Taking a virtual view of the world

Skimming virtually around 3D scenery is no longer the preserve of
experts. New software developed in Europe lets users browse and
interact in three dimensions with any part of our planet. Everyone from
tourists to land planners stand to benefit.
Terabytes of data daily flow downwards
from remote-sensing satellites. Other useful data come from aerial
photos and base maps. This information is commonly used for everything
from town and country planning to tourism development.
Six partners from France, Italy and
Germany spent over three years studying ways of exploiting all this
data, for the benefit of society. They came up with a unique program,
which uses innovative Virtual Reality techniques to browse very high
resolution 3D geographic information.
?¨Using Vplanet Explorer, anyone can set
off on a journey to discover new regions in 3D, rather than staring at
a flat map and trying to picture its scenery,?Æ says Eric Martin,
coordinator of the IST project Vplanet. ?¨With the click of a mouse,
they can fluently fly through terrain in real time, on a standard PC.?Æ
The project??s software merges data from
different sources into a single 3D database, using techniques such as
filtering, correlation and specially developed 3D algorithms. The
partners concentrated their work on surface areas and sub-metric
resolution, taking advantage of improvements in pixel resolution in
today??s satellite data.
?¨The challenge is handling large volumes
of geographic data on a standard computer,?Æ says Martin. By working on
a PC with a standard graphics cards, it is possible to significantly
reduce the cost of working with complex Geographic Information Systems
(GIS). He adds: ?¨Our project offers users a transition from GIS to 3D,
especially as our software??s open architecture enables interfacing with
other software.?Æ
European aircraft-maker Airbus tested the
program by linking it to some of its flight simulators. Users were then
able fly through simulated real countryside rather than the traditional
artificial landscape. Authorities in France recently used Vplanet
Explorer to assess flooding risks in the Orleans area by visualising
vulnerable land in 3D.
The software was also recently showcased
on the inauguration day of France??s Pont Millau. The public
presentation of the world??s tallest road bridge combined a digital
model of the terrain with data from the Spot 5 satellite and modelling
of the bridge itself.
?¨Local people had resisted the bridge??s
construction, claming it would ruin the scenery,?Æ adds Martin. ?¨Had
they seen our presentation earlier, showing the bridge is not a visual
disaster, they might have accepted the new edifice without hesitation.?Æ
He agrees that 3D is not vital for such presentations, but believes it
adds value. And if the price is right, it will aid groups as varied as
land developers and civil protection authorities. He adds that the
project??s software is ideal for making 3D models, but it does not
actually construct 3D views.
Partners are finalising the project
package, which includes separate modules for software installation,
training and so on. The complete package will retail for around 10,000
euro and goes on sale this summer.
?¨France??s national cartographer IGN will
soon be making digital map data available to the public,?Æ notes the
coordinator. ?¨To make the most of this data, people will need 3D
visualisation software such as Vplanet.?Æ
Eric Martin
CS Syst?ãmes d’Information
ZAC de le Grande Plaine
Rue Brindejonc des Moulinais
BP 5872
F-31506 Toulouse Cedex 5
Tel: +33-5-61176666
Fax: +33-5-61541339
Email: ericmartin@c-s.fr
Source: Based on information from Vplanet

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