Daden Limited‘s new white paper, ‘Virtual Worlds and the Built Environment’ (download here) provides an insightful overview of several Second Life case studies relating to architecture, engineering and construction industry projects, along with descriptions of  what make virtual worlds a useful tool for AEC industry projects.
“Whilst the hype (and marketing interest) around virtualworlds has faded, the technology is increasingly being used in areas such as training & education,collaboration and data visualisation. This paper explores the on-going use, and future opportunity, of virtual worlds to help model the built environment, and as a result to use the virtual world to build a better physical world.”
A few points of interest include their overview of differences between SL and traditional AEC tools:
There are a number of key differences here in comparison to more traditional Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) visualisation tools.
Principally that:
  • The user is embodied in the world as an avatar, rather than having just a “camera” view
  • The avatar/user can go where they like, and interact with the build
  • The environment is multi-user, so users  can interact with other users
  • The environment is rendered in real-time, so although visual quality may not be as high, the environment can be far more dynamic and flexible, and renders instantly rather than needing an over-night render-farm.

I also appreciate their list of advantages of using virtual worlds in AEC fields:

The advantages of virtual worlds such as Second Life include:

• The ability to make changes instantly, in-world

• The ability to support multiple users in the same space – typically 50-100 (but of course you can always clone spaces)

• The ability to make things interactive – even linking computers to real computer applications, and signs to real signage systems

• The ability to not only integrate building environmental and performance data, but also to visualise it in new and effective ways

• The ability for users to peel-back layers of a building to see structural and service components

• The ability for users to annotate the space, feeding back comments which can be automatically collated

• The ability to track users through the building, and their interactions with its systems

• The ability to let users choose between configurations and vote on them

• The ability to support “live use” of the building, eg for entertainment or training

• The ability to clone the building to create multiple copies to explore what-ifs

• The ability to use the same platform to support virtual meetings, conferences, training, collaboration etc

• Dynamic rendering which enables the instant changes and multi-user deployment

Extranet Evolution has a great write-up (link) about this paper as well.   Consequently, Paul Wilkinson’s twitter feed is also a must-follow resource for anyone interested in construction collaboration technologies (and more!) – follow him @EEPaul

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