What is Your Excuse?

By Gary Smith

Author's note: If you missed the first in this series of editorial comments, understand that the intent of this series is to question the comprehension of GIS data by end users and to promote the accelerated use of 3D in GIS to improve the understanding of spatial data.

I awoke recently to hear a news story on the radio that one of the new 3D computer game boxes being released would initially be available in small numbers. This was due to a component part problem. The reporter went on to say that this would probably mean many kids would be disappointed this Christmas. Christmas! Fortunately, a quick look at the calendar confirmed that I had not overslept and it was still early September. Clearly the game industry has figured out that 3D sells systems and software, and I suspect the stock of this game box company fell on news of this parts shortage. So why hasn't 3D in the GIS community mushroomed into acceptance the way 3D has been embraced by the gaming industry? I believe this is due to many factors, but the biggest impediment is simply tradition and hesitation to move out of our comfort zone and try something new. Am I wrong?

In the past, you could simply avoid trying 3D with the excuse that the budget would not support the purchase of new software and at one point, hardware. Google Earth and Google's purchase of SketchUp (which I reported on) have made that excuse null and void. Now you can try 3D for free, as long as it is used for non-commercial purposes. Google Earth provides the terrain canvas and Google SketchUp has the tools to quickly create the landscape features, and it will not cost you a dime. If you don't want to take the time to make a building, simply select and download a building from the Google Earth 3D Warehouse and put it on the landscape. If this experience does not bring a smile to your face and fill your brain with ideas, have someone check your pulse to make sure you are alive.

The use of 3D in GIS does far more than provide a better means to communicate information; it can also identify costly errors before they happen. In a recent project seeking to help mitigate the negative impact of a new electrical transmission line, a virtual 3D GIS scene identified that supporting guy-wires from a pole would pass through an existing transmission line and block a roadway. Other guy-wires appeared to come very close to existing athletic fields.

This same project also exposed an even greater benefit than error detection. It proved to be the catalyst that stimulated meaningful communication between all parties. The dynamic environment of the 3D GIS gave everyone the chance to evaluate the line from any perspective. Having tried static photomontages in earlier public meetings, only to be thwarted by someone questioning the transmission line from a different vantage point, the electric company's engineer remarked that 3D GIS worked to bring out meaningful discussion where other techniques had failed.

Perhaps the real value in this discussion of 3D GIS will come from the comments posted by you, the reader. I want to thank everyone who responded to the first editorial. I was delighted to see a theme of people recognizing that the way we present information needs to be expanded. I really liked the "Swiss Arena" example in Lucerne, Switzerland that Michael Jones from Google described. Matt Wilkie of Environment Yukon Geomatics and Steve Long from the city of Hagerstown, MD also echoed the importance of having a comparison capability when reviewing data. I am sure there are many more examples of creative learning and I would encourage users to share them in future comments.

While I can support Ken Sutherland's desire to further student education, I am not sure that instruction with traditional tools is the answer. I think that if we want to draw students into geography and GIS it will be with 3D and not another 2D map. What did not appear in any of the comments was a statement that I was wrong in my hypothesis that we were not fully reaching our intended audience. No, 3D GIS is not a complete answer, as was echoed by Bill Johnson of the NYS Office of Cyber Security, but I would contend that it is better than another 2D map at 1:15,250 scale. Please do take a minute and share your experience, thoughts and suggestions. If you think 3D is not the answer, what would you suggest? Remember all those kids that will be disappointed this year on Christmas morning without a new 3D game box? It will not be long before they will be consumers of GIS data in their professional lives. Will you be ready? (Actually, I think those "kids" are here now.)

Published Friday, September 29th, 2006

Written by Gary Smith

If you liked this article subscribe to our bimonthly newsletter...stay informed on the latest geospatial technology

Sign up

© 2017 Directions Media. All Rights Reserved.