That’s a Wrap ...  (For Now)

By Gary Smith

In my previous four editorials (1, 2, 3, 4) my goal was to point out the opportunities offered by the use of 3D in GIS. Judging from the replies many of you posted or forwarded to me directly, I think I succeeded. I also learned a great deal from your comments, as have the other readers. Thank you. In some cases, what was not said was as informative as what was written. While there are other facets that could be covered, I think it best at this time to offer a summary of what has come to light.

Hopefully we can all agree that 3D GIS is in our future. Several of you commented that having to learn something new was going to be a challenge. I can only hope that the stress of the day had reached you and that these feelings have been replaced by the excitement of new things to learn and explore. Many of you wrote to say that 3D was not something that should be applied universally to all GIS operations. I completely agree. It was never my intent to suggest that everything should be accomplished and displayed in 3D. That being said, does anyone doubt that in the not-so-distant future all our data will have X, Y and Z coordinates, and that we will pick and choose the best way to present the results of our analysis?

The last editorial also had an associated poll, conducted by the Directions staff, to ascertain how well the user community understood "multipatch." Unfortunately, a malfunction ended the poll prematurely after the 157th vote had been tallied. Even so, the results confirmed my suspicion that a great many people had never heard of the multipatch data format. Nearly one-third of the respondents indicated that they were ESRI users and had never heard of the multipatch. For those of you who have not read the last editorial ("My house is not a point"), just know that the multipatch is a type of shapefile that is intended to store 3D features in a feature class. This means that buildings in a multipatch feature class can participate in some geoprocessing tasks, just like other layers.

To be honest, I was not surprised that the poll results suggested that nearly one-third of the ESRI users had never heard of multipatch. I actually thought the percentage would be higher. Another third of the respondents said they had heard of multipatch, but had never tried it. So why are so many users unaware or unwilling to try the multipatch? Quite simply, ESRI users are very reluctant to try any third party software. Much of this reluctance is probably due to a fear that these third party programs might corrupt their databases, be difficult to use, or simply go out of existence leaving the user stranded. Since the only way to create multipatch features involves the use of SketchUp Pro, a third party software solution now owned by Google, ArcGIS users are exhibiting the same reluctance observed with other third party extensions. This is really a shame because a more affordable software package, which is easy to use and comes from a more financially secure parent company, would be very hard to find. Loyalty is a good thing, but it should not blind us to exploring great opportunities. For example, how well do you understand LIDAR and the information content that can be built into LAS data format? Companies like QCoherent understand, and its LP360 software might just speed the development of the "as built" 3D environment and also offer the means to quickly identify change. Have you heard of voxels? They are essentially solid rasters with great modeling capability. They are also very light in their consumption of computer graphic display resources. NGrain is pioneering the use of this 3D technology. Over a year ago they converted one of our SketchUp buildings to voxels. Could voxels be in our future?

So, after this editorial is published and you each have a final chance to respond and offer your thoughts about 3D GIS, what happens next? Where is the forum to continue this discussion throughout 2007? Starting a blog is certainly one way to express your feelings. How many of you have ever written to your software provider to tell it how you use the software, what you need and what you want to do in the future? I suspect that very few of you have done this and that is a shame, for it is probably one of the most productive things you can do to help influence software development. If all 157 people who responded to the multipatch poll were to send an email today to their software provider (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) telling it that 3D GIS is important to your operation, it would be noticed.

I hope that each of you will think more about the use of 3D in your GIS processing. Are you really reaching your audience with acreage or hectare summary tables? Can people really read your 2D maps? Does the color scheme you selected favor a particular conclusion? No, 3D is not the answer for everything, but neither is expecting everyone to know that there are 43,560 square feet in an acre.

Published Friday, February 2nd, 2007

Written by Gary Smith

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