RCL ‘reality show’ brings ship design to virtual life

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A couple of weeks before Celebrity Cruises revealed its newest class of ship, Kelly Gonzalez briefed personnel on key details about the first of the vessels, which she had been in, on and through – though it doesn’t yet exist.

“We walked a ship that hasn’t been built,” said Gonzalez, vice president of architectural design for parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. She mentioned the ship’s “Magic Carpet,” sure to be the signature feature on these new ships much like North Star is for Quantum-class ships. She spoke of seeing radically upgraded staterooms, “Infinite Verandas” and other highlights of a ship that can been seen but not yet touched.

The vessel, the first of the new Celebrity Edge class, was designed entirely using virtual reality in RCL’s Innovation Lab, freshly built and opened at RCL’s headquarters in PortMiami.

With a striking contemporary exterior design that signals something dramatic is happening inside, the Lab is divided into two floors of about 10,000 square feet each. The ground floor holds Ignition Hubs, rooms intended for brainstorming and other creative mind work. A large Refueling Station is stocked with refreshments for breaks.

The most innovative component of the Lab is on the second floor inside a turret-like structure at one corner. Here is The Cave, where seemingly real sections of a ship that’s under design can be made visible with an array of hidden, ultra-high-tech devices.

Unlike the more common virtual reality equipment available to consumers and others for an individual 3D experience, The Cave permits a group to walk in, don a lightweight pair of glasses and share what they see, so real that it seems to be tangible.

It contains enough technical treats to fascinate the geekiest of tech nerds:

  • It features five rear-projection devices that display images on its glass floor and three of its four walls.
  • At 12 feet long, 17 feet wide and 8.9 feet high, The Cave is the largest and highest resolution virtual reality simulator in the world.
  • Movements are tracked within the virtual world by an InterSense IS-900 Wireless Motion Tracking System.
  • Virtalis Visionary Render and Unity 3D software are used to transform CAD models into immersive and interactive stereoscopic virtual models.
  • The software renders huge models in real-time with ease of importing from a range of data sources, maintaining naming, hierarchies and the all-important metadata.
  • All the rooms in the Lab are HD Cisco Video Conferencing enabled, allowing collaboration across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, whether for design, engineering manufacturing, training or serviceability.

By making collaboration easier, visualization “real,” and uncovering design problems earlier in the shipbuilding process, the Lab is expected to speed up the normal pace of the endlessly complex undertaking.

“A big part of what it does is allow us to expedite the understanding of what it is we’re creating,” Gonzalez says.

And that can be anything from moving pieces of furniture around a stateroom to inspecting the intricacies of the engine room on the newest, biggest cruise ship in the world.