Virtual Design

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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The practice of virtual design is one of the many new design movements that owe part of their existence to the development of computer-aided design (CAD) modeling software. Until fairly recently, many product design and architectural projects were done by hand. The maturation of CAD, or computer-aided design, in the 1970s and `80s provided architects and product designers of all kinds with powerful new tools for computation and design.

The basic idea of CAD is that designers and engineers can graphically interact with a computer to produce visualizations of their designs. The computer helps both the engineers (by enabling them to clearly examine all parts of a design) and clients as well, by giving them a reliable picture of the finished product. Today, CAD software can not only produce 3D, navigable images of an item or architectural design, but it can also help engineers compute structural properties, run simulations, and determine what manufacturing processes are necessary to build an item.

Producing Virtual Designs with CAD

Virtual design takes the principles of CAD one step further by giving clients and engineers virtual control over an item. Many virtual design companies use CAD or other similar software to create 3D models of a product that can be used with a virtual reality system to visualize and test the product. The solutions that such companies offer are similar to other rapid prototyping solutions, except that virtual design companies create a virtual prototype, often for a cost that is less than the cost of physical prototyping.

The list of products that such companies offer often includes software to run the virtual model on existing PCs. They also may include virtual reality (VR) hardware, to provide the opportunity for nearly total immersion--particularly useful for architectural models. The VR system allows users to fully navigate the model via a head mount display and handheld controller.


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