Engineering Reality

 By Matt Riddell & Maggie Downs

Ever want to bring an idea to life?  Have you ever envisioned a project, but can’t get community members and Tribally elected officials on board because they just can’t see it?

Well, consider those issues problems of the past and step into the future that is virtual reality.


Virtual reality has taken the tech world by storm and everyone wants to get their hands on it–especially engineers.  You’re probably familiar with virtual reality in gaming and entertaining, but what you may not have seen is the ground-breaking technology used in transportation planning applications.

What is Virtual Reality?

VR is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment

Although we tend to think of Virtual Reality as a new-fangled idea, the technology has actually been around since the 1920s.

Virtual Reality Throughout the Years

Created by Edwin Link in the 1920s, the world’s first flight simulator introduced virtual simulation into the world.  It was used as a training device for novice pilots.  Then came Morton Heilig and his interactive theatre experience known as the “Sensorama” in 1957.  The Sensorama featured a viewing screen, oscillating fans, speakers, and even devices that emitted smells.  Around this time, engineers at Philco Corporation created the first head mounted display (HMD) that was designed for helicopter pilots to aid their vision while flying at night.  In 1968, Ivan Sutherland created a HMD that allowed the user to see a virtual world through attachment to a computer.  An interactive map of Aspen, Colorado was developed in the 1970s by researchers at MIT.  NASA began using virtual reality in the 1980s.  The 1990s saw public awareness of virtual reality increase with the VR gear being marketed to the public.

The technology in virtual reality has been expanding ever since and has penetrated almost every industry you can think of, from military and healthcare to construction and engineering.

Virtual Reality in Engineering

Virtual Reality is making waves in the engineering field through its use in simulating real-life projects, be that a machine, a roadway, or a building.  What used to be flat, computer-aided design work is not 3-D reality that can immerse the user in a compete rendering of the project.  This technology helps Engineers plan complex designs and enables the client to more fully visualize and understand the architecture.

How We Use Virtual Reality within Native American Engineering & Design Projects

When creating designs for Native American engineering projects, virtual reality capabilities allow us develop scenarios that enhance the public’s and Tribal Council’s understanding of the project. Therefore, “selling” this project to the community should be a smoother process.

The below video must be viewed using Google Chrome to achieve the Virtual Reality experience.