Monday, December 5, 2011

Escape of the Rescape!

Well it's been a long time coming, one-and-a-third years to be exact, but my thesis software Rescape is finally finding its way online as a beta release. It works much better on the Macintosh at the moment, since I haven't had much of a testing environment for Windows, but you can try it on either system.

For Macintosh: I nice neat installer is available. Just download the OS X version at the top of the list, and run the installer. You'll need to install Google Sketchup 8 first if you don't yet have it installed.

For Windows: Click on the top-most file marked Windows and read the instructions. You'll need to install Google Sketchup 8 as well as RubyInstaller 1.8.7, which contains software libraries that Rescape needs (they come preinstalled on the Macintosh). Windows is really unstable right now (i.e. basically not working, but I'll be improving it this week.)

I'll keep pushing new builds so make sure to follow the link above and choose the latest version.

What is Rescape? It's a plugin to Google Sketchup that promotes pedestrian and transit-oriented redesign of public space, namely streets. It supplies tools for downloading street data onto a satellite image and then drawing 3D components on the street surfaces. People already do extensive urban design in Sketchup, but there are a lack of tools to help one quickly sketch out ideas. Rescape lets you throw down bike paths, streetcar tracks, and other surfaces on real streets to take the place of the standard asphalt and sidewalk configuration that is car-oriented. Here's a look at the Rescape interface:

Sketchup downloads the satellite images of your choice. Rescape fetches data from OpenStreetMap to actually draw the ways (streets, paths, railroads, etc.) on the satellite images, thus giving you a canvas to work on. You can edit the ways a bit to make corrections or expand public space, and then you can start laying out components on the streets. The Tool Shed on the right gives you a nice interface to select layout tools. Then it's simply a matter of clicking a couple points along the streets to create the 3D path. Above I created the flat grey surface, the streetcar track, and the cycle track (green) with a few clicks. The paths by default follow the street, but you can hold down a modifier key to make them ignore the street, as I did through the center of the rotary. The streetcars and houses are Sketchup components that you can lay along any way or other surface (such as the streetcar track.) You can pick one of thousands of components to lay out from the Sketchup 3D Warehouse online (e.g. the streetcar) or make your own (e.g. the house.) After you choose your path you specify how the spacing of the instances.

There's nothing impressive about the drawing above, except that it was done without using a single Sketchup drawing tool. In the future it should be possible to sketch detailed neighborhood redesigns before needing to edit any of the components created by Rescape "by hand". The nice thing about Rescape is that when you exceed its capabilities you simply resort to using the Sketchup editing tools. For instance, I could add an incline to the grey surface or customize the houses to make them each slightly unique using basic Sketchup tools.

Rescape also comes with a guide that shows you how to use the software, and even adds elements to a tutorial model programatically. You can see the guide on the top-right of the image.

There are still a lot of problems with the software to be solved, and then hopefully features to add. But it's at least reached the point of being a fun piece of software to play with, and hopefully soon it will be stable and performant enough to be useful.

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