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Huntsville Holds First Map-a-Thon

Monday, April 7th 2014
By Joe Francica

On April 5 and 6, Huntsville, Alabama hosted its first Map-a-thon. The idea began with discussions between Chad Emerson, the executive director of Downtown Huntsville, Inc. and Matt Fowler, CEO of Solid Earth, a real estate software solution company. The idea quickly grew and Chad and Matt called in other geospatial technology experts from town including Marvin Gordon from the City of Huntsville’s GIS department, Chris Johnson from A Visual Edge, professor Wubishet Tadesse from Alabama A&M University, professor Rob Griffin from University of Alabama, Huntsville, Barlow Blake from AEgis Technologies, a company familiar to many as having created 3d building models for the Olympics for NBC TV. I was also part of the group representing Directions Magazine and GEO Huntsville, the non-profit economic development initiative for geospatial technology.

The objective of the competition was to choose one block within the downtown area and create 3D building models using Trimble’s SketchUp drawing program. Hopefully some, if not all, would be potentially acceptable to be added to the city’s existing 3d building models and be considered to be loaded into Google Earth. Digital terrain models of downtown (appropriate to import into SketchUp) and approximate building heights were provided by the City of Huntsville to aid in creating 3D buildings on actual terrain. Teams from Alabama A&M, UA Huntsville and interns representing the NASA DEVELOP program were asked to pick one block. The competition lasted 36 hours. The teams first downloaded SketchUp and got to work photographing the building faces of their chosen block. Over the course of the day, the teams refined their models adding texture and photos to finish the building facades. Technical assistance was provided by several of us who monitored the teams but most were quite competent once they got started. I, Matt Fowler and Marvin Gordon served as judges. In the end, the team from Alabama A&M created a stunning rendition of the Huntsville Court House and took first prize of $200. Hopefully next year, we’ll draw more teams for our second annual event.

Watch the video below to see how the competition unfolded.

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