UC Irvine student Cristi Lopes is writing software for "SkyTran", a virtual high-speed train based in Second Life. The virtual world will actually serve as a useful simulator for the real thing.
"Her software keeps SkyTran's virtual cars from getting into virtual collisions at virtual interchanges of virtual tracks. After the control software is ready in SL, her plan is to transfer it to a real-world version of SkyTran, proposed by the Irvine-based transportation company Unimodal Inc. Sounds unbelievable but it's true. SL is fast becoming the simulation tool for engineering design. Lopes, who is an associate professor of informatics at the Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at UCI, discovered that the simplified physics of Second Life are close enough to the physics of the real world for Second Life to be used as an inexpensive simulation tool by small- to medium-sized companies.
It's a low-cost alternative to the sophisticated simulation programs in use by industrial designers at big-bucks enterprises such as Nasa and the military, as well as Boeing and other aerospace contractors. The virtual version of SkyTran has already been useful in addressing urban-planning issues, such as demonstrating how close the tracks could be to buildings and vegetation without making passengers uncomfortable. Unimodal also concluded that SkyTran's express track shouldn't run directly above the loading platform, because that setup looked as if it would make passengers uneasy. Not only were human-machine interface issues identified early by employing Second Life for engineering design, but also the algorithm used to control the virtual SkyTran cars can be migrated for use to run the real-world SkyTran system. This migration is feasible because Second Life physics mimic physics in the real world."