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All About 3D GIS

Rapidly expanding cities, environmental concerns, and evolving infrastructure can present challenging urban development issues. One tool that could help city planners conquer these issues is 3D GIS. What is 3D GIS, how is it being used, and what may its future hold?

What is 3D GIS?

Flickr_1537989163_All About 3D

Image via Flickr by Pip Pilgrim

3D GIS is a three-dimensional geographic information system. With it, users can construct urban landscapes that take an area’s natural geography into account. It gives planners ideas about where to put new thoroughfares, bike lanes, and buildings, as a post on Fact Coexist points out.

3D GIS has already had some impact in Hollywood. According to Fact Coexist, the technology played a role in such movies as “Total Recall” and “Cars 2.” The specific program that helped in creating those films was CityEngine from Esri, one of the leading GIS companies.

Regular GIS is only two-dimensional, which can make it more difficult to visualize how a specific plan will work out. For example, a 2D model may make it look like a walking path would fit in beautifully in a certain area. However, a 3D model would show a steep hill that pedestrians would not want to walk on for extended periods of time.

How It Helps

“People have said that 3-D models create a sense of realism and help projects go forward, because people are less afraid of them and they have a better idea of what’s going on,” said David Wasserman, who works as a software engineer for Esri. Meaning 3D GIS could aid in the sustainable development of cities.

Cities are not yet making wide use of 3D GIS, but students at USC are learning how to use GIS systems, and one researcher in particular at the University is exploring what the technology can do. Dr. KyoHyouk Kim used CityEngine to craft a digital model of the USC campus. His goal was to “bring the tools of spatial analysis to the detailed floor plans and realistic three-dimensional rendering found in architectural practice,” as stated on USC’s website.

The practical benefit of this is that it will help plan routes between different points on campus. Dr. Kim, an expert software developer, uses CAD data and integrates its models into the CityEngine platform. Because CityEngine takes the university’s geographic location into account, Kim is better equipped to factor things like hills and stairs into his project.

Potential Applications

Charles Hixon, a business development manager, prepared a presentation on 3D GIS. Some of the points from his presentation include:

  • 3D GIS, coupled with building information modeling, could have a major impact on the way transportation businesses carry out their activities.
  • 3D GIS — again, along with building information modeling — could help with facility and asset management, public safety concerns, and interoperability.
  • 3D GIS technology could help with planning for noise issues that may affect a building from variables such as nearby roads and industrial facilities.

3D GIS technology from Esri goes beyond application within urban environments. Esri shows that users can create models of the interiors of buildings, or they can up the scale and create region-wide or even global models.

Thomas Aquinas once said, “Man’s mind cannot understand thoughts without images of them.” 3D GIS helps provide those images and may play a role in the future development of urban environments across the country.