In October 2007, I made the prophetic prediction in my blog: “Second Life Will Revolutionize Engineering Design”. This statement resulted after several months of research on computer-generated immersive 3-D universes, which culminated in an in-print Design News article, “Second Life: A Virtual Universe for Real Engineering”.
My prophecy is coming true.
I recently discovered that a UC Irvine professor in the School of Information and Computer Science, Dr. Cristina Lopes, has been using Second Life for engineering design. In partnership with Unimodal, Inc., Professor Lopiz built a virtual personalized mass transit system called SkyTran targeted for real deployment in the Los Angeles area.
As highlighted in the Orange County Register article, “Second Life as a simulation tool”, building the SkyTran system in Second Life highlighted several human-machine interface issues that would otherwise have only been identified after the system was actually constructed. First, the current track arrangement, while safe, “feels” unsafe. Second, the repetitive track components passing by could induce epileptic seizures in susceptible passengers. Both of these early problems were uncovered by recording the experiences of a Second Life avatar as it sat in a SkyTran car taking a virtual ride.
Not only were human-machine interface issues identified early by employing Second Life for engineering design, but also the algorithm used to control the virtual SkyTram cars can be migrated for use to run the real-world SkyTran system. This migration is feasible because Second Life physics mimic physics in the real world. Thus, the SkyTran program development process can be completed and tested before any hardware is built, speeding up the development process.
In the OC Register article, Lopes is quoted to have said, “I wanted to see to what extent Second Life could serve as a tool for real-world engineering design… It turns out that it’s very powerful.” I could not have said it better. Second Life is already becoming an important tool for engineering design.
For more information on the SkyTran personal mass transit system, check out this YouTube video.