Today’s GIS technician and IT professional grew up playing video games like War Craft and Call of Duty that allowed gamers to enjoy 3D effects.
As these players became professionals, more 3D systems were brought into the real world and suddenly the technology is at everybody’s fingertips. According to the 2004 Esri GIS white paper, “3D GIS: A Technology Whose Time Has Come,” this interest began around 1999, with products like Evans & Sutherland’s RapidSite and MultiGen-Paradigm’s SiteBuilder 3D extension to ArcView. Since then, a slew of 3D GIS products have hit the market.
Probably the most popular, ArcGIS 3D Analyst provides advanced visualization, analysis and surface generation tools. Users can view large sets of data in three dimensions from several viewpoints, query a surface and create realistic perspective images that drape raster and vector data over a surface, Esri says. City planners, geoscientists, civil engineers, police and military officials frequently use ArcGIS 3D Analyst.
Esri’s simulation scenarios give 3D a worthy look for anybody with a real-world interest, but it’s also fun to see how it all works.
There’s also a great selection of Apps and open source 3D GIS software that’s easy to find and easy to use. Made by OpenGEO, Open 3D GIS is an open source software to make a simple way to display 3D objects from a Geodatabase (PostgreSQL/PostGIS) on the Web. glob3 is an open source 3D GIS multiplatform framework written in java with a very non restrictive license and advanced features.
More in the mainstream, the 3D-GIS in the Cloud App for iPad and Smartphones uses city data for 3D. According to Digital Urban, it’s mixing augmented reality and 3D visualizations, extending the reach of GIS beyond the office and allows organizations to make collaborative and accurate business decisions in both field and office environments.
One GIS company is using 3D GIS to educate the world with historical maps.
David Rumsey’s Historical Map Collection uses desktop 3D GIS, Web browsers and a 3D video card to offer six prototype 3D GIS maps based on historic geographical data combined with modern elevation models of the same locations.
For mapping the famous Yosemite Valley, California, David Rumsey and Telemorphic Inc. created a browser-based interactive 3D visualization with support of Knightcap Productions and ID8 Media. With the Karte des Deutschen Reiches, an historic German empire area, they took 674 sheets at a scale of 1:100,000 to create a highly detailed historical map. The composite image is on Google Earth.
These historical 3D maps have helped historians better understand the lay of the land over time.
More importantly, these applications are their infancy. Just imagine what tomorrow’s 3D maps will do for the world.