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Create and View Your Own 3D Models in Virtual Reality *

Time Required Short (2-5 days)
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.


Virtual reality (VR) headsets are becoming increasingly popular. Video game designers use a variety of programs to create the amazing 3D worlds that you see when you turn on your favorite video game, and many of those worlds are now also designed to be compatible with VR headsets. Can you use a computer-aided design (CAD) program or video game engine to design your own virtual world that can be viewed using a VR headset?

Did you know you do not have to be a programming expert to create appealing 3D scenes? Table 1 shows a list of programs and websites that can be used to do this; there are options for students at various skill levels. Note that VR technology is changing rapidly, so you can also do your own search for new VR-related software and websites. Follow the links to the individual websites to find tutorials or instructions for using each type of software.

Program/Website Description
Tinkercad Free CAD program, great for beginners
SketchUp Beginner-friendly CAD program, free version available
Fusion 360 Intermediate CAD program, free for students
Inventor Professional CAD program, free for students
Solidworks Professional CAD program, discounted version available for students
Sketchfab.com 3D model sharing website. Easy to upload models from any CAD program and view them in VR on a mobile device. Good option for students of all skill levels who want to view a CAD model in VR.
Unity Video game design software. Free version available. For advanced students.
Google VR Documentation for developing virtual reality apps for Android and iOS devices, including games designed in Unity. For advanced students.
Table 1. List of programs and websites you could use to design and view your own VR content.

Figure 1 shows a simple forest environment made using Tinkercad, and Figure 2 shows a house designed using SketchUp. Both are displayed using the Sketchfab viewer. On a desktop, you can use your mouse to control the camera and look around the models. On a mobile device, you can click the "View in VR" button. This will split the screen into two images, one for each eye, that show the scene from slightly different angles (just like your eyes work in the real world). When you place the mobile device in a VR headset, the result you see is a single, 3D image.

Forest by Science Buddies on Sketchfab

Figure 1. A 3D forest environment made with TinkerCAD.

House by Science Buddies on Sketchfab

Figure 2. A house designed with SketchUp.

This project may be a good fit if your school has a "maker fair" or another type of exhibition where you can show off something you designed or made. If you want to enter it in a traditional science or engineering fair, you will need to figure out how to convert it to a project that follows either the scientific method or the engineering design process. Here are some ideas:

  • Your goal could be to create a realistic looking virtual scene. Measure how users react to changes to certain variables in your environment, like lighting or material texture. What makes a model the most "realistic"?
  • Can you make your game immersive? See if you can get users to physically react (for example, jumping back in surprise) to features in the environment, like standing on the edge of a cliff or above a pit.
  • Is VR really better than a regular flat computer monitor or TV? Compare how users react to environments displayed in 2D on a regular computer screen versus in 3D using a VR headset (see the Science Buddies project Do People Prefer Virtual Reality Headsets over 2D Pictures? for a similar project involving pictures).
  • How can a VR environment convey a sense of scale? Can you make a user feel like they are a tiny ant in the middle of a room, or a giant looking down on a city?
  • How does virtual reality compare to a physical prototype? Read this article about surgeons who used VR to prepare for a baby's heart surgery. Normally the surgeons would have used a 3D-printed model of the heart, but their 3D printer was broken, so they used VR instead. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each method?
  • Do people remember more details when they view a scene in VR instead of on a regular 2D screen?

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Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

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MLA Style

Finio, Ben. "Create and View Your Own 3D Models in Virtual Reality" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 15 Mar. 2018. Web. 20 Mar. 2018 <https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Games_p033/video-computer-games/create-and-view-your-own-3d-models-in-virtual-reality>

APA Style

Finio, B. (2018, March 15). Create and View Your Own 3D Models in Virtual Reality. Retrieved March 20, 2018 from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Games_p033/video-computer-games/create-and-view-your-own-3d-models-in-virtual-reality

Last edit date: 2018-03-15

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