Second Life Builds Take you from Cradle to Grave…

Well, maybe not really cradle to grave as in the lifetime of a person, but more in the lifetime of a project. Everyone seems to have realized the benefits that Second Life can offer during the planning stage of a project, but few have discussed how Second Life can be used throughout the remaining phases of a construction project. Because I tend to focus more on the construction and operation phases, I find myself looking for ways to use Second Life to streamline tasks within those areas instead of just for planning and design.

The other day I was thinking about two engineers I know who work for a local construction company. Both have seen the Second Life demo I give everyone who dares to visit my office, but I don’t think either have taken the time to check it out on their own. I was wondering “what would finally push them to use Second Life?” and started thinking about the bidding process. If I could build my project in Second Life and tell bidders that they could visit a representation of the project while they were trying to put together their bid, perhaps this would entice them to check out this new 3-D world.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought that this actually might clear up a lot of issues and questions engineers and architects get during the bidding process. Which could help minimize costly add-ons later on that occur because something was not caught early on. As questions came up, a build in Second Life would offer a representation of the completed project where engineer/architect/contractor/owner could meet to go over concerns about the bid package. And although making the whole build a completely accurate replica is not feasible, smaller builds could be placed nearby to serve as details of specific components – just like details are used in plans.

If the build was left in place during construction, engineer/architect/contractor/owner could again use the 3-D model as a place to meet and discuss specific concerns or questions that arise during construction. It would be so much easier to discuss problems with a completed model. Also, a builder/contractor could make his own solution and display that in-world for analysis and review by the architect/engineer.

Even after the project is completed, the build could be left in place for monitoring and operation – particularly for structural builds, (the ability to monitor equipment in the real world from a location in Second Life has already been accomplished) but that is another topic for another day. In the meantime, we have a new wastewater plant that will be going out to bid soon….


We have a Wiki!!!

At our first engineering meeting this year, Theory Shaw visited and suggested we develop a wiki for the projects that we were planning. What a great idea! He has been involved with the architecture group’s wiki and generously offered to set up a wiki for us. Wow, what a great guy. Our new wiki is located at

There is a listing of some of the projects we discussed along with a section for collaboration on real life public works issues.

Some of the projects include the following ideas:

Construction of a “Code House.” This house will be set up to illustrate the International Building Code in 3-D. When completed, you will be able to walk through the home and either see the code visually or obtain notecards with code information. Most of the home has been constructed, but we have to start placing the code-related items in it. Right now it is located up around elevation 500. Let me know if you are interested in working on this project!

Another project has been under construction by TEEX Clary who is with the Texas Engineering Extension Service. I want to make sure he has the first stab at announcing his project so I won’t give too much away here, but he has done an incredible job at building a 3-D training tool related to issues that all of us in transportation face. Stay tuned for more about this project or visit the island to see what is going on. You can also IM him in world and ask him to show you around.

We are also working to develop design tools for real life work. My last blog covered one of these. Some of the others I have been thinking about are related to building 3-D models of ADA compliant ramps. If you had a box of sample intersection designs, it might make it easier to visualize or explain to others your design concept. Or you could alter a basic layout to more accurately reflect your situation. If we all collaborate and make the basic tools, then we will all have them available to use when we need to begin a design.

SL also offers us a great opportunity to educate the general public about our field and related issues. So far I have set up some Powerpoint displays related to emergency preparedness. This month I also developed a radon awareness training tool – An Introduction to Radon – and put all the components into a kit that anyone can buy for $0L. The kit includes the slides for a powerpoint presentation, two 3-D models of radon collection systems, and a notecard.

The other cool gadget I have started getting excited about is the “holodeck” tool. I have to admit at first I thought this was a little too much of a gimmick, but after looking into it more, I think this tool could be very powerful. Everyone who builds in SL knows that prim limits are a problem so making many displays may not always be possible. Well with the holodeck, you could make a “scene” that illustrates how to wire a 3-way switch, what areas need to be glazed in a home, etc, and then put them all in a holodeck. The user of the holodeck then chooses the display he/she wants to see and only views one display at a time. This is another project, I think our group should explore so if you have any display ideas or want to work on building some, let us know!

The way I look at it all is that maybe we can’t directly import our drawings into here yet but that shouldn’t stop us from exploring ways to use the existing capabilities to develop products we can use.

Passive Radon Collection System


Manhole Kit Now Available on Public Works

Ever since coming to Second Life, I have been working on ways to use the software to help me on my real life job. One of the items I have been working on is a Manhole Sizing Kit. Every now and then on a design, I am not really sure what diameter manhole would work best. Sometimes I have larger than average pipes and sometimes there are numerous pipes in one manhole. In the past I have always drawn out the manhole and pipes to scale and tried to recreate the design in a way that would help me visualize how it will all work. Well, now I realized, I can easily do this in Second Life.

After already using Second Life for this purpose last month and realizing how much easier this task was by doing it in-world, I decided it would be even better to have the whole kit available so that I don’t have to build my manholes and pipes as I need them. If I have all the sizes available to begin with, then the process of sizing the manhole using Second Life will be even that much faster.
Manhole Sizing Kit on Public Works

Well so far I have a box with precast manholes available in the following inside diameters: 2′, 3′, 4′, 5′, 6′, 7′, and 8′. I also have reinforced concrete pipes in all the available sizes from 12″ to 72″ inside diameter. They are set up in boxes for sale for $0L inside the Public Works Resource Center which is the brick garage on the hill on the Public Works Sim. I will also be adding some PVC pipe boxes in the future – most likely SDR 35 and SDR 26. If anyone has any other types of pipes that might be useful, just email me at

Now anyone can use these tools to help them size manholes in the design process just by logging into Second Life and picking up a kit. In the end, the completed manhole design might even provide an interesting photo opportunity.


What I want for Christmas

What I want for Christmas, at least from Second Life, is a scene exporter. Ok, maybe I won't get this for Christmas, but I would still be happy if I could get it sometime over the next year.

Lately I have been working on a design project in Second Life that got me wondering how I could use the end result in my real life work on a construction site without having to go into Second Life. I kept thinking that if I build a detailed model of something simple like a manhole showing all the pipe connections, it would be helpful to be able to capture that "scene" by establishing a given area around the site. And I mean in a way that is not just a "photo" like I can already do. What I want is the ability to capture it in a way that I can view it on a special "viewer" that allows me to pan, zoom, tilt, the exported 3D scene as if I was in SL. I don't need my avatar there – I just want the ability to view it in the same manner as I would in SL.

I realize that there are many who might suggest that regular CAD products could do this, but first, I think SL is best for building simple, yet dimensionally correct, 3D models in a fast and efficient manner; second, I want to be able to have the model placed in a realistic "scene" which is not easily created in a CAD program; and third, I need a construction worker to access this on the jobsite.

That is why I am convinced that SL is the best medium to create the scene – I just need a type of generic file format that the scene could be exported as and then viewed with a viewing software made just for this purpose. Then I could give the file to the contractor, and he could, at each manhole installation, easily access that file on his phone (which soon will evolve to allow this type of viewing) to verify that the installation is taking place as designed. To do this he would not need to have any knowledge of CAD.

Those of us in civil-related construction know that the plans are rarely consulted on the job. Sometimes the contractor does not even have them handy; yet he always has his cell phone. I want my 3D manhole detail on that phone!


Too Much Down Time = Crazy Ideas

Ok, one more blog before I go back to work after being gone a full week. While traveling to and from Autodesk University, I was left with way too much down time to dream up new ideas. While only my coworkers and family are usually subjected to hearing about these, I decided to publish this one to the Web through my blog in the hopes that someone will see it, perhaps decide it has merit, and help bring it to implementation.

The emerging and growing push to become more green and sustainable has gotten me thinking about the products I use everyday. But not just about alternative products that use less energy. I am beginning to wonder how much energy is used to manufacture the products I use each day.

Perhaps the brand of toothpaste I buy uses twice the energy that a competitor uses. If I knew this information, I would buy the brand that has developed a more energy efficient manufacturing process. But how can the average consumer find out this information?

Well, I decided if the food producers/suppliers can be made to put nutrition-related information on their packaging, then any manufacturer of a packaged product should be able to or be regulated to put information on their packaging that indicates how much energy was used to produce that product. As a consumer concerned about our environment, I need to know this to make better purchasing decisions to ensure that I am doing my part to improve the environment.

The manufacturers already have to know this information because it is needed for them to operate and run their business. With all the push to be green, I would think that this is something that a politician could easily push through the legislative body of our country. In the meantime, I will be wondering with each purchase if I am really buying the most energy efficient product out there.


Musings After a Week at AU

I just got back from spending a whole week attending Autodesk University, AU, and as usual have come away with a lot of knowledge, but also a lot of questions about the engineering profession and where it is going.

At the opening session, there were presentations related to the future of design which were incredible. The one that appealed to me as a civil engineer was a fly through of a city showing all visual components of an urban area that could be drawn/re-created in a 3-D virtual environment. We were shown virtual streets, landscaping, underground utilities, and buildings. The cool element of all this is that the whole virtual site would be populated in a GIS-type fashion making the "drawing" a type of 3-D GIS production.

But everytime I am shown some futuristic presentation like this, I can't help but wonder how all of us are going to find the time to learn how to do it all, and as software becomes more involved, how many of us are going to be able to keep up with the learning curve. At what point have we evolved beyond where the majority can keep up?

Someone has to collect and input all that data and information, and someone has to know how to run all that software. The amount of information to collect and the amount of work required to input all of it to produce that type of 3-D model presents a daunting challenge. Particularly at a time when the workforce is diminishing and the government continues to cut investment in infrastructure.

There are several signs that point to this emerging challenge. Several people I spoke with at AU were reluctant to embrace some of the existing programs that have been around for a while due to the learning curve required to master the software. I am included in this group – I would love to move up to Civil 3D because it appears to be an awesome program, but I cannot invest the time right now to learn it. As long as I can continue to produce with the software I already have and know, there is little incentive to invest any more time and money on learning new software.

A recent survey related to this subject was conducted by CE Magazine. The results, summarized in an article at, showed that almost 70% of those surveyed did not feel they were trained well enough to maximize the use of their civil engineering software. Yet a little more than 60% reported that 3-D modeling and GIS/CAD interchange would have the biggest impact on the civil engineering profession in the next five to 10 years.

Some say the younger generation growing up with computers in their homes will fall right into this type of work environment. However, my experience has been that not all of this younger generation can always make technology work for them – they don't have the magical connection with it that some seem to imply is there. An analogy would be that all of us living today have grown up with cars, drive them almost every day, and yet many of us cannot fix the car or make it work if something goes wrong. We need an expert who has been trained in car repair to get it working for us again.

Just because a future engineer grows up with computers and software, we should not think/hope/expect them to show up on the jobsite after graduation prepared to fully utilize all of the computer equipment and software that we provide. The key components to fully utilizing the tools that are already available and which will be developed in the near future is education and staffing. That is why I feel attendance at events like AU is so important for those of us in engineering and public works.

As was stressed at AU, the tools are no longer holding us back – companies like Autodesk are at the cutting edge of technology and are driving us into the future. I just hope there will continue to be drivers to keep us going.