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Create and View Your Own 3D Models in Virtual Reality


Areas of Science
Time Required
Short (2-5 days)
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
*Note: For this science project you will need to develop your own experimental procedure. Use the information in the summary tab as a starting place. If you would like to discuss your ideas or need help troubleshooting, use the Ask An Expert forum. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions and offer guidance if you come to them with specific questions.

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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:

icon scientific method

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MLA Style

Finio, Ben. "Create and View Your Own 3D Models in Virtual Reality." Science Buddies, 17 June 2021, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Games_p033/video-computer-games/create-and-view-your-own-3d-models-in-virtual-reality. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

APA Style

Finio, B. (2021, June 17). Create and View Your Own 3D Models in Virtual Reality. Retrieved 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: 2021-06-17
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