Later this October, my first in-print article hits Design News Magazine. The culmination of several months of research, I report on the virtual world of Second Life (SL) and show how this new technology will impact engineering design. My conclusion: SL is disruptive technology that will revolutionize computer aided engineering design and facilitate new kinds of global design collaboration.
Second Life, created by Linden Lab, is a computer-generated universe (a metaverse) that is free to use for anyone with an Internet connection. Within this world, virtual objects can be created from scratch using a library of primitives, basic shapes such as cubes and spheres. By manipulating these elemental objects, adding uploaded image textures, and combining components, anything that can be imagined can be constructed. Completed objects are then augmented with additional layers of sophistication by adding software scripts, making them intelligent, responsive, and interactive.
These tools fundamentally alter engineering design by allowing end-users to interact with functional, virtual, prototype objects in real-time without anything ever having to be built.
I interviewed Assistant Professor Chang Liu of the Virtual Immersive Technologies and Arts for Learning (VITAL) Laboratory at Ohio University and Pam Broviak, P.E., public works director and city engineer for La Salle, IL. These individuals are pioneering the utilization of SL for engineering design. Professor Liu uses the metaverse to improve software engineering by incorporating end users in initial stages of product development. Broviak uses SL to construct walk-through building plumbing systems for her clients, and she manages the Second Life Public Works Resource Center, a clearing house for information related to engineering and public works in SL.
Design News is breaking new ground as the first engineering publication to recognize the utility of SL for engineering design. We may be responsible for kicking off the CAD revolution our article foretells. It is only very rarely in a career that one is so fortunate to discover an opportunity so revolutionary as SL for engineering design and then be the first to articulate it to our engineering peers.
Ironically, MIT’s notoriously engineering-saturated Technology Review (TR) magazine missed a golden opportunity to scoop Design News on this topic. Just as I was submitting my SL article to my editor, TR ran a comprehensive piece entitled “Second Earth” in their August edition. Their article covers the confluence of virtual worlds like SL with so-called mirror worlds like Google Earth. While the author, Wade Roush, did a great job covering the social networking and business potential of SL, he completely missed the implications of this computational platform to revolutionize engineering design.
A missed opportunity at Technology Review is an opportunity gained for the readers of Design News.
For some additional reviews of TR’s “Second Earth” article, check out the following blog posts: “Technology Review talks Second Earth” at veryspatial.com; “Technology Review: Second Earth” at the Wired blog network, and “Second Earth” at the Google Earth blog.