Machine Design

Autodesk pays real cash for virtual island

Some design professionals have discovered a virtual place to hang out — Second Life. Linden Lab in San Francisco created and maintains the popular Web site

As widely reported in the general media, so-called residents of Second Life (SL) choose an avatar that can walk, fly, or instantly “teleport” (via SL URLs) from place to place. The main activities of residents generally center around socializing. But the virtual world can have serious uses, at least according to Autodesk. The supplier of CAD tools maintains a Second Life presence (or ‘island’ in SL parlance) where AutoCad users can import 3D prototypes they’ve made. They can even purchase SL land if they want to put up a building.

But it takes some skill to design a building, even in SL. Objects can assume physical properties so that they respond to gravity, inertia, propulsion, and wind from the virtual weather system. And users can import standard graphic files for texturing objects. So, many residents just buy buildings and other sophisticated objects, a practice that accounts for most of the virtual economy. Thus, architecture is one of the key businesses in SL.

The Autodesk Island is divided into an orientation area with a small seating area and a number of links to external Web sites, links to other parts of the island, and several note cards and freebies. Most of these relate to Autodesk, but there are links to a Second Life FAQ and a guide to other SL sites.

An open-air auditorium can host about 50 people and there are a number of smaller areas that usually host around 10 visitors each. Each venue has a screen for viewing videos. The main auditorium hosts a series of fortnightly meetings. A demo area illustrates a number of uses for Autodesk products. The building demo area, for example, demonstrates the use of Autodesk in designing homes and other buildings.

The “Virtual Studio” in the Autodesk Island hosts Crescendo Design (, Berkeley, Calif., which uses Autodesk to design eco-friendly housing. Crescendo uses SL land to build 3D models. The company imports electronic drawings and models of its designs and redesigns the virtual site until it accurately represents the real site. Current and potential clients can then access the virtual model to get a sense of the design and provide feedback. Architects and clients can meet at virtual sites and tour them together.

Big business, not wanting to miss out on what may or may not be the next big thing, is buying into SL. Over 50 major companies have a presence in SL: Nissan bought the rights to an online island depicted here for $1,250 plus a $195 monthly fee; Reebok sells virtual shoes; and Toyota, not to be outdone, will sell you a virtual Scion.

As this view from the Autodesk island shows, even the most popular islands are never crowded. Each processor on Linden Lab’s servers can only handle about 70 avatars at a time.

TAGS: CAD Archive
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