Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Today, an applicant for a driving licence is made to practise on a simulator which presents a virtual world full of traffic hazards. ”Accidents” can easily be reversed, unlike in the real world where an accident can mean unplanned expenses and a break in the learning process. In fact, one of the most important uses of 3D models which show both terrain and structures is in simulators for training pilots, navigators and drivers. This electronic terrain with buildings and other structures has emerged from the union of two different computer graphics applications. With the advent of computer graphics, 3D terrain representation could be easily achieved in GIS. In the same way, engineers found that computer graphics could easily be used to render true representations of structures like buildings and bridges in CAD. It was but a matter of time before these two graphic models coalesced into one.
Advances in data acquisition like digital stereo cameras, interferometric SAR and LiDAR provide the necessary data for the software. However, the ingenuity of using this data and software is illustrated in applications which extend from professional applications like building information modelling (BIM) to 3D role-playing games. LiDAR and digital stereo imagery are also being used at the ground level to create 3D models of structures which are useful in municipal management and even restoration of historical icons like the Bamian Buddhas. The opportunities for applications of 3D models extend beyond just engineering. Disaster management requires such models to, for example, evaluate flood risk and plan evacuation routes. 3D models are serving as a means of conveying and discussing urban plans with citizens. 3D models are also finding applications in developing smart and green cities.
Many of these applications have great relevance for some of the goals of the recently concluded Rio+20 conference. The final document of the conference mentions the importance of geospatial systems. The major goals are the realisation of sustainable development with equity keeping in mind the needs of the underprivileged citizens. Poverty alleviation and freedom from hunger are guiding goals. It is up to the geospatial community to rise to the challenge of helping to realise ”The World We Want”.