Second Life is an immersive 3-D virtual environmental that (among other things) allows engineers to collaboratively create designs and test out their functionality on real users without need to build a real world prototype. Hard core engineers still seem unable to shake the misconception that SL is a game, to move beyond the stigma, and embrace it as a serious design tool. However, two recent articles in ASME’s Mechanical Engineering Magazine on Second Life (SL) demonstrate that this software is gaining ground as a serious engineering design and collaboration tool.
“Working Virtually Together” describes results from a study out of Penn State on collaborative problem solving. The performance of groups restricted to collaborating only through SL was compared to groups meeting face-to-face. While the SL groups took longer to complete assigned tasks, they nonetheless finished the tasks. One drawback the study found to collaborating in SL was need to learn complex keyboard strokes to communicate effectively.
“Real-Life Business in Second Life” describes work by Professor Brian Mennecke at Iowa State exploring how engineering companies are using SL to engage customers and test prototype designs using virtual environments.
Second Life, along with tools related to engineering design in virtual environments, has been featured in Design News before; including the following articles.
“Second Life Will Revolutionize Engineering Design”
“3Dconnexion Mice Take Turn In Second Life”
“Second Life Utilized to Design a Personal Mass Transit System”
“SolidWorks Labs Approaches One Year”
“Second Life: A Virtual Universe for Real Engineering”
Realizing the importance of SL as a future tool for engineering design and testing, I am having my students use SL this semester in MEEN 2250, a Computer Aided Engineering course I teach at the University of North Texas.
The revolutionary product design and test capabilities SL affords engineers cannot be ignored forever. It is time to stop thinking of SL as a game, and embrace it.