In my previous four editorials (1,
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and that these feelings have been replaced by the excitement of new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?
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
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.