Esri CityEngine

CityEngine unveils mobile Virtual Reality solution

July 2017 update
We are proud to release a new version of ArcGIS 360 VR. The ArcGIS 360 VR app allows you to quickly immerse yourself into 3D city models by teleporting to static viewpoints and comparing different urban design scenarios. With newly added support for Gear VR controller, navigating your experiences has become even more engaging when using a hand controller to interact with the experiences. These VR experiences can be easily created with CityEngine and are hosted on ArcGIS Online, the cloud platform of the global smart mapping leader, Esri.

Visit Esri Labs to get the free ArcGIS 360 VR app. Existing users will be notified of the update through the Oculus Gear VR Store.


December 19, 2016

ArcGIS 360VR

We are excited to announce a mobile VR solution for urban planners, architects, and GIS professionals. With the latest version of CityEngine, we offer the ability to simply and quickly create VR experiences on mobile devices. You can view these experiences in the new ArcGIS 360 VR app from Esri Labs. Once downloaded from ArcGIS Online, you can immerse into 3D scenes by teleporting to static viewpoints and comparing different urban planning scenarios.

“We are pleased to see Esri add a mobile VR solution to its 3D smart city platform,” said Christian Huerzeler, project manager at the Department of Urban Planning in Zurich. “By using ArcGIS 360 VR, our planning board and jurors can now study the impact of new architectural developments and urban planning scenarios from the perspective of pedestrians and citizens.”

The app is available for the Samsung Gear VR headset. You can get the app on the Oculus platform by getting a promo code from us. Visit the Esri Labs page for more info or contact us directly at


Your CityEngine team

For additional information on ArcGIS 360 VR, see our list of common questions below.

How do I install ArcGIS 360 VR on my Android phone?
You can install ArcGIS 360 VR on Android phones only through the Oculus app. When you receive the promo code, you can redeem the code in the Oculus app on your Samsung Android phone. ArcGIS 360 VR will show up in your Oculus library after you redeem the code.

Is ArcGIS 360 VR available for other VR platforms such as the Rift, Vive, Daydream or Cardboard?
Currently, the app is only available for Samsung’s Gear VR. Support for other mobile VR platforms is under consideration. Room-scale VR platforms such as the Rift or Vive aren’t part of the 360 VR technology, see 6DOF VR for explanation.

What is the advantage of a mobile VR solution over room-scale VR solutions?
Mobile VR solutions only require a simple smartphone paired with an affordable wireless headset to be immersed in an ArcGIS 360 VR experience. Whereas, room-scale solutions rely on high-performance graphic computers and cumbersome wired VR accessories.

Can I also use ArcGIS 360 VR in offline mode?
Yes. After a 360 VR Experience has been viewed on a connected mobile device, it also becomes available when your mobile device is offline.

Can I walk around in 360 VR experiences?
No. It is like “street view” where you can just look around from a static viewpoint and teleport to another panorama. Note: Mobile VR headsets (1) don’t support room-scale VR where motion would be detected; (2) often cause motion sickness if used with an X-box controller to move around in VR; and (3) are preferred by architects and urban designers because static viewpoints curate the experience better.

Can I teleport from my current viewpoint to the next viewpoint by just looking at it?
Yes. You can either use the camera symbols in the 3D scene or the control menu with thumbnails. Both patterns are easy to use and intuitive.

Why should I create a VR experience where I can’t walk around?
Simplicity. Creating a 6DOF (6 degrees of freedom) VR experience is still a complicated task requiring expert knowledge with 3D tools, data simplification and optimization, real-time rendering or game engines, and graphics hardware. One of the main inspirations behind ArcGIS 360 VR was to create a one-click-publish-to-VR user experience for 3D scenes.

Is Esri working on VR solutions where I can walk around?
The 360-imagery-based VR experience is simple, fast, and completely reliable but does have limited capabilities. Consequently, Esri is continuously working on real 3D VR technology for use cases with full 6DOF VR immersion. So, at the end of the day, it really depends on the use case and when it comes to guided experiences with static viewpoints, such as in geo/urban design, the 360 VR approach is especially well suited.

This solution isn’t stereoscopic, is this a problem?
No. Most users don’t notice the difference because depth perception research has shown that the ability to judge depth decreases with distance. In our application, the most prominent object in front of the viewer is the control panel – which is in stereoscopic 3D. This single 3D element alone can trick the brain into thinking that the whole panorama is in stereo. Additionally, because the view point doesn’t change, one of the most prominent depth cues, the parallax effect, doesn’t actually take effect. Therefore, in the 360-imagery-based VR case, stereo doesn’t contribute to the immersion as much as expected. Nonetheless, we will improve the depth perception in future versions.

Is 3VR a new format introduced by Esri?
Yes. We are introducing the new format 3VR (360 VR Experience) because, unfortunately, nothing exists yet that supports a set of panoramas and scenario management. It is basically a zip archive that contains a JSON and JPEGS. Note: Currently only standardized cube maps are supported. Other panorama types will be supported in the future.

Can I look at 3VR files with only a VR headset?
Yes. We are working on supporting other platforms such as the browser. However, the premium use case for 3VR are VR applications.

Could 3VRs also include panoramic photos?
Yes. We are working on an authoring workflow for this use.

Is CityEngine the only tool that can publish 3VRs?
Yes. Currently, CityEngine is the only tool. Due to the simplicity of the format (only cube maps are required to be rendered) it might be implemented in other tools as well in the future.


Matt is a product engineer living in Zurich, Switzerland. He joined Esri R&D Center Zurich in 2014 and has a passion for 3D! He currently works with the CityEngine and Scene Viewer teams.

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