This year’s annual NVIDIA GTC conference, which was held last week, had its Omniverse technology even more front and center than it did last year (see the article, “NVIDIA GTC 2021: The Omniverse”). And because AEC is one of the key target industries for the Omniverse, there were also many more presentations focused on the AEC industry at this year’s GTC than there have been in the past, both from AEC firms that are implementing Omniverse, as well as from AEC technology vendors that are partnering with NVIDIA on it. The highlights of some of these sessions are captured in this AECbytes article.
But first, a quick recap on what exactly the Omniverse technology is.
The Omniverse is an open platform for real-time 3D visualization and simulation that NVIDIA had introduced last year. It can host models and other assets created in different applications, allowing design professionals using different tools to be able to work together in one environment and see in real-time the changes that each of them is making to the overall project. This kind of synchronous collaboration is useful not just in AEC, but in all design fields that rely on visualization, including movies, gaming, manufacturing, product design, and so on (Figure 1).
Each application that “plugs into” Omniverse does so by means of a connector that allows it to “live sync” to the platform, allowing everyone on the platform to immediately see what others are doing and the changes they are making in real time. Thus, while all the team members can still continue to work on their tasks within their individual applications, they can see the collective project taking shape in the Omniverse, as everyone’s pieces are plugging into it in real time (Figure 2). After the first sync, only the changes are updated, making it quick and responsive. The idea is that you don’t have to upload and download files to get a full picture of the project as you have to do in traditional collaboration applications — all the pieces are being updated in Omniverse as they are being designed (provided, of course, that they have the “live sync” option enabled).
The connection between the individual applications and Omniverse happens through an open file format called USD (Universal Scene Description). In addition to the geometry, the property data of the objects is also retained and can be accessed in Omniverse. There are several additional capabilities, of which the ones more relevant to AEC are photorealistic visualization, building physics, and simulation (Figure 3). Also significant to AEC is Omniverse’s ability to store different design options in different layers, allowing them to be conveniently explored.
One of the core technologies enabling the Omniverse is its Nucleus server, which stores the entire project including all the assets feeding into it from different applications, shares them between the different collaborators, and maintains the live link between them. While the Nucleus server can be installed on a local server or a web server, the 2022 version of Omniverse that was just released also includes a cloud version of Nucleus, which means Omniverse can now run on the cloud as well, making it accessible to more users on more platforms and more devices including low-end laptops, smartphones, and normal desktops in addition to high-end workstations. It allows users to iterate, share and collaborate on their projects stored in Nucleus Cloud from anywhere, and instantly invite other collaborators to join a session by simply sending them a link (Figure 4).
When the Omniverse was introduced last year, there were a handful of connectors to AEC applications that had been implemented. They included Revit, Archicad, SketchUp, Rhino with Grasshopper, 3ds Max, and ESRI’s CityEngine. The list has expanded this year, and it now includes Bentley’s LumenRT, Maxon Cinema 4D, Autodesk Maya, and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. Two of the AEC technology vendors with these integrations, Graphisoft and Bentley Systems, had sessions at the GTC event that I was able to attend.
The Graphisoft session was focused on the importance of visualization in architecture, and it was in the form of a broad-ranging discussion between Graphisoft’s CEO, Huw Roberts, and NVIDIA's VP/GM of Enterprise Visualization, Bob Pette, on how technologies are impacting the new world of hybrid work, digital twins, augmented reality, rendering, simulation (including machine learning/AI), and building information modeling. While the connector to Omniverse is from Graphisoft’s flagship BIM application, Archicad (see Figure 5), Graphisoft also develops its own project collaboration solution, BIMcloud, which it sees as integral to the closer and tighter design collaboration needed prior to the broader collaboration a platform like Omniverse can facilitate. Also, with regards to visualization, while rendering within Archicad just got a substantial boost with the integration of the Redshift rendering engine from Maxon, the Omniverse connector allows highly photorealistic renderings of Archicad models to be created in a collaborative environment without requiring a rendering specialist to be on the design team.
Bentley Systems is one of the leading firms developing software for infrastructure (see the article, “BIM Software for Infrastructure”), specifically, digital twins for infrastructure (see “Bentley Year in Infrastructure 2021 Conference”). Developing a connector to Omniverse allows the infrastructure digital twins being created using its applications to be integrated with other such entities in the digital world, and Bentley has done this by creating a connector through its sophisticated LumenRT visualization and animation application (Figure 6). The integration allows high-fidelity 4D visualization to become a fundamental part of the digital twin itself, enabling any stakeholder in the process to interactively engage with and experience the digital twin with vivid visual and behavioral realism. Additional, LumenRT for Omniverse can load 4D models created with Bentley’s SYNCHRO application, allowing the 4D construction schedule of the digital twin to be animated within the Omniverse environment as well.
One of the AEC firms who presented at the GTC event was the architecture firm, Woods Bagot, a global firm with 17 offices around the world. They showed how they were using the Omniverse specifically for sustainable design, which is a key design criterion for the firm. The implementation was demonstrated in a case study, Baker Center in NJ, USA, which is a 1.5 million sq. ft. mixed-use development project; it was specifically chosen for an Omniverse pilot implementation because of its scale and complexity (Figure 7).
With seven different buildings, each with a different façade, it was very challenging to visualize the project in Revit, which was the BIM tool being used. In addition, the project had several sustainable design features, and since most mainstream environmental analysis tools are currently available as Grasshopper plugins to Rhino, a Rhino model also had to be created and maintained throughout the design process. Woods Bagot was able to use the connectors that both Revit and Rhino have to Omniverse to bring the project into the platform. They were then able to use Omniverse for different types of immersive analysis environmental performance of the project (see Figures 8 and 9 for examples of daylight and solar analysis), in addition to its real-time visualization and collaboration capability.
We also learnt about the implementation of Omniverse by KPF (Kohn Pedersen Fox), a global architectural firm who were one of the early adopters of the technology. Omniverse’s visual and design collaboration capabilities were of particular interest to them as they operate their nine world-wide offices as one global office rather than isolated offices working on different projects. In addition to real-time visualization (Figures 10 and 11), they are also using Omniverse for advanced analysis and simulation (Figure 12), in particular, to see the engineering data in the context of the physical models to provide a better understanding of the analysis. (Figure 13)
In the Graphisoft session while presenting an overview of the company, Huw Roberts specifically highlighted one of their customers from Ukraine, the architectural firm, Archimatika, and showed one of their projects, the residential complex, Comfort Town in Ukraine (Figure 14).
On further exploration, I found that many of Archimatika’s projects were in Kyiv, and at least one of them, Fayna Town, has been damaged in the Russian invasion. See below:
It's so sad how the buildings and infrastructure that take us years to create can all just be destroyed in the blink of an eye.
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Omniverse, showcased by NVIDIA at GTC 2021, is a 3D virtual world that can contain models created by many different people in many different applications in diverse locations. This article looks at what it is, how it works, and how it is being used by leading AEC firms like Foster + Partners and KPF.
Han Shi, Head of BIM & Design Systems at Foster + Partners, describes how technology forms an integral part of the firm’s workflow, with several interdisciplinary groups involved in computational design, building physics, performance analysis, optimisation, fabrication, and interaction design.
Fender Katsalidis describes the implementation of AEC technology on the “Merdeka 118” project, a 118-storey, mega-tall skyscraper under construction in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Peter Twohy, founder and principal of 2e Architects in Maryland, shows how to integrate the use of Twinmotion with the BIM workflow of Archicad.