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
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.)