Second Life – A Resource for Engineers

Streetscape in Second Life

(After spending my first month of blogging on real life issues, I am going to start exploring the unique capabilities of Second Life and how this software application can be used to assist engineers during the design and construction process.)

Engineering curriculum over the last few decades rarely focused on the esthetics of an engineering design—appearances and looks were left for the architects to worry about. However, over the last decade, there has been a rising public demand for engineering designs that enhance our community’s appearance and presentation. People want to feel good about the way their environment looks.

As an engineer educated in the 1980s, I have been designing infrastructure within the design guidelines established by agencies and organizations such as the DOT, AASHTO, FHWA, EPA, etc. In the past there was little guidance in the manuals for establishing a streetscape that would appeal to users of particular environment such as shoppers, walkers, bicyclists, people-watchers. Although today these agencies establish some accepted practices to follow in a streetscape design, they still cannot convey the secret to achieving “what looks good.” Traveling to other cities to see what was accomplished elsewhere is helpful but time consuming and costly.

 This is where Second Life comes in. First, I want to let those who have not yet been to Second Life know that at first a new user needs to spend the time learning some of the basics of the environment before reaching the skill level necessary to achieve a positive experience. Sometimes I think that this may lead people to believe that “it just isn’t worth the hassle.” After going through the initial orientation, I admit that I did not go back to Second Life for a month—the first few places I was sent as a new person or avatar in this world had not adequately hinted at what was lying beyond. Fortunately I pressed on.

As an engineer, in particular an esthetically challenged engineer, I could not help but be drawn to the streetscapes created by people—most of whom I suspect are not engineers. Right away I realized the resource that was created here for me. Second Life is like having a public hearing where everyone gets to create the type of streetscape they would like to have in their community. An engineer can travel through Second Life taking photos (yes, you can take photos in Second Life), apply the necessary design guidelines, and develop a working design! What is the hardest part for me—placing and choosing the elements in a pleasing configuration – has already been done. I can even print out several, present them at a council meeting or public meeting, and have our community choose the one they would like to see built.

I encourage you to come to Second Life at least once, if for nothing else but to admire the great streetscapes—I will be the woman checking out the tree grate.dell_009.bmp