How Virtual can we get?
The latest trend in the virtual online worlds like Second Life, Utherverse and Stardoll is buying virtual gifts for online personalities. According to a CNN article yesterday, Reality-check or rip off?, people are spending millions of dollars on virtual gifts. Social networking sites like Facebook are even jumping on the band wagon by selling icons depicting virtual shoes, beer, champagne, and the list goes on.
The logical, grounded engineer in me can’t believe people (a lot of people) are spending this kind of money on gifts that you can’t touch. Maybe I’m getting old or maybe my attitude is the result of a generation gap. I’m all for virtual, but there has got to be a limit. Doesn’t there?
In automation, the word "virtual” has been used to describe certain capabilities. National Instruments, for example, has used the term “Virtual Instrumentation” for the last 25 years to describe much of their product offering. According to National Instruments, “Virtual instrumentation combines mainstream commercial technologies, such as the PC, with flexible software and a wide variety of measurement and control hardware, so engineers and scientists can create user-defined systems that meet their exact application needs.”
Over a year ago, Jane Gerold of Automation World wrote an article called “Merging Virtual with the Real World.” In the article, Jane discussed an emerging area called digital manufacturing. As defined by ARC Advisory Group, industry analyst and consultant, “Digital manufacturing represents an integrated suite of tools that supports process design, tool design, plant layout and visualization through powerful virtual simulation tools.” According to ARC analyst Greg Gorbach, “Computing technology has advanced to the point where we can deploy virtual equipment, such as robots and assembly lines, to simulate the production process and generate control code.”
With the availability of today’s tools, virtual automation has become a reality. Manufacturers can create factory models and ensure they operate at peak efficiency before a single piece of physical equipment is purchased, installed and commissioned. You see, I’m all for “virtual” because it can be applied to the automation industry to help manufacturers design and optimize their factories and improve their bottom lines.
The problem I have with “virtual”, is real people are pumping real money into these virtual worlds. I fear that our society is becoming too disposable and too intangible. Unfortunately, the virtual world sites are going to take advantage of this opportunity and make every attempt to maximize revenue. This virtual has gone too far. There are thousands of real charities out there that support millions of real people with real problems. I’m all for virtual fun, virtual automation, or just about anything else virtual. But when it comes to dumping money down a virtual drain, I think it’s time to get real.
Enjoy the rest of this Automation Weekly!
Vice President, Publisher