Virtual Reality (VR) + Urban Environments = vrban.

Vrban is a tool that allows users to explore and manipulate real urban environments for planning. When we were students at Columbia, a new science building was erected that currently obstructs about two-thirds of our campus observatory’s view of the night sky. We wanted to make something that would allow people to find these things out before concrete is poured and it’s too late. We know there are 3D tools out there to model buildings, but nothing really lets you fully experience the impact of your design decisions until they’re actually complete at which point its too late to do anything.

Vrban allows people to immerse themselves in environments that are both real and simulated. So I could be exploring a virtual environment that accurately represents NYC, but with buildings that don’t even exist yet, but it feels as if they do. Meanwhile, people in the non-virtual world can tweak the settings of the virtual environment and ask for real-time feedback.

Imagine being able to simulate the construction of a new building by Central Park and seeing how much sunlight it would take from the park, how it would look as you’re biking across the bridges, how it looks from Brooklyn, and the Oculus really gives you a sense of presence that you don’t get with 3D models rendered on a 2D screen.

In the last couple of years we’ve gathered a lot of useful data and have also gotten better at acquiring more data, which will have a significant impact on our lives. For instance, we can monitor our daily activity through various fitness bands, but now we need our kitchens, gyms, etc. to respond actively to this data and guide us in our day to day decisions.

The same goes for urban environments. There’s a lot of public data on cities and with hardware like the Oculus Rift that can take this data a step further and that’s what we're building with vrban.

With something like vrban one can “iterate” through cities — a concept that doesn’t make sense now — but in a virtual world might be possible.

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