JI gamer engineerThe opening line ‘ Three guys walk in to a bar…’ has fueled the material of comedians from Lenny Bruce to Jerry Lewis. For a surfer, a gamer and an engineer, it plays on our notions of stereotypes of beach bums, computer nerds and analytical types and we are waiting for a punch line that ridicules at least one if not all three.

But, dig a little deeper and surfing is now a multi-billion-dollar industry with its own YouTube channels and international holiday and gaming is undergoing a similar revolution.

Until recently, mainstream society relegated fans to the realm of geeks, nerds, and basement-dwelling dorks. But, in the last few years, the strangest thing has happened: gamers have suddenly become cool. That’s because the technology, once exclusive to their esoteric knowledge, has evolved and attracted the interest of diverse fields seeking better software solutions.

Tools like game ‘engines’, virtual reality and augmented reality (+ pizza) are no longer an alternative to Friday night boredom; they’re seen as powerful platforms to engineer extraordinary designs. More and more game technologies are solving problems to the challenges we’re facing, because they are very good at what they do.

Want to be a next-level engineer? Ask a gamer. Better yet, pass the pizza and see for yourself.

So, what’s the fuss about gaming?

If you’ve ever played games, you’ll know they vary, depending on their purpose and their genre. What is needed to build Grand Prix 3 is entirely different to what Call of Duty requires. A game engine doesn’t know what style of game you might want to make, so it allows coders and programmers to dig around the backend and customize their designs.

And if you’re still not happy with what you’ve been given to work with, the game engine allows you to go out and build it yourself. It’s the harder way (more knowledge, more time, more money), but it’s the only way to create truly bespoke solutions.

Now imagine a job where the technology dishes you up a blank slate on which to write. What would you build if you could throw off the shackles of software constraints – if you never again had to explain to your project manager or client that ‘the software doesn’t let me do that’? If you were tasked to reimagine 3D model data and the right technology sat at your fingertips, what couldn’t you do?

Gaming engines are empowering, because they offer platforms on which to design and innovate towards what you dare to imagine. The technology doesn’t ask you to reinvent the wheel and write a software solution from scratch. Instead, it gives you the framework and the tools to start small and then think bigger.

You can program subtle changes, or you can roll up your sleeves and dive deep into the heart of the engine to forge truly unique functions. It means we can be more focused on inputting ‘what if’ and not just ‘what is’ to arrive at ‘what might be’. The emergence of gaming technology in the world of engineering is allowing the mind of the engineer to take flight and, in so doing, imagine a better world through better design.

Getting inside our designs

In the past, we designed by observation. Projects were pitched through movie formats and static visualizations and concepts were left to be envisioned in the mind’s eye. But now design is interactive, intelligent, engaging the user on every level.

Manufacturers and machine operators can pull a 3D virtual product into reality before its parts have even joined the assembly line. Thanks to Virtual Reality (VR), we can now walk around our designs and experience them from every angle, analyzing as much as ‘feeling’ our way to a more refined solution. Head-mounted displays (HMDs) such as HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, used by a number of today’s games, give designers and engineers an immersive 3D interactive experience, and reveal new worlds of invention and productivity.

Augmented Reality (AR) headsets such as the Microsoft HoloLens can overlay instructions, maps, system information, or real-time feedback over a worker’s field of view. And some applications allow colleagues to collaborate remotely over the same virtual space.

The result is that issues can be troubleshot and error can be avoided. That’s what Boeing engineers found, after replacing assembly manuals with smart glasses displays and seeing a decrease of 25% in wiring production time.

It also means that formerly impossible feats are becoming doable, such as NASA’s latest Mars Rover project that uses HoloLens technology to bring the experience of space exploration straight onto the design floor. By immersing themselves in a virtual space reality, designers and engineers are not only able to visualize in 3D; they can literally get in, on and around the potential problems that threaten future space missions. Says Matthew Clausen, lead designer of ProtoSpace for the NASA endeavor, “Being able to see it in the space, walk around it and put their arms in the hologram allows engineers to uncover a lot of solutions. [They can] discover problems they didn’t even know existed.”

It’s just a matter of time

The fact is, more employees are catching onto game technology and starting to pull the headsets over their eyes. According to a Deloitte internal report, AR/VR solutions are being tested or have already been rolled out by over 150 companies from multiple industries, including 52 of the Fortune 500. And according to the IDC, worldwide revenue from augmented and virtual reality is projected to grow from $5.2 billion in 2016 to $162 billion by 2025. Its adoption is not really a matter of if, but a matter of when.

Companies would be wise to take heed.

Because game technology is improving by the day and becoming more customized and accessible to a whole world one floor up from the basement shadows. As applications keep getting better and tailored to the end user, more and more companies will seek its tools as a way to stay one step ahead.

The punchline with a surfer, a gamer and an engineer walking into a bar is that this is now more and more likely to be one person rather than three. And that person is as passionate about redefining the world of how engineering design is done through visual thinking as they are about catching the next beach break, dude!

Michael GardinerBy Michael Gardiner

This post originally appeared on Aurecon’s award-winning Just Imagine blog that provides a glimpse into the future for curious readers, exploring ideas that are probable, possible and for the imagination.