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Monday, May 01, 2006

Last week Bill Jepson, Director of the Urban Simulation Laboratory and Chief Information and Technology Officer at UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, showed off his Virtual LA at Harvard. (Luckily, a reader told me of the lecture or I’d never have known. Thanks Gary!)

The about 10, mostly Harvard Graduate School of Design (I think) folks, watched Jepson pilot us above and below the streets of LA examining full 3-D models of buildings, streets, subways (LA does have one) and the like. While we toured he told us how it all comes together:

With good CAD data and elevations it takes one person about 10 days to create a new building from scratch, that translates to about 60 hours per city block

newbies to the lab take about a full year to get up to full speed on adding to/changing the model

buildings and sections of the city are only updated when there’s a project (that is money paid) to do so

archetects’ models are not usually useable for addition to the model

the system is too big and complex to be licensed out, so all new additions go through Jepson’s lab

the whole model is terrabytes, but his unique binary compression makes it just gigabytes, that means among other things it loads in minutes, not hours

clients keep coming back, so he must be doing something right

He offered some interesting stories that highlight the big takeaway: this model is not for analysis (though there is a link to ArcInfo) but for human reaction. This one stuck with me:

At one point a professor at UCLA supported legislation that would require new tree plantings upon change of ownership of property. Jepson and his team used data from the past to predict what an area would look like “now” if such legislation was in place in the past. The trees were modelled such that they’d grow the right amount based on when they would have been planted. When the model was shown to the community, they were concerned about the decidious trees, suggesting that people would hide in them and jump down and mug people. The trees were changed to palms in the model and they were happy. (The legislation did not pass since realtors argued it would increase the cost of a real estate transaction.)

The other interesting story was about how this work in changing. What Jepson said sounded very much like what I’m used to hearing from Jack Dangermond about the evolution of GIS. It moved from large scale projects (small areas) to larger ones. It moved from modelling a single building to being a potential command and control center (with realtime data) for security and DHS purposes. It went from being theoretical to being practical. It went from being academic to having lives depend on it. Hopefully, it will also move from being so technical only specialists can use it to something more accessible.

A few things troubled me about not the model itself but about the social structure of it. Since so much of what geospatial technology is about these days is integrating data, I was disappointed this work while it did use raw CAD files, mostly seemed to recreate/create data. Jepson did explain that architects models are legal documents for construction; they are not meant for this sort of visualization. Further, he points out that every architecture firm has its own preferred “look and feel” and he needs to maintain a consistent one for his model.

Second, there seems to be no way for those of us outside this model and its team to participate, even by making models that might someday be useful in Virtual LA. For this sort of technology to really take off (pardon the pun), I think it needs to be less specialized. And, perhaps for now that’s not possible, but perhaps in the future?

Finally, this virtual version of a city made me think about what will happen as lay people craft 3D models in the free SketchUp and use them in Google Earth. Will it have any value? Any relevance to reality? Will we need trained specialists to craft these models so they are useful?

by Adena Schutzberg on 05/01 at 06:00 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

Two weeks ago we asked for your input on how “free mapping APIs” should be funded. Of the 47 respondents, 70% preferred the service be paid for by subscriptions to a more advanced offering, 13% preferred ads on the maps for funding, 11% said those who offer the API should simply “eat” the cost, and 6% felt another model should be used.

Next up: What’s the impact of the new open source geocoder from SRC? Vote on the lower right hand site of our main page.

by Adena Schutzberg on 05/01 at 06:00 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

Friday, April 28, 2006

I got a quick glance at Microsoft MapPoint 2006 which has been released to manufacturing and should be shipping soon. New features are aimed mostly at the mobile market. According to Alex Dailey, MapPoint Evangelist, the company wants to "extend the product from on the desktop to on the go." So here are some of the key new features:

** Integration from a tool bar button with Microsoft Live Local. For example, if you have a point of interest (POI) that you’ve located from within MapPoint, you can click on the Live Local button and it will take you to the information and bird’s eye view.

** Map Interface changed for better vehicle navigation. If you used a GPS device with MapPoint 2004, you’ll notice a different interface that is targeted at using MapPoint 2006 as a portable in-vehicle navigation system. A new map style changes the view for night time driving and things like dynamic turn views and orienting the map so that it always points north can be accommodated. A compass shows direction of vehicle movement.

** GPS improved. The USB GPS receiver that will be delivered with MapPoint 2006 is different than that which was available for purhase with Streets and Trip. Any NMEA (National Marine Electronics Association) comformant device will work, but the device that will be bundled with it for $50 more is based on the SiRFstarIII GPS chipset.

** Pricing. Price remains unchanged: $299 retail; $349 with bundled GPS receiver.

My take: I’ll reserve final comments until I get a full version to do a proper product review. I had hoped to see more spatial querying and analysis functionality to slice spreadsheet-based information better. However, I liked the fact that for mobile professionals that if I were to use this as a vehicle navigation system that I don’t have to rent a Hertz NeverLost system everytime I go into a strange city.

[Click either of the images at right for a larger view.]

 

by Joe Francica on 04/28 at 12:50 PM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

High flying revenues from the past few years that Intergraphy built on hefty IP lawsuit wins are being moderated with restructuring charges and changes in the marketplace. Income was actually up, while Security, Government and Infrastructure (SG&I) income was down over the year ago quarter.

Intergraph has cut 315 jobs worldwide since it began restructuring in 2005; that’s cost more than $14 million. (Other people, like my longtime press contact, left for other opportunities.)

SG&I revenues were down, reports CEO Halsey Wise, due to lower sales of the Digital Mapping Camera and less income from federal contracts.

The other division, Process, Power and Marine division, was up substantially.

by Adena Schutzberg on 04/28 at 09:24 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

The Times Union in Albany does a great job summarizing MapInfo’s investor calls. This time, in addition to noting that overall quarterly revenue was at record levels, the paper shared these tidbits about the new MapInfo Pro and MapWorld.

CEO Mark Cattini said in a conference call with analysts Thursday that the company is scheduled to unveil a new version of its MapInfo Professional software at its MapWorld conference next month in Phoenix, Ariz. More than 500 people are expected at the event, which is held each year for the company’s customers.

Cattini said that the new version will allow users to access so-called RSS feeds from Web sites to provide them with additional data.

I’ve got a ping into MapInfo to tell me about the nature of RSS support - is it GeoRSS support? W3C version? GeoRSS.org support? Stay tuned!

by Adena Schutzberg on 04/28 at 09:17 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share
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