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GeoTouch: Revolutionising GIS visualisation tool

Originally designed for GIS scientists to showcase and share data, GeoTouch, a multi-touch display and information portal developed by the Earth Observatory of Singapore has evolved from wall display into an interactive teaching tool.

GeoTouch is a multi-touch display and information portal developed by the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS). It was originally designed for the GIS scientists working in EOS so that they can display their data in a showcase location and share it. As the scientists required a means of accessing accurate data quickly in a showcase location for dignitaries, press and other visitors, GeoTouch emerged as a useful tool to visualise GIS content on a large multi-touch screen. Also a natural multi-touch interface allows the user to pan, zoom and 3D rotate maps and layers on display using touch to examine geographic and geological information.


GeoTouch multi-touch display (Copyright: Earth Observatory of Singapore)

The software was written using .NET framework and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) graphical subsystem. Its architecture is based on Model-View-View-Model (MVVM) pattern and uses C# and XAML as its primary programming and Markup language respectively. It relies on Microsoft Surface SDK for capturing and analysing touch inputs and ESRI’s WPF SDK for displaying GIS content. The base-maps and GIS layers are uploaded by EOS scientists which is the primary source of data for GeoTouch.

GeoTouch supports a variety of data types and allows for access to a variety of online mapping services. The basemaps utilised by GeoTouch are free online mapping servers provided by Esri, Bing and Google. The software allows researchers to connect to other web-based geospatial databases for real-time updates of data such as the USGS “Last 7 days Earthquake” data and NOAA Tsunami bulletins. Researchers at EOS also have the opportunity to load their own datasets onto the GeoTouch server, as ArcGIS shapefiles or as georeferenced images and animations.

Some examples of capabilities are the surface profile, distance and area measurements, drawing, RSS feeds and querying layers. Because users can upload their personal layers and integrate them to the base map of their choice, GeoTouch is a powerful and pedagogical tool for educators and geoscientists.

From walls to classroom

GeoTouch has moved from the walls of the Earth Observatory into the classroom in late 2012. Professor Kerry Sieh of Earth Observatory of Singapore used GeoTouch in his interactive lectures for the 700 student-strong Natural Hazards class. New Division of Earth Sciences undergraduate labs in Nanyang Technological University will use GeoTouch as a tool in teaching.


Interactive environment for education and discussion (Copyright: Earth Observatory of Singapore)

The teachers can use GeoTouch as a teaching tool by uploading maps and layer on the web server and their students can download maps form the server onto GeoTouch. The students can then perform queries on the map, draw freehand and save their geo referenced strokes, do topographic profile in order to better understand the dynamics of our planet.

Different map data providers produce and showcase their data in different formats (e.g images, videos, KML, shapefiles and RSS feed, etc) and all of these formats require different software for display. The power of GeoTouch lies in the fact that it translates different map and data formats to one constant touch-enabled GeoTouch format and renders them in an appealing manner on a multi touch screen, thus equipping user with an awesome touch-enabled user interface as well as a wealth of geospatial information. Instead of using multiple applications to visualise different maps, educators, students and scientists can use only GeoTouch for research, demonstration and presentation purposes.

Future of GeoTouch

EOS has developed an iOS version of GeoTouch, GeoPad, which runs on iPad. An online web server is acquired from Esri to host GeoTouch maps so that the software can be installed and display EOS data outside the institute.

We at EOS are planning to add geoprocessing capabilities to GeoTouch so that the user can also do spatial analysis and modelling on GeoTouch. Efforts are being made daily to populate our web server with more data which can help us understand the wonders of our beautiful planet.