Web-based 3D GIS? Say it isn’t so!
1/31/2013 10:43 AM
By: James Frank, Project Manager/GIS Analyst
GIS is becoming a mature technology with regards to the typical 2D data created to make maps and perform GIS analysis. For cartographers and analysts, 3D GIS is quickly becoming the next frontier. As demand increases for 3D visualization based on GIS data and analysis tools in industries like emergency services, facility management, augmented reality, and even entertainment – I am envisioning a future with 3D GIS on the web, without a plugin. Hopefully. I know I’m not alone in this thought.
There have been efforts to get 3D on the web throughout the years that have received attention, but they have not been able to meet all our needs. Take a look at Google Earth™. It is great for visualization of lightweight models, but it has limited analytical capabilities and needs a plugin. Esri®’s 3D web services are great, but can only be viewed in a desktop application. Do you remember ArcGIS® Explorer Build 480? This was Esri’s first release of Explorer that could embed (as a plugin) 3D GIS functionality into a browser. It was short lived as this was the only build that could be embedded in a browser.
Luckily, today there is more industry demand for 3D, so there are more desktop 3D packages available than ever before that can support GIS, CAD, and BIM data. They offer varying analytical ability and tend to be focused on the vendor’s specific market, but offer potential for custom development. Utilizing ETL tools, users have a larger selection of software to choose from for visualization depending on their business requirements. I have had great success using Safe Software’s FME® to convert Autodesk® Revit® exported Industry Foundation Class (IFC) files to multi-patch features for use in Esri’s ArcScene®.
In 2011, Esri acquired the software company Procedural, and with it came the desktop package, CityEngine. This seemed to be a great move for Esri to round out its 3D (or 2½D) product offerings, as it continued to evolve and expand its software. Esri has positioned CityEngine as its 3D modeling and publishing package. My excitement has been centered on the update of CityEngine to 2012.1 and the new functionality now available. With this release, CityEngine is now able to connect to a file geodatabase (connection to an enterprise geodatabase should not be far behind) to not only import 2D features, but also 3D multi-patch features. This allows us to view our 2D features represented as 3D and our 3D buildings and building interiors as solid objects when converted from other software.
- Not all browsers can support WebGL natively, but Chrome™ and Firefox® can. Internet Explorer® needs a plugin.
- OpenGL works best with a lot of video RAM.
- Data modeling is extremely important. The larger the datasets, the larger the package is to download. (The buzz is that Esri is going to incorporate part of CityEngine into ArcGIS Server – possibly later this year.)
- CityEngine procedural modeling excels at display 2D as 3D. This is not a detriment but will most likely require a change in how 3D data is imported and managed.
Converted BIM model in CE web scene.
Of course, the caveats are not stopping us. We are already prototyping a mobile version of the viewer. So check out the web scenes and start thinking about how 3D would help your business better use your GIS data.
4 comment(s) so far...
By Kevin DeVito on
2/7/2013 2:22 PM
Re: Web-based 3D GIS? Say it isn’t so!
Nice Article. We work with CityEngine - creating 3D GIS buildings with multiple data features (PGDB)
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