Virtual Reality Helps San Diego to Compete

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, San Diego, California, has reshaped its image from that of a relatively small Navy town into that of a high-capacity, technology-driven metropolitan region. A recognized leader in biotech industry, San Diego is establishing itself as a progressive region that is fully integrating advanced telecommunications and information systems into its economic base.

With an extensive university system and two supercomputers, when it comes to computing capacity, San Diego ranks among the more capable locations in the nation for large gatherings. It also has more PCs per capita than any other city in the United States and is recognized for the amount of fiber-optic infrastructure currently in place. With so much focus by the citizens on computer and telecommunications technology, it is little wonder that San Diego's leaders and city management continually look to technology to improve government service.

When San Diego made its bid to become the site for the 1996 Republican National Convention, the city knew that it was entering a competitive area with cities like Chicago, New York, New Orleans, and San Antonio. Though San Diego usually competes well as a convention venue, with its warm climate and beaches, some convention organizers doubted that the San Diego Convention Center had the seating capacity for a national-level convention.

Knowing that the convention center could compete, however, Mayor Susan Golding initiated a project that once and for all would establish it as a prime venue, regardless of a convention's scope. In the decision-making process in San Diego, the leaders often look to computer technology for a solution. In this instance, they found that three-dimensional modeling and virtual reality (VR) would fill the bill.

Working under a tight time constraint, the city challenged its nonprofit data-processing arm, San Diego Data Processing Corporation (SDDPC), to develop a three-dimensional model of the convention center that was to be used as a virtual walk-through in the competition and review process for the 1996 Republican Convention bid.

The Solution Used Existing Systems

Though the convention at first was considered a tall order, when SDDPC inventoried the city's computing assets, the data-processing agency soon developed a technical solution. Over the years, the city and its associated departments and agencies has embraced technology aggressively. Through a joint city/county technology project called the Regional Urban Information System (RUIS), San Diego has a fully standardized geographic information system (GIS) base map.

The city also has fully integrated the technology for computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) into its water services, engineering, transportation, planning, and waste management functions. All of these systems, plus the underlying computing power, are tied together from various remote locations via the San Diego Communications Network (SAN-NET), the region's on-ramp to the "information superhighway."

Once the computing power had been analyzed, SDDPC technicians began to orchestrate the process of developing a virtual model of the convention center. Working directly with a local architect, a seating arrangement was developed that reflected the desires of the Republican National Committee, as well as the requirements of various building and safety codes. Among the major factors that could have affected the seating capacity of the convention center, for example, were the layout and size of the existing support columns on the main floor. But the proposed seating arrangement determined that the columns were not in fact obstacles and that the required seating capacity could be reached.

With the approved seating plan in hand, SDDPC technicians took the existing floor plan drawings and some current CADD files and proceeded to build the model. Through a combination of electronic importing, image scanning, and adaptation of existing videotape, the technicians were able to build the wire frame of the model and to add the desired color combinations and other data. …