In future, our children will see the ‘real world’ as ‘physical plus...

In future, our children will see the ‘real world’ as ‘physical plus virtual’

Michael Haines, Chief Executive Officer, VANZI Ltd, Australia
Michael Haines
Chief Executive Officer

Key stakeholders and leading researchers of Spatial and Building Modelling in Australia formed a not-for-profit company, VANZI, with the aim of brokering the necessary ‘infrastructure’ to create an ‘authorised virtual world’. Michael Haines, the man behind VANZI, talks to Geospatial Media about the initiative, and his vision beyond it.

Kindly brief us about Virtual Australia and New Zealand Initiative (VANZI)?
This Initiative aims to broker the development of a new form of ‘infrastructure’: an ‘authorised virtual world’ that is a 3D representation of the natural and built environment – on every scale necessary for decision making (inside and out, above and below ground). Over the next five years, it is expected that most government and commercial property owners (and many private owners) will have their own 3D model created for use in logistics, safety, renovation, facility management, etc.The problem is how to integrate these separate models into an ‘enduring’ holistic virtual world that can be used for all ‘property related activities’, from: concept, plan, design, engineer, cost, finance, construct, fit-out and furnish, landscape, insure, manage, lease, value, sell and decommission – while protecting privacy and security – regardless of changing interests and changing technology.

The answer lies in understanding that ‘property’ is a legal construct that arises in common law and through statute. No one ‘owns’ their property absolutely. There are many ‘rights, responsibilities and restrictions’ involving many different parties, all of whom change over time… even as the ‘physical structure’ endures through time. It means that the ‘authorised virtual world must mirror through time both the physical attributes and the legal entitlements relating to each property.

The idea is to create a network of ‘Data Banks’ that are set up under new uniform legislationto hold the ‘authorised model’ – like traditional banks hold your money. In effect, it requires the creation of a ‘regulated cloud’ service. These Data Banks may be government or commercially owned and/or managed. Under the proposal, the Data Banks will be required to hold the data on servers situated within national boundaries, subject only to sovereign laws. The banks would be required to demonstrate technical and financial capability to hold the data in the long term, and to have reciprocal ‘back-up’ copies of all data at physically separate sites. The data would have to be held ‘in perpetuity’, regardless of changing interests in the property. To support this objective, the Data Banks would have to hold not only the data, but the original software used to generate it, and virtual hardware to run the software. No data could be deleted or changed. All changes would have to be recorded as an update. The models for each ‘object’ (e.g. ‘pump’, or ‘structural element’, or ‘design’), would be locked so that any change would be detectable… to emulate the traditional form of assurance: a ‘paper document signed by all parties’.Importantly, the system will include ‘real-time’ ‘on-site’ capability to correct the model when discrepancies are discovered in the field… ensuring ‘continuous improvement’ in the data over time.

The project has been evolving over the last two years with all the key stakeholders (government, property professionals and owners, technology companies and legal practitioners).

What was the initial trigger in starting this initiative?
Several years ago, I was trying to simulate the movement of containers in and out of the Port of Melbourne in a way that could be understood by the average truck operator, and 300 other stakeholders. From my experience with Toyota, I knew that it was now possible to create full 3D simulations of very complex production lines, and naively assumed it would be possible to do the same across the metropolitan area.

I soon realised that it would not be possible, because the data was not available and few people had the software to create the required models, and the business processes did not exist to draw different data sets together and there was no legal framework that could ensure privacy and security of data.

As a result of discussion with leading researchers in Spatial and Building Modelling in Australia, it was decided to form a new company with the aim of brokering the necessary ‘infrastructure’ to create a ‘federated, authorised, fully-integrated, highly secure 3D model, together with all legal entitlements’.

How much of geospatial components will be involved in VANZI?
Geospatial provides the ‘context’ for every building. The aim is to have a spatial model for every local government area, with individual building models inserted within it – as they become available.It is also recognised that the software providers are moving quickly to integrate spatial and building modelling.

Spatial needs to consider how this will evolve, as ‘Building Information Modelling’ (BIM), is much more than simple visualisation with meaning ‘over-layed’ on the model. BIM is about integration of the whole building process across all professionals involved in the design and construction, and ultimately facility management. Also, in BIM each element in a building is held as a unique ‘object’, with its own attributes (e.g. light, fire alarm, door, window, etc). As more and more building are constructed using BIM, more and more of the built environment will be held in this detailed form.

‘Privacy’ and ‘security’ issues are often associated with geospatial data sharing. How will VANZI address these issues?
The network will use a ‘Federated Security’ system, tied back to Title in the Property, with all other rights flowing from contract or statute. Each entity will have complete control over delegation to any other party for access to the data they are entitled to access. That is, only the owner will be able to provide access to a lessee, who may then delegate access to an architect to change the layout of their leased area. Every time a user logs on, the system will check that they are still the owner, locking them out in favour of the new owner as soon as change of ownership is registered.

Emergency Services will have access as required, and they will control who gets access within their own organizations. All other parties, such as planning and building authorities, as well as banks and insurers would have access based on their statutory and contractual rights. The system will also track who tries to access your data and for what purpose.

VANZI is mainly targeting the real estate / property communities. How does VANZI benefit the citizens at large?
As the model evolves, it will become embedded in every aspect of society, being used for traffic simulation, planning and management, as well as for water, and energy and in design of our cities to make them more liveable, sustainable and productive. The model may also be used for ‘serious games’ aimed at solving real world problems, and as the basis for studying ‘micro-climates’, and for disaster planning and recovery. Whatever we can think of in the ‘physical world’… if it pertains to the natural and built environment, people will find a use for it.

The ‘surface’ data will be available for all aggregators, such as ‘Google’, to use for all other ‘location’ and ‘navigation’ applications

How do you conceptualize the return on investment (ROI) from this initiative?
Work has already been done by ACIL Allens Consulting that indicates over AUS$5 billion in savings from integration of new building works through BIM. As the ‘operation cost’ of most buildings over their life is around double its construction cost, the savings are likely more than AUS$10 billion per annum, and this does not include that ability to speed up the ‘approval process’ – with good evidence that using 3D models and a smart engagement process, we can get improvement of 80% or more.

It is also expected that it will greatly reduce the time to ‘search’ for all sorts of information related to a project, from the regulations impacting it, to the location of the services for a property. This will happen as more and more of the data (physical and legal) references the 3D Cadastre that models the boundaries of every property.

As the ‘operation cost’ of most buildings over their life is around double its construction cost, the savings are likely more than AUS$10 billion per annum, and this does not include that ability to speed up the ‘approval process’ – with good evidence that using 3D models and a smart engagement process, we can get improvement of 80% or more.

Does VANZI offer capacity building assistance especially for developing countries in Asia Pacific to start the same initiative?
We would be delighted to help. But as a ‘not-for-profit’, we would need funding from those organizations (government, property and technology) that have an interest in developing the Initiative in their own country.

In your opinion, do the property professionals today, i.e. architects, engineers, construction companies, facility managers, etc. take maximum leverage from geospatial technologies?
No. But that is changing quickly as more and more people understand the value of a 3D spatial model to look at shadowing, overlooking, height and setback restrictions, etc.

What would be your vision for geospatial technology in virtual realityin the future?
A market where there is fierce competition to develop the best tools to gather 3D data relating to the natural and built environment; competition between Data Banks to hold the data at lowest cost with easy to use, but highly secure access; and competition between software providers to model the data in the most useful manner for every application possible.

In future, our children will see the ‘real world’ as ‘physical + virtual’. In fact, they will wonder how we could have managed in a purely physical world!