Dec 082012

Last month I wrote about a procedure for combining models from the 3D Warehouse with Google Earth in order to augment virtual landscapes. I’ve refined the method in order to avoid students or teachers having to grapple with SketchUp itself. The latest version has proved difficult to run on our school network, creating delays that tend to infuriate the impatient. The refinement is simply that the teacher downloads models from the 3d Warehouse as Collada files before the lesson and students add them into Google Earth directly. Both tasks are extremely quick and easy, letting the students focus harder on the learning, and the teacher on being outstanding in front of inspectors! The method has been tried and tested with Year 7 and Year 10 groups.

We’ll take the issue of wind energy as an exemplar topic. Here are the three steps required by the teacher…

  1. Go to the Trimble 3d Warehouse and find a suitable model wind turbine. I like this one. (Note that not all models will have a download link)
  2. Download the chosen model to your computer as a Collada zip file. One of the extracted items will be a folder called ‘models.’ Inside this folder will be a file ending in .dae
  3. This file can be saved somewhere that’s easily accessible for the class. Give it a suitable name.

Instructions for the students are short and fail-safe…

  1. Open Google Earth and navigate to a suitable spot.
  2. Tilt the view so the camera is looking down at the intended site. From the menu bar in Google Earth, choose Add / Model and then browse for the relevant .dae file.
  3. The model will appear in Google Earth surrounded by a yellow box. This means that it is editable.
  4. The position of the model can be changed by clicking the middle green cross marker (handle) and dragging. Rotate it using the handle with a little diamond on the end.
    Avoid moving any of the other green handles or the scale of the model will be changed.
  5. With the dialogue box still open, a title and an explanation of why the site was chosen can be added. Click OK to exit the dialogue box and fix the model in place.
  6. If you need to edit the model again, right click it from places panel on the left hand side and choose Properties (Windows) or Get Info (Mac) Some models may float in mid air. Fix this by adjusting the altitude using the tool provided.
Extending the activity
Compare the impact of wind turbines with a conventional power station like Rugley B, Staffordshire. A tip when locating models with a photographic base layer is to place them a few metres below the ground surface so that the photo disappears.
In some cases a model may be downloadable from the 3D Warehouse, but there is no option to save as a Collada file. Open it in SketchUp and immediately export as a 3D file. The .dae file can then be extracted.
I get students to save a screenshot of their proposed wind farm and upload it to the Magazine Cover tool from Big Huge Labs. I then challenge them to produce the cover of a magazine that is either for, or against wind turbines.
Here’s an example…