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The Making of a Virtual Reality App

/ 0 Comments / in Virtual Reality, VR / MJ Anderson

Each virtual reality app we develop for our clients has its own set of technological challenges and opportunities. A recent project for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) gave us the opportunity to push the technological limits of our tools as well as give our client an entirely new content delivery channel.

AEM produces one of the largest trade shows in the construction industry, covering 2.5 million square feet of conference and exhibit space. Putting the trade show together is such an undertaking that it is only held every three years. That presents a communications challenge for the organization.

Staying connected with show attendees was one of the challenges the app solved. Driving show registration was another. One of the reasons AEM chose virtual reality was to attract young, up-and-comers to the show. The virtual tour, along with a branded a Google cardboard VR headset helped to build excitement. With the structure built, AEM can add new interactive experiences both at the event and post-event to keep the dialogue going. To help them do that, our interactive team will be in Las Vegas at Conexpo-Con/Agg next month filming 360° videos.

How do you navigate VR?
There were also technological trials when developing in the strange new world of virtual reality. The obvious one is how to interact and navigate through the experience without using your hands. That’s where development tools like Unity come into play.

The toolset enables gaze interaction controlled by head orientation. Essentially, it enables you to use your eyes to point and click. Any object within the experience can be made clickable and we use a 2-second threshold to make it intuitive and user friendly. In the app, it allows users to bring an image to the foreground, play a video or “travel” to different areas of the virtual expo.

One of the biggest issues virtual reality developers face is the potential for motion sickness. It happens because of the disconnect between the visual information coming in through your eyes and the vestibular stimuli being sent to the brain from your inner ear. To prevent virtual reality sickness, we maintain a frame rate of at least 90 per second.

An App Version for Everyone
Of course, we didn’t build just one virtual reality app. We developed versions for Android and iOS, as well as Windows Desktop and Mac desktop. And we created a way to make the Android and iOS apps also work by touch when a headset wasn’t readily available.

Developing for the Google Play store had its own challenges. For a resource-intensive VR app, keeping file sizes under the 100 MB limit was a challenge, even with the allowed expansion files. That meant we had to be extremely efficient in our resource management. To reduce polycount, we used 2D textures on some of the images to give the appearance of 3D models.

Another area that makes Android app development different than iOS is that there are literally 1000s of different types of Android devices in the universe. Making the VR experience work on all of them was challenging, particularly on older models that don’t have a mobile graphics processing unit (GPU) and must run off the CPU.

Those were just a few of the developmental hurdles our team encountered during the making of this app. But we’re pretty proud of the end result. Check it out for yourself by downloading it from your app store. You can learn more of about the app’s story in our portfolio section.