Virtual reality provides new landscapes for Alaskan engineers and designers

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This story was originally written for Alaska Contractor Magazine.


While some might associate virtual reality with movies like “The Matrix” or “The Lawnmower Man,” Danny Rauchenstein of PDC Engineering connects VR to the future of his company. Rauchenstein is the Facilities Market Lead and Principal of PDC who led his team to integrating VR equipment with their software.

Rauchenstein has been with the company for two decades. Through the years, he and other engineers had discussed the future of technology, but in the last 18 months, they realized that technology was already here.

“It’s going to happen on every significant-sized project in the future,” Rauchenstein said.

PDC decided to take the leap and invest in VR equipment, which was around $5,000 without the cost of a computer to run it on or labor. A somewhat affordable expense for an engineering firm like PDC completely altered how they ran their day-to-day operations.

“I think there’s a perception of cost, and I don’t think people realize how cheap it is — the barrier to entry,” Rauchenstein said. “We were able to effectively implement it and now we use it in our standard daily designs.”

All it takes for a client to see their future space is to put on a headset and be able to work two joysticks. Rauchenstein says that the cherry on top is VR’s fun factor. Not only is it an important tool, but an enjoyable one at that.

PDC recently purchased a LIDAR scanner, which generates 3-dimensional point clouds. The scanner allows their employees to walk into an existing area, like a gymnasium or conference hall, scan it and have an accurate representation of what the layout is. The scanner takes around 12 minutes to cover the area, but it gets every single detail, even down to the pipes and ducts.

VR is helpful for clients and for everyone involved in the process. From architects, to contractors and everyone in between, the level of collaboration in design improves communication between every single step of the process. The scanner stops the miscommunication between engineers and contractors because they have an accurate scan from the LIDAR machine.

Rauchenstein isn’t the only one who has incorporated VR into their company’s day-to-day operations. John Weir, the president and principal architect at McCool Carlson Green, an Anchorage-based architecture firm, has been with the company for 26 years. MCG was introduced to VR last year through PDC Engineering’s own, Danny Rauchenstein.

Weir believes that VR is more engaging to a client than 3-dimensional design software packages.

“It’s a more immersive experience and visually more comprehensive than something like Navisworks,” Weir said.

Weir says that VR offers his company the ability to explore the model through VR, look for clashes and take notes within the system. PDC’s software even allows architects and engineers to be brought together from remote locations.

“[We can have] the client meet virtually, walk around the model and sort of validate or showcase some of the space opportunities and get their visual buy-in,” Weir said.

Weir sees VR as a helpful tool to have in the company’s tool belt.

“I don’t think [virtual reality is] a game changer in terms of client retention or getting clients. I think it’s more of a presentation tool as much as, you know, presenting on a board would be. This would be another tool,” Weir said.

Lynn Barrett is the Alaska Representative for Doing It Right This Time, or DIRTT for short. DIRTT is the distribution partner to Paragon in Alaska. They are also a partner in Seattle, Washington, where they expanded a year ago. The companies began using VR around three years ago.

“[DIRTT’s] business platform is technology, so we are a technology company manufacturing interior construction. We use a gaming software called ICE which was actually invented first,” Barrett said.

Barrett says that clients love VR because ICE Software provides cost certainty, so if they make changes, they can see the change of cost immediately.

“We can take them, put them into their ICE file and they can actually walk through the space and see what it’s going to look like before it’s ever manufactured,” Barrett said. “People are visual. It’s hard to see in 2-D. People want to be able to touch, see, feel, and this is the next best thing.”

DIRTT is currently working with a delivery recovery center where doctors and nurses have been part of the planning process. Barrett says that a lot of what is important to nurses and doctors requires reaching for instruments.

“They can say, ‘Oh, we need one more data port here,’ or, ‘Can you add one?’” Barrett said.

Like PDC and MCG, virtual reality allows DIRTT to give their clients high-quality experience without having to order a room and have it installed as a mock-up, which is what they used to do.

“The construction industry is the only industry that has never, ever adapted to change. Every other industry has… With technology and the use of our 3-D software, ICE and virtual reality, we’re changing the entire industry and changing the experience for the client, the experience for the sub-trades, allowing them to come in and experience that virtual reality,” Barrett said.

All three companies have made efforts in augmented reality, which is similar to VR. Augmented reality uses the existing world around the user, but objects are augmented.

“It’s one thing to put on a VR and you’re in an immersive, but completely new, separate environment, where augmented reality, you could potentially put on the gear and actually be standing in a building an existing building, and be able to look at the renovation pieces,” Rauchenstein said.

While augmented reality is coming soon to DIRTT and PDC, MCG has begun using augmented reality on a project that will be completed in the fall.

The Author

Hi! My name is Sam Davenport. I am a freelance writer and lifelong Alaskan who loves reporting on the state’s history, food and culture. I am a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, where I received bachelors degrees in journalism and political science. I was the executive editor of The Northern Light — UAA’s student-run newspaper — for 2.5 years During my time at UAA, I completed internships at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. I am the managing editor of The Spenardian, an award-winning hyper-local news blog and magazine for the neighborhood of Spenard. I have been published in Vice, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News, The Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Magazine, Alaska Business, The Northern Light, The Anchorage Press, The Frontiersman, Alaska’s Energy Desk, KSKA, KTOO, Last Frontier Magazine, Crude Magazine, Mountain View Post, The Spenardian, Alaska Contractor Magazine, Wildheart Magazine and True North Magazine. For freelancing rates or a copy of my resume, please email me at

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