3D Visualizations for a Three-Dimensional World

Using technologically advancing GIS data for public decision making/policy.

The 3D Scene viewer allows users to model the impact of proposed buildings in this fictional redevelopment scenario in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Users can move through various layers and filters to see if a proposed building will block sunlight or block views for neighbors. Image credit: Esri.

The 3D Scene viewer allows users to model the impact of proposed buildings in this fictional redevelopment scenario in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Users can move through various layers and filters to see if a proposed building will block sunlight or block views for neighbors. Image Credit: Esri.

We are swimming in data. It’s becoming increasingly important that we learn how to integrate data sets to give us an accurate picture of what’s going on around us, from fleet and asset management to damage assessment after a natural disaster.

In the past, you practically needed to possess an advanced degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to make sense of the abundant information available for solving problems. But thanks to emerging technologies, things are getting easier.

Companies like Esri are creating software platforms that, according to Esri Education Manager Joseph Kerski, “get these tools in the hands of the decision-makers to make the world a better place – to solve problems in public safety, water, and health.”

In December 2014, Esri released a new 3D scene viewer that allows users to integrate a wide range of geographic information into the company’s ArcGIS platform. According to Kerski, 3D tools were available in the past, but the user had to download them. Now, consumers can create three-dimensional maps and models via their Web browser.

Currently, police departments, utility companies, city governments, and private businesses are using ArcGIS in the United States. The country of Lithuania uses the platform to provide voting locations and election results to the public, and Poland manages its Internet and telephone infrastructure with ArcGIS.

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), a nonprofit research and advocacy group that works with social service and criminal justice agencies, uses ArcGIS to organize and analyze a wide variety of information.

Tim Connell, director of application development for NCCD, helped the organization make the switch to Esri platforms in 2013. The group uses Esri products for mapping and geocoding, which translates addresses into latitude and longitudes. NCCD isn’t currently using the 3D scene viewer, but Connell says it is on their list for the future.

The NCCD uses Esri products to manage data collected from social service agencies that subscribe to the organization’s analytic service, SafeMeasures. The data are analyzed to show trends, research best practices, and help agencies improve safety for their clients.

A 2D map of the Poles of Inaccessibility. Image Credit: Joseph Kerski, Esri

A 2D map of the Poles of Inaccessibility. Image Credit: Joseph Kerski, Esri

For example, if there is a fire or other hazard in a community, the NCCD can provide real-time data about any children in foster homes or licensed day care centers that might be near the danger zone.

“There are things that a map can tell us that we might not be able to get other ways,” says Connell. When talking about the criminal justice system and child abuse, Connell explains, factors to consider within a given community include culture, economics and community dynamics. He adds, “Maps can help us understand those relationships among different factors, and figure out how to address needs in the best way possible.”

Kerski says the utility of the 3D scene viewer can be demonstrated by creating two maps illustrating the poles of inaccessibility. On land or in the ocean, a pole of inaccessibility is the spot furthest from any coastal access point.

Jerry Penry, writing for American Surveyor, explains, “Generally, this calculated position is furthest from any coastline and would be the location where you would least like to be placed if you had to walk your way out to the nearest coast due to distance and not considering difficult terrain.”

A 3D scene viewer map of the Poles of Inaccessibility. Image Credit: Joseph Kerski, Esri

A 3D scene viewer map of the Poles of Inaccessibility. Image Credit: Joseph Kerski, Esri

In Esri’s 3D map, you can select the basemap to view, which can include streets, topography, and labels.” Anyone can zoom into each of the points and determine the landforms, land use, nearest towns and rivers, and other features near and far,” Kerski says. You can measure the distance between points on the 2D map, but you get a clearer picture of the location and surrounding areas in 3D.

Amber Case, director of Esri’s Research and Development Center, sees a number of applications of ArcGIS and the 3D scene viewer that serve the public good – from incorporating geologic information into road construction mapping to real-time hotspot analysis for emergency responders.

“The public good is all about monitoring resources to make sure that they are available to people,” said Case.

Kerski adds, “What excites me most about the 3D scene viewer is that our world is a 3D world, and by viewing our world in 3D, patterns, relationships, and trends that might be hidden in 2D may be evident in 3D.  It helps people more readily solve problems and analyze data because it helps them visualize our world nearly as it truly is.”

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