A Program Ahead of Its Time

City Simulation in Plymouth is introducing 3D modeling — something like an advanced video game system — to the masses.

What happens when a product is so advanced that few people understand it? “It’s pretty lonely out there,” says Donald R. Fullenwider, president of Plymouth-based City Simulation, which offers advanced virtual reality programs to businesses, municipalities, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

The company’s 3D modeling program displays a scene in real time — meaning users seemingly fly through a scale model of, say, Detroit’s Cobo Center. In addition, a user can “fly” across the street and see what Cobo’s exterior looks like from different levels of an adjacent building. Perched high enough, users also can remove the roof to get a bird’s-eye view of various floor plans.

Fullenwider has been perfecting his virtual reality offerings since 2001, and has created detailed models for computer game companies, architects, engineers, and landscape architects. The Farbman Group, for instance, wanted a system that brokers could use to show off Sheffield Office Park in Troy, near the Somerset Collection. The program displays different floor and furniture arrangements to potential tenants. Other City Simulation clients include Cobo Center, Alma College, Hella, and numerous municipalities, including Birmingham and Frankfort, near Traverse City.

“One of the best features is that it’s portable, meaning it can run on a laptop and be shown to prospective clients and vendors while you’re on a business trip,” Fullenwider says. “It can also be used for emergency response and training.”

While each order is unique, a program typically costs $10,000 to $15,000.

“If money wasn’t an issue, I would have a virtual reality model of the whole city,” says Joshua Mills, Frankfort’s superintendent. So far, the resort town has ordered a virtual map of its Main Street, complete with underground utility locations.

Landing new clients requires persistence, Fullenwider says. “Sometimes we have to give 15 proposals before someone orders one,” he notes. The computer expert says he’s waiting for the Department of Homeland Security to set a standard protocol for virtual reality programs, which would help boost orders.

Potential clients include airports, entertainment venues, hotels, college campuses, public water systems, electrical grids, and hospitals. “Imagine if you walked into Beaumont Hospital (in Royal Oak) and they offered a phone application with a virtual reality map,” Fullenwider says. “You would simply type in where you want to go, and the program would offer a virtual map. That’s the future.”