ergonomics, as the scale is 1-to-1; find errors at an early stage, which saves a lot of money afterward; discuss the project within the group of people; and move around, interacting with the environment.”
For less-techy clients, builders and designers still collaborate with companies like Anchor-VR to produce virtual walkthroughs featuring beautiful pictures — more along the lines of gaming technology instead of industrial technology. “A highly realistic VR visualization can work as a configurator, as well,” Yushkova says, something particularly helpful for production and semicustom boatbuilders. “One can preset all the design options, and by clicking a button, a client could review all the options, changing the textures, colors and even some basic layouts.”
None of this is new to Vripack. The company began adopting VR in 2013, initially as a design-validation tool. In 2016, Vripack rolled out its first virtual prototyping, replacing physical mockups, with Fairline Yachts. This technique verified engineering solutions and interior arrangements well before the first fiberglass was laid up, as part of a simultaneous effort by Fairline to reduce model-development time.
Together, the companies discovered that the helm layout on one project wasn’t as ergonomic as it could be. A physical mockup would have revealed the problem, Bouwhuis says, but with drawbacks of its own.
“If you have the time, it’s no problem,” he says. “But when you do the revision, do you change the design, or the mockup and then the design? And then if you have another revision, do you change it again? So this spiral loop through design, mockup and update is truly time-consuming. While in VR, you experience it, and after 10 minutes on a computer … you get significantly enhanced optimization. You can do a lot of design spirals in an extremely short time.”
These days, Bouwhuis says, VR is still a design-optimization tool, especially for production boats, whereas it’s “a tool of enjoyment” for owners commissioning large yachts. “It’s functional, and it’s fun,” he says, adding that owners who have a difficult time understanding a traditional deck plan can finally see, for example, that they don’t actually need a larger saloon. Furthermore, thanks to today’s wireless goggles and fast Internet, Vripack has had projects where the client requested changes, and in about the same amount of time as a coffee break, the designers updated and uploaded the file for him to experience.
“The whole co-creator process, which clients love, is way easier. It’s more interactive; it’s more direct,” Bouwhuis says.
While the general product-development statistics that Yushkova and other VR specialists collect and recite are impactful, Bouwhuis finds it difficult to quantify time and cost savings. “In the end, you do more optimization than in the old days,” he says. “In the old days, you only had a certain time frame. But now, because the tool is so efficient, you can do way more optimization, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.”
Yushkova says next steps for VR will likely include virtual crew training, a development already gaining more interest because of the Covid-19 pandemic. While Anchor-VR began offering the service before the pandemic through the Superyacht Training Group, the company began selling the service directly to management companies during the crisis. It’s especially helpful for learning standard operating procedures, with the primary advantage, Yushkova says, being that the crew can use multiplayer sets on board while the instructor is at his or her home or office.
“All of them could be in the same VR environment,” she says. For yachts still in build, “the crew could start getting familiar with the vessel and its systems via a 3-D model. … Crewmembers can walk through, understand the layouts, open hatches, see where and how various equipment is being stored.”
Bouwhuis says the rendering capability of VR will continue to improve, and so will the image resolution of the goggles, “so that everything becomes truly photo-realistic.” For instance, instead of looking at a 3-D model on a computer screen, a designer or builder can stand with the client in a virtual saloon, with the client pointing at things he or she wants to change. “We’re testing this, but it’s the very early days,” Bouwhuis says.
Then again, “10 years ago, we didn’t have virtual reality,” he adds. “Now we have virtual reality with very-high-resolution images on just a pair of goggles without any wires connected to it. It’s time. It will come.”
Yushkova says that in the yachting industry, showing companies what is possible will help them better understand their needs when it comes to the technology. “Recently, I’ve heard an interesting quote from Henry Ford: ‘If we ask our customers what they really need, they will answer, faster horses.’ So if you know what kind of value your solution provides to the clients, you should really be able to change the mindsets. And the mindsets have to change.”
Just as your mindset did in thinking that Space Invaders and Asteroids were high-tech games.
This story was originally published by our sister publication Soundings Trade Only.