Mixed, Virtual, Augmented Reality with Geo Data…It’s Long Overdue

By Paul E Smith, Product Strategist, Hexagon Geosystems

I’ve tracked trends and innovations in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) for many years, trying to anticipate how and when these technologies would take off. It’s been a long wait. Even today, I still try cool VR demos at tradeshows, I love to give them a try, or fly, to assess the state of the art and how geospatial data might fit with mixed reality(VR+AR=MR) applications.

I’m a map geek. Where I first saw geospatial data making headway in VR & AR was in training and simulation for military applications. It’s fair to say the military has been a leading driver of both hardware and software development over the last few decades. I started going to a conference is Orlando, Florida called IITSEC more than fifteen years ago and at the time, that’s where innovation in 3D worlds was taking hold.

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(Source: Nadezda Murmakova / Shutterstock, flight simulation over Innsbruck, Austria)

But most of us got our first exposure to these “real worlds” from Hollywood movies. They had budgets to hire lots of 3D modelers and massive computer servers to create impressive mixed reality worlds for the big screen. I tried many times to convince Hollywood studios to hire my firms to capture the “real” world with aerial or satellite sensors, or 3D point clouds collected from cars or airplanes. I even met with the gamers from SimCity, flew to Florida to meet with the PGA for virtual golf courses, and never got the chance. The mapping technology of our industry was always too expensive as reality lost out to the cheaper eyes of the artists. The time just wasn’t right. Then I got into what is now called geospatial Data-as-a-Service in the early 2000s as a co-founder of GlobeXplorer and business took off. At GlobeXplorer, we supplied earth imagery and 3D models content for flight simulations and TV news broadcasts. Timing is everything.

Source: the author, homepage of GlobeXplorer, a geo web services pioneer, circa 2006
(Source: the author, homepage of GlobeXplorer, a geo web services pioneer, circa 2006)

That was then and the market for 3D data has now grown. The tools of the spatial data trade have improved dramatically to author mixed reality landscapes because through today’s faster computing, cheaper storage, and software that’s easier to use by more and more people, the process of making real world data has become more affordable.

All the big tech companies are pouring billions into hardware and these future headsets and phones will need content, lots of it. The experience of wearing mixed reality hardware is becoming more comfortable, natural. We’ve now tens of thousands of software developers learning the latest SDK toolkits for gaming, entertainment, and of course training and simulation. The time is right for geospatial data to be part of the content experience.

At Hexagon, mixed reality is already in use within the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) segments. The award-winning BLK360 and BLK3D, and new BLK2GO, are capturing indoor spaces, while the Leica Pegasus mobile platform extends inside and outside along the streets and the HxGN Content Program covers everything outside. The visualization of future designs or hidden infrastructure lends itself well to the budding market for mixed reality in the AEC space. This geo content makes its way into the applications and projects of leading engineering firms and government agencies.

The most recent addition to Hexagon’s portfolio is Melown Technologies. Melown develops mass-scale computer vision and advanced visualization technology for interactive web-based rendering, enabling high performing 3D visualization of digital urban and natural landscape models that are derived from aerial and terrestrial reality capture sensors. This will play in well, taking Hexagon further into the 3D content world.

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(Source: Melown Technologies, 3D model of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, building mesh converted to LOD2 specifications)

#mixedreality #VR #AR #geospatial

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