Archive for standards

3D Cities to Virtual Worlds

Berlin Molkenmarkt

Recently, The members of the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC) adopted version 1.0.0 of the OpenGIS® CityGML Encoding Standard as an official OGC Standard. According to OIGC, CityGML is an open data model framework and XML-based encoding standard for the storage and exchange of virtual 3D urban models. Also, CityGML is an application schema of the OpenGIS Geography Markup Language 3 (GML3) Encoding Standard, an international standard for spatial data exchange and encoding approved by the OGC and ISO.


According to the CityGMLWiki, “targeted application areas explicitly include urban and landscape planning; architectural design; tourist and leisure activities; 3D cadastres; environmental simulations; mobile telecommunications; disaster management; homeland security; vehicle and pedestrian navigation; training simulators; and mobile robotics.”


CityGML derived from efforts in Germany to integrate and link building information to the surrounding land. Traditionally, this integration has been weak, resulting in many challenges to the building industry as well as planners. And it’s not only technology where there are gaps, the entire building and GIS industries have been at arms length for decades. The hope is that CityGML can provide the standards necessary to bridge those gaps so that models can more accurately reflect the real-world juxtaposition and interrelationships between buildings and land.


In my opinion, all of this leads to virtual worlds. Now, virtual worlds are primarily the domain of gamers and socializers. But virtual worlds are no passing fad. According to a recent Technology Intelligence Group report Virtual World Industry Outlook 2008-2009, “Over one billion dollars were spent by the venture community on startups directly within or supporting virtual worlds between August 2007 and August 2008, and according to virtual world vendors and developers …”


Exciting to me is that with the inevitable merger of real-world models with virtual world technologies, sometimes called the Metaverse, geography and geographic information will be critical. According to the Metaverse Roadmap Overview, the Metaverse is the convergence of 1) virtually-enhanced physical reality and 2) physically persistent virtual space. It is a fusion of both, while allowing users to experience it as either.


I’ve written about The Business Relevance of Virtual Worlds. Others have discussed 3D models in the context of the GeoWeb, which is happening now and will be the precursor to geographically accurate virtual worlds. All of the big players are in this – Autodesk, Bentley, ESRI, Google, and Microsoft, as are some smaller companies such as Galdos Systems and Onuma. The Metaverse requires standards for interoperability, and CityGML is an important standard for now and the future of geographic information online.

GIS Finds the Sunshine in Florida

Jason Spalding

The Geo Factor interviewed Jason Spalding of emGISt who recently started Find GIS, a Web site focusing on GIS in the state of Florida. Jason answered questions about his goals for the site and what’s happening in Florida.

TGF: What is Find GIS?

Find GIS is a comprehensive GIS Web site catering to the Florida GIS industry. The site includes, but is not limited to: Florida GIS data download sites, GIS resources (blogs, tools, and user groups), GIS staff contact information (state agencies, counties, and cities), and University GIS Departments throughout the state.

TGF: Why did you start it? What do you hope to accomplish with the site? What have you already accomplished?

I started Find GIS in order to upgrade my Florida GIS Data blogspot. I created the blogspot more than four years ago as a way to assist GIS users in tracking down Florida GIS data and to keep the Florida GIS Community in the loop on related industry news and events. It was also a central location for clients, customers, and users to so they could download their own GIS data.

With Find GIS, I hope to assist GIS users throughout the state by providing them a one-stop industry resource. I am a big believer in having GIS data available as public records as defined under the Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law (aka Florida Sunshine Law), which is part of our state’s public record statutes. I also hope to use the site as a platform for myself and like-minded users to make contacts within the industry that are willing to pursue innovative ideas with regards to GIS applications and Location Based Services. Even though companies such as ESRI have been around for decades, I feel that the industry in general is still in its infancy and is changing every day. One of my favorite “pastimes” is to brainstorm about new ways that the power of GIS, GPS, and LBS can be harnessed and applied to everyday life.

One of my top GIS industry-related accomplishments to date is my pursuit of obtaining Palm Beach County’s parcel shapefiles under Florida’s public records laws. It was nearly a year-long saga that I pursued through the Attorney General’s Open Government Mediation Program. Briefly, Palm Beach County had a resolution in place that required any private entity to sign a data license agreement and pay a $20,000 “License Agreement Royalty Fee” in order to be able to obtain a copy of and redistribute their countywide copyrighted parcel shapefiles. The obvious issues were that the parcel shapefiles were copyrighted public records, and were created using tax payers money. Therefore, the records should have been available at the cost of reproduction as defined under the Florida Sunshine Law. The end result was Attorney General Charlie Crist, now Governor Crist, issued an Attorney General’s Opinion in my favor and the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners voted to rescind their GIS information policy resolution. Anyone can now download the latest version of these parcel shapefiles from Palm Beach County’s FTP site at no cost.

For full details, please see the early 2003 news articles on Find GIS, as well as the Attorney General’s Opinion (AGO #2003-42) which was issued on September 3, 2003.

A few of my other minor accomplishments recently were getting my original blogspot to the top result (out of 1,000,000+ returns) for a Google search of “Florida GIS Data”, obtaining over 8,000 subscribers to the Florida GIS Data News Feed, and the launch and promotion of the Florida GIS Data Sharing Network. The network is a Google Group and forum of GIS users across the state that share their industry knowledge and resources. The group has recently surpassed 500 approved members, the majority of whom reside within the state of Florida.

TGF: What is your professional background? Your company affiliation?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering and currently hold an EI (Engineering Intern) license. I worked within the land development division of a local engineering firm for four years prior to developing a serious interest in GIS in 2002. At that time I started a small GIS consulting business, emGISt, Inc. (Enterprise Management & Geographical Information System Technologies, Inc.) which I continue to run today.

TGF: What is the business model for the site? How will it support itself or make money?

Good question! I need to Read more

Open Geospatial Consortium Interoperability Day (Part Two)

The Oct. 4 meeting featured a panel of “experiences” as well as a fascinating keynote from Doug Eberhard, CTO of construction firm Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB). PB manages very large projects including the World Trade Center site rebuilding, the Los Angeles International Airport master plan, and Seattle’s Alaska Way Viaduct. Mr. Eberhard stressed how the construction world is still mostly planning in two dimensions, despite decent modeling tools for three. He asserts it is people that are holding things back because while they possess 3D data, they do not want to share. PB uses a 3D infrastructure modeling approach to convey its plans visually, linking models to schedules (3D plus time equals 4D, he says). It works, with realistic and highly communicative time-lapse animated 3D fly-overs and drive-throughs showing planned building and final outcomes. Mr. Eberhard stressed that in addition to marketing value, such models lead to building with the least amount of disruption as possible by identifying conflicts early in the process, perhaps before building begins. It is fair to say the audience of OGC participants was extremely impressed with what they saw and the integration of CAD with geospatial information.

The experiences panel pretty much was flat, in a 2D sense. However, they shared some fascinating efforts. Johnny Tolliver from Oak Ridge National Labs showed a Sensor Alter Service (SAS) used at Fort Bragg, NC for quickly notifying mobile resources of various issues. SAS is built on the XMPP transport standard for short messages. Intergraph manages the alerts and sensor information that includes live video events. OpenGIS Location Service (OpenLS) tracking service is also used. Kevin Shaw of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory described its GIDB Portal System that is essentially a middleware broker taking 1,500 data sources and providing them to clients of various types for usage. NASA contractor Nadine Alameh showed a similar broker, its Earth Science Gateway. ESRI’s Jeanne Foust, Global Manager of Spatial Data Infrastructure, discussed the importance of standards and showed ESRI compliance as well as lessons. One of Jeanne’s main points was that the need for interoperability in GIS is not new – GIS has always required interoperability; it is the nature of the beast. However, she also stressed that standards must be transparent to end users in order to be effective. Brian Lowe wrapped up the experiences panel with a discussion of Canada’s National Forest Information System.

Business takeaways? Most of the presenters were from government or their contractors, however, some lessons convey:

1. Data sharing is a critical issue. The technical interoperability issues are being resolved through OGC and other groups. Privacy and security, as well as politics are at play.

2. Visual displays convey information in ways no other medium can. For some applications 3D beats 2D and 3D animated can convey even more.

3. Sensors tied to location are hot. Sensors with communication capabilities tied to their coordinates create a whole new set of potential applications.

4. Standards are great but they must be transparent to end users. Vendors are working to provide that transparency.

Open Geospatial Consortium Interoperability Day (Part One)

The Geo Factor attended the OGC Interoperability Day yesterday in Tysons Corner, VA. The 320-member OGC develops and promotes location-based services (LBS) and geospatial standards through a consensus process. The morning session involved a multi-vendor (and a government agency) demonstration illustrating the tremendous potential of geospatial data sharing. The scenario was planning for an Olympics event in Tampa, Florida. Autodesk, Bentley, eSpatial, ESRI, Intergraph, and NASA participated, each representing a different government agency (water, DOT, etc.). The group resolved an increased need for water as well as an “unexpected” tanker crash causing an oil spill and gas plume near the city to show how easy it is to share geospatial data via modern OGC geospatial and other standards. And it all looked incredibly easy and productive. Drag, drop, click, select, zoom, and analyze. 2D, 3D, imagery, maps, and networks. As easy as typing in a URL. While such multi-vendor, multi-user sharing used to take months, it now can be done in hours. Why wouldn’t anyone use these standards (WMS, WFS, XML, SOAP, metadata catalogues)?

While there are some ongoing discussions on and changes upcoming to some of the OGC standards, the industry has clearly arrived regarding at least the major technical issues of geospatial data sharing. What remains to be tackled more completely are the people, process, licensing, and data quality challenges. While it is relatively straightforward to share data via standards-compliant transports, many people still closely guard access to their data. The processes and workflows for sharing scenarios can be complex and unclear, so they need to be worked out in advance of specific needs, such as an emergency. Quality is a concern when combining multiple data sources of varying scale and timeframes. Politics, planning, and privacy are some of the significant challenges facing organizations sharing geospatial data. However, the demonstration is cause to be optimistic about the potential for sharing geospatial data.