3D Visualization of an Alley Streetscape Project

Downtown alley looking westA while back I was working on a project to change an alley from a typical asphalt driveway to a pedestrian walkway. Because it is in a downtown area, this project allows for many design opportunities to enhance the downtown area and the pedestrian experience. During its planning stage, we had a lot of input from property owners, co-workers, and others in the community on what they wanted to see in that space. But as I put together the civil drawings, I thought it would be so much better to also have a 3D view of it so we could actually see what it would look like when we put in everyone's ideas. I decided the easiest and fastest way for me to build the best looking model for this was to use something like Opensim or Second Life software. Due to the size and purpose of this project, I ended up setting it up in Second Life since I could make it in a premium sandbox, take a photo of it when done, and then store it in my inventory. Below is the result of my work.

Downtown Alley in 3D

If you look close, you will probably notice it really is not a perfectly executed model. This was intentional on my part. For this particular project, my goal was to see how fast I could set up a model that while not perfect was good enough for visualizing a design.This is because when I have built things like this before, one of the main questions I get from co-workers and other engineers is "how long did it take you to do that?" And in the past, I never really paid attention because I was more focused on the building aspect and trying to make it look exactly like the actual site. But for professional design work, time is one of the most important considerations. So I wanted to focus on how fast this could be done yet still achieve the goal. In the end, for this project, which covered roughly 30 feet by 400 feet, I would say it took about eight hours to take the photos, create the textures, and build the model. I might have been able to finish it sooner, but it took me a while to shop for the string lights and buy them in a Second Life store.

Here are a few more photos with different lighting and different views. Obviously with more time, a lot more elements could have been added and more ideas tried. The good thing about having a model like this is once it is built, it is so easy to just add other objects or try different designs:


Alley 3D Visualization Looking East

Alley 3D Visualization Looking West at sunset


Modeling a City

Pegasus Global Holdings is planning to build a full-scale city somewhere in New Mexico "to test and evaluate technologies in conditions that most closely simulate real-world applications." According to the project's website, CITE-CITY, the company proposed building the model to overcome challenges related to access, long waits, and costs that they faced in carrying out testing of technologies in actual cities. Last August, Pegasus Global signed a  Memorandum of Understanding with the New Mexico Economic Development Department in which they indicated the model will be built with private funds and create 350 new jobs. The company and State of New Mexico hope to draw vendors, investors, partners, and users from six specific areas of interest: Energy, transmission systems, transport, economic development, resource development, and security.

The company planned to break ground by this summer, but based on a recent article in myDesert.com, the project has been placed on hold due to land acquisition issues. However, it appears development plans for the model community will continue while the company searches for a new location. 

The Frontier Project in Second Life

The use of full-scale models for training and simulation is not a new idea. Many police and fire departments use existing structures for training. And the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) provides emergency response training at Disaster City – a 52-acre full scale "mock community." But not everyone chooses to model cities in the physical world. Increased computing capabilities offer a more efficient and low cost method to run simulations and training. A couple years ago, IBM launched CityOne – an online game people can play to explore how technology can impact cities. And over the last several years, Crista Lopes has been involved in some amazing work involving simulations in a virtual setting. One of her blog posts, Simulating a City, describes a traffic simulation/visualization project she has been working on. There are also many other examples of virtual simulations throughout Second Life and other 3D immersive worlds. The image in this post is a photo of a simulation of a stormwater collection and groundwater recharge facility that was built in Second Life.

Because of the tremendous cost of building physical models (in the case of the Pegasus Global project costs have been reported anywhere from $200 million to $1 billion) it would be interesting to see a study comparing the benefits, costs, and effectiveness of both physical and virtual simulations. And based on that type of study, a guideline could be developed to assist people in choosing the best, most economical, and efficient model for their purpose.


Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds Annual Conference

For several years, the National Defense University (NDU) has been sponsoring the Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds Conference. This annual event explores government use of 3D immersive technology. Although the event is great to attend in person, many people are not able to travel to Washington DC and instead attend the event online through several different channels. This year, parts of the conference will be live streamed to the Web. I've embedded a viewing window below in case anyone wants to check out the conference on Thurs., May 17, or Fri., May 18. If you want to check out the other ways to attend "virtually," you can follow this link: http://www.ndu.edu/icollege/fcvw/live.html


Watch live streaming video from ndustreampremium at livestream.com

Business Sim Released by Public Works Group

Public Works Group Business Sim


Over the last year or so I've worked on creating a 3D environment as a representation of the ADA Toolkit for Local Government. Last December I submitted the build in the Federal Virtual Worlds Challenge. The winners were just announced this week, and my entry was not one of the finalists so I began the process of taking down the build so I can work on something else. But before I secured my demolition permit and completely cleared the site, I removed the ADA-related materials so only the buildings and landscaping remained. Then I saved it as an OAR file. Those of you who work in the Opensimulator environment are probably familiar with this file format. I am offering the build as a download for anyone who might need a build to support a business or e-learning use or anything else you can think of. Here are the main highlights in the build:

  • Main Landing/Welcome area
  • Three forest/park areas
  • Roads through business area
  • Hedge Maze
  • Four commercial buildings, one with a parking lot

Most of the content and images were created by me. However, I have incorporated a few items from Linda KellieNebadon IzumiVanish Seriath and possibly a few other people. All of the items used that were created by others were released for use under an OpenSource or Creative Commons license that would allow me to release them for free under a similar license through this build (any original notecards regarding the licenses can be found in the objects created by others). So have fun, and I hope the build proves useful for others. 



This file is released under a Creative Commons, noncommercial, share-alike, attribution license (basically meaning that you just can't sell any of the build or repackage it under your own name or brand – you don't have to attribute to me or the Public Works Group if you use the build.)



Free 3D Software – Limited Time Offer!

3D Environment Created in DAZ


Even though this offer has been Tweeted and posted all over the Internet, I thought I would add a quick post here to make sure our readers know about it. For the month of February Digital Art Zone (DAZ) is offering the following software free of charge – you can pick it up at http://www.daz3d.com/i/3d/free-3d-software-overview:

DAZ Studio 4 Pro 3D Software (Winner of 3D World's 2011 Software Innovation of the Year Award): Retail $429.95
Bryce 7 Pro 3D Landscape Software: Retail $249.95
Hexagon 2.5 3D Modeling Software: Retail $149.95
3D Photoshop Bridge: Retail $199.00

The company also said any downloads of these packages would be eligible for future updates at no charge. "We're excited to make this offer early in the year," said James Thornton, CEO for DAZ. "We wanted to give any digital artist the opportunity to experience DAZ free 3D software for the first time, and a full suite of 3D models and 3D animation software products is available on DAZ3D.com."

Even though 3D is still in its infancy in our industry with it only being used in large, high-profile projects, there will come a day when 3D renderings will be an expected deliverable on all projects. The challenge for those of us working now is similar to the one we faced in transitioning from the drafting table to CAD: how to train and ramp up on a new skill that is not immediately necessary so we are ready when it does become a necessity? One of the roadblocks we face is that few companies or agencies will invest the time or money to develop this skill until there is a paying customer or an expectation by citizens. Which is why this opportunity is so valuable. The software is free; all you have to do is invest your time to learn it. And even if DAZ is not the final product your company/agency ends up using, I've found the 3D skills learned using one product do transfer to the next as well as the familiarity with the general framework.

As for learning the software, there are numerous tutorials available. All you have to do is search through Google or YouTube to find them.


3D Environment Created in DAZ


Turning Virtual Achievements into Real Rewards

Ped Access Master Virtual Shirt

The idea of performing an online task and receiving a "real" reward is nothing new. People can take advantage of coupons and deals on Foursquare just by checking into a store. And some sites donate to charities based on a person's online activity. But I keep wondering if people would be interested in having this idea expanded to reward someone "offline" with the same exact reward they earned online – particularly in the workplace.

For example, let's take one of my favorite companies, East Jordan Iron Works, and imagine they have set up a 3D environment that visitors to their website can log into and explore with an avatar. Perhaps they have created a world full of manhole and inlet frames, tree grates, detectable warnings and other products they carry. In this 3D space, they have established "games" my avatar can play that illustrate the benefits and uses of their product. Perhaps some of the "games" can even help teach an engineer like myself how to best approach the entire process of selection, design, specification, bidding, and construction of their products. Throughout the experience, I am asked for input that helps them better understand my needs, expectations, and opinions of their product as a potential customer.  Then at the end, my avatar is rewarded with a t-shirt with an awesome design. If the t-shirt is really cool (particularly if it has something to do with a sewer!) and proclaims I conquered some challenge, then I am going to want that t-shirt offline so my achievement is displayed by both my avatar and my actual person.

Thinking along these lines, I decided to experiment with this concept. When I created the 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government, I set up rewards in the virtual setting so a person can receive a t-shirt for their avatar when they complete certain sections. The symbol on the shirt proclaims them a master of that topic. Then I went out to a site like Zazzle and set up the same t-shirt on that site. Below is an example of the result. It's a very simple implementation of the concept and could be expanded to items other than t-shirts. And although I know this is something I would be interested in, I was curious to find out what others thought of this idea.


Ped Access Master shirt on ZazzlePed Access Master Virtual Shirt