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We’re leaving Flatland

By [email protected] - 21st October 2016 - 13:49

In 1884, British teacher Edwin Abbott Abbott published a book called Flatland, in which he imagined a two-dimensional world populated by lines and polygons. Into that world comes a sphere, who first appears as a dot, before growing into a larger and larger circle, before shrinking down to a dot. The square that is the hero of the piece is at first unable to understand the sphere’s explanations of how his passage through a third dimension causes him to appear to be growing and changing. But when the sphere picks him up and throws him off Flatland, he can at last see and understand everything.

Ever since cartography began as a science, creating a 2D version that’s representative of our 3D world has been fraught with problems. The most popular map projection in the world, the Mercator projection, is useful for navigating boats, as it can represent lines of constant course as straight segments that conserve the angles with the meridians; however, it distorts the size of objects as the latitude increases from the Equator to the poles, so Greenland and Antarctica appear much larger than they actually are relative to Central Africa, for example. By contrast, while areas of equal size on the globe are also equally sized on the Gall-Peters projection, you can’t use it to navigate a ship.

Neither projection is perfect because both try to recreate something three dimensional using just two dimensions. For true fidelity, a three dimensional visualisation is required. The question is how to create that depiction, and in this issue we look at how organisations are doing just that.

On page 18, John Stokoe argues that 3D visualisation technologies will be needed if we are to envisage the Smart Cities of the future. Smart Cities’ complexity means that simple 2D models won’t be enough. But by creating interactive and dynamic 3D models of cities, local government, urban planners, architects and citizens can use them as a central reference point based on current information, which becomes a single source of truth. These models can also be used to determine the effects of various scenarios as well as reveal potential problems. Stokoe also looks at the kinds of technologies needed to both acquire the necessary data and then to share it.

On page 21, members of the team responsible for a virtual museum designed to digitally preserve and disseminate information about the Royal Palace of Caserta in Italy explain the steps they took from first surveying the entire site through to creating the final deliverables. Visitors to both the online museum and the site itself can now learn about it using smartphone apps, and augmented and virtual reality, through 3D models that also include information ranging from historical documents to folk history.

The preservation of cultural heritage is the concern again in Simon Kresser’s article on page 28, where we look at a project to scan the whole of Germany’s most popular tourist attraction, Cologne Cathedral. The aim – to provide the cathedral administration with an exceptionally precise 3D model to assist in the ongoing conservation, condition assessment and management of the structure. LiDAR was the tool of choice to obtain the data, but how to safely use lasers in an area filled with thronging crowds was just one of the challenges the surveyors faced.

Both the Cologne and Caserta projects used game technology to develop their 3D models and 3D game-based learning is becoming increasingly popular for professionals ranging from fire-fighters and soldiers through to health and safety inspectors. By immersing themselves in 3D gaming environments created from the real world situations in which they’ll find themselves, they can learn by doing rather than simply reading about something, all without the potential risk of harm that they would normally encounter. On page 24, Stuart Woods discusses how to create such environments, from scanning through to modelling and the eventual games themselves.

I hope you enjoy the issue

If you have a comment or wish to express your views on anything in this issue or in the world of geospatial information, then please email me at [email protected] with Letter to the Editor in the Subject line. Please start your email with Dear Editor and the chances are your letter will appear in the Letters to the Editor page

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