Bentley and GIS: From Basic Mapping to Immersive GIS

Modeling and simulated environments using CAD software have been done for a long time. Three-dimensional viewing of proposed urban projects is not necessarily new either. In the era of viewing building models in Google Earth, it's now expected. However, the emergence of linking precision 2D map data and 3D asset models, such as underground pipes and engineering grade building models, is presenting new options for users to more precisely design and visualize information in an immersive environment.

Bentley Systems has asserted for some time that its suite of mapping and civil engineering software is not only integrated but completely geo-enabled. This offers a seamless way to integrate design drawings with geospatial information. Every pipe, every wall and every foundation could be referenced to a point on the earth. Bentley has recently strengthened this capability by creating a strategic alliance with Trimble, which was announced at the Trimble Dimension User Conference in early November. According to a press release from both companies:

In the resulting immersive environment, physical and virtual information can be used to improve and validate on-site construction processes. The seamless exchange of information between the virtual and physical can be achieved by utilizing a selection of Trimble's field positioning technologies, such as robotic total stations, 3D laser scanners, and global navigation satellite system (GNSS) positioning solutions, and Bentley's information modeling software – with work sharing and dynamic feedback being securely managed in ProjectWise.

In addition, in this year's Annual Report from Bentley, the company cited work by its Applied Research Group in the following areas:


  1. Mobile Augmented Reality, a way to visualize and query information models  that represent the virtual world in the context of the real world, which led to Bentley Navigator for the iPad app
  2. Virtual Excavation that allows users to "virtually" excavate a hole to visualize underground utilities. See photo at right as an example of stripping away the surface to peer into the substructure (click for larger image).
  3. Augmented Reality Hypermodeling that allows users to "immersively interact" with drawings in the appropriate 3D context

These are projects that may or may not be commercially viable but Bentley was demonstrating these technology prototypes and ideas, and they encouraged a lot of discussion.

In many areas, however, the years of investing in 3D development are paying off especially for projects that support massive urban construction projects. This ability to do 3D and provide "immersive GIS" visualization was illustrated in a presentation at the BE Inspired Conference in Amsterdam this week by Daniel Irwin, a GIS technical analyst with the Crossrail project in London. The project is immense. Crossrail is the largest infrastructure project in Europe spanning 90 km of surface railways and  46 km of parallel tunnels under central London. It presents extensive project management challenges not the least of which is tunneling 40 meters below ground spanning business and residential zones and understanding exactly where existing utilities are located.

The work so far has produced surface and subsurface models for the construction phase of the project. The goal at this time is to maintain data integrity while implementing a building information  modeling (BIM) strategy.

Tunneling commenced in May 2012 with the opening of the rail set for 2018. A set of disparate data repositories has been created to be used for a variety of applications including  GIS. Oracle is used for the database and Bentley's GeoWeb Publisher is the spatial information portal containing over 500 layers.

The project became a model of information management such that Bentley and Crossrail formed the Bentley Information Academy, a mirror system of the project to educate all stakeholders.

Bentley's other area of focus for GIS is primarily in utility maintenance for power transmission and distribution. To support non-GIS specialists in utilities, Bentley introduced Bentley Map Mobile for field workers. Bentley's Descartes V8i (SELECTseries 4) will be released in Q1 2013 with a stand-alone point cloud data processing feature.

From point clouds to BIM to augmented reality hypermodeling, Bentley is offering users of its GIS software more tools for precision modeling and an immersive geospatial experience.

Disclosure: Bentley Systems supported travel expenses to the BE Inspired conference.

Published Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Written by Joe Francica

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