Visualize the Future

Using 3D Visualization and Simulation in Urban Planning

Ah, what a beautiful Sunday! I walked outside to Nguyen Hue Boulevard for some ca phe da and banh mi op la. Since I was nearby, I decided to take some photos at the garden by Uncle Ho’s statue. With Uncle Ho fresh on my mind, I decided to visit the man himself at the mausoleum in Hanoi, but instead I took a detour to the links and played a round of golf at the EcoPark golf course in Aqua Bay, Hung Yen Province. I chose Aqua Bay because I also wanted to check the progress on the construction of my new luxury condo there, to remind myself of the breathtaking balcony view from my soon-to-be new home. I was quite famished after golf, so I stopped by Los Angeles for some good ol’ LA burritos—yes, LA has some of the best burritos. I was in the mood for some world-class art, so I checked Google and it showed that the Hermitage Museum has a new art exhibit, so off to St. Petersburg, Russia I went. Am I some globetrotting billionaire with his own private G6 jet? Sadly, no. I am a starving artist, full of dreams but empty pockets. However, regardless of the numbers of zeros in your bank account you can still experience life as a jetsetter with the help of virtual reality (VR).

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I know as much about VR as the average consumer — enough to enjoy it, but not enough to fully understand it and how it apply it to the real world. So I paid a visit to Rolling Ant’s (rollingant.com), the company that designed the Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street area using a set of 3D interactive visualization tools, to find about more about VR. As I stepped into their office the first thing that struck my attention was the cocktail bar at the far corner, where the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the Saigon River. I knew then that this was not a regular company doing normal, everyday things. As I met and talked with CEO Nam Nguyen, I quickly came to understand the vision behind the company. Nam started out doing computer coding with an outsourced company called Glass Egg, which did video game projects for huge multinational companies such as Microsoft and Electronic Arts. With this background, it was natural for Nam to progress into the VR industry.

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The Nguyen Hue Boulevard project was a VR interpretation of the entire boulevard area after a renovation project to make it more modern and beautiful. It allowed the government’s Urban Planning Department (UPD) to see their vision in 3D and make any unforseen changes if needed before even actually breaking ground. The UPD did not want to spend two years (or possibly more) drawing sketches, planning, building and rebuilding, which what would have been needed if the 3D interactive software had not been invented. The interactive platform allowed the UPD to not only discuss amongst each other, but to other necessary departments and agencies, such as the Department of Transportation, Tourism, Construction and the People’s Committee, and to make changes in real time with immediate results. The final outcome took seven months, finished in November 2014, and is 95 percent accurate to the VR version.

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Without VR, such a monumental task involving so many departments and agencies would need a tremendous amount of discussions and protocols. With VR, everyone can see exactly what they want to see, what they want to do, and all the changes can be made in real time, without having to make changes to the blueprints and other tangible dynamics, because everything is done through software. Also, everyone can be present at one time while all the changes are being made, so everything can be done twice or thrice as fast.

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The Nguyen Hue Project was an integral undertaking for Rolling Ant, but it has since expanded to bigger projects, such as the aforementioned EcoPark Project, which, once finished (it is an ongoing project which will take a total of two years), will cover the entire 510-hectare area of Aqua Bay. Nam gave me a virtual tour and it had me awestruck. It was like being inside a beautiful fantasy video game. I flew around the luxury condominium area of skyscrapers, parks, lakes and the most beautiful virtual scenery in Vietnam. I was able to watch the sunrise and sunset, lounge around at the tropical garden pool, and I was even able see the viewpoint of my luxury penthouse suite, to see what my view would be from my balcony and living room. Rolling Ant’s other notable VR projects include commissions for the interiors of the Hermitage Museum and the CBRE headquarters in Los Angeles, California.

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Finally, Rolling Ant is also expanding into augmented reality applications, or AR for short. Being able to commercialize their software platform is the next logical, and practical, step. For example, you wanted to buy a sofa for your house, but don’t want to drive to store. Even if you did brave the traffic and bought a sofa, you might not like how it looks with the rest of your décor once you have it home, and now you have to return it. What if there was a way to  save time and eliminate the guesswork without leaving home? Well, this is possible with AR. With Rolling Ant’s software, you can use your phone or tablet, choose the furniture and see how it would look placed anywhere in your home. The augmented virtual image will look exactly like the real life furniture, and the dimensions are to scale, so you would know exactly how it would fit in the space that you want. The future of modern living is intriguing, virtual reality and augmented reality present options to make our lives easier, inform us better, and, perhaps most importantly, save us time and money.

Images by Ngoc Tran and Rolling Ant

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