Geospatial takes on new dimensions

Software tools add new visual depth to geospatial data

Technology users knew that sooner or later all that effort that went into programming gaming worlds to make them more realistic would ultimately be put to more serious work. And for all the seriousness behind the new 3D rendering tools on display at the ESRI International User Conference in San Diego last week, the results are not just informative but…well…entertaining.

The slickest new product on display – a “mixed reality system” from Canon – won’t even be available until sometime next year. The system employs head-mounted displays, a computer and a 4-ft. square table-top registration surface. Imagery and data are fed from the computer to one or more head mounted displays. When the user looks at the table top registration surface, the stream of data registers and the related imagery appears on the table top registration surface. Users can walk around the registration surface and, as they do so, the imagery changes appropriately.

The demonstration showed how the system can be used to display airflow data that is important in such efforts as urban planning and planning where to erect wind turbines.

That was one of a number of new products on display at the geospatial exhibition this year that are capable of generating 3D imagery from 2D geospatial data. CityEngine, from the Swiss company Procedural Inc., works with ESRI’s ArcGIS to give 3D textures to 2D attribute data. The results can then be managed and analyzed in ArcGIS and displayed in ArcScene, ESRI’s 3D display environment.

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Like CityEngine, Geoweb3d uses a rendering engine to generate 3D imagery from 2D geospatial data. In addition to this rendering capability, Geoweb3d – which is available both as a desktop rendering application and as a software development kit– emphasizes its tools for managing those rendering projects. The desktop application features a built-in Web browser engine, which allows data discovery across the Web, as well as integration with ArcGIS.

EonFusion, an Australian offering, offers 3D rendering tools and takes a step farther. The product specializes in delivering interactive data flows that allow users to analyze the impact of variables over time. A user might, for example, display and analyze changing temperature patterns over terrain. The product also includes change detection tools that can take note of alterations in scenes, such as in video sequences.

Finally, Virtuelcity, a French company, demonstrated the most realistic data sets of all, with its geocoded 3D maps that rely upon both aerial and street level photography. The results are eye-popping. The only downside is that Virtuelcity does not yet offer such data sets for U.S. cities, though they will produce data sets under commission.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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