I am delighted to see your pages advocating virtual reality to publish engineering projects over the internet (NCE 8 September) For public consultation, design review, construction sequence planning and much more, VR's freedom to 'look from anywhere' is a very powerful way to explain projects, compare options or find snags early.
But I have to take issue with the claim that 'sharing such models has always meant sending huge files', with the client needing to have 'the same expensive 3-D software'.
VRML97 and its successor X3D are public-domain ISO-standard languages designed specifically to share VR models over the internet.
The model Atkins made four years ago for BAA / Highways Agency, showing in some detail several km of the M25 and Heathrow T5 Spur, complete with planes taking off and landing (to assess driver distraction), would fit on a floppy disk. We have made many such models since then, one over 100km 2, but not 'huge' in storage terms.
Modern PCs and graphics cards have greatly enhanced the performance of all VR systems. High capacity internet connections are increasingly the norm. Writing our own efficient software tools to export from our highway and rail design and CAD packages has made the 'public' languages very versatile and effective. And the entry price for the software is nothing (although higher performance viewers are well worth the modest outlay).
Hugh Woods (M), Atkins Transport Solutions, Woodcote Grove, Epsom, KT18 5BW