June 22, 2009

Geographic Information Systems are designed to depict interior building information using BIM technology, much like programs like Google Earth give an external view.

Geographic Information Systems are designed to depict interior building information using BIM technology, much like programs like Google Earth, above, give an external view.

Multinational pilot project taking building plan information digital

An innovative pilot project running in Vancouver, Salzburg, Vienna and Incheon, South Korea aims to take the planning and permits process deeper into the digital realm with 3D technology heavily borrowed from video games.

Autodesk, the dominant player in Computer Assisted Design software, is working with the three cities to learn how best to put digital 3D data into plans for buildings submitted for approvals.

The concept is to engineer a process for the public, city government, construction and business communities to combine mapping, building, civil engineering, and utility information into an accurate city model to simulate the future impact of development on a city-wide scale.

“They (the pilot cities) are all different and that’s a good thing,” says Autodesk Geoff Zeiss, director of technology. “In Incheon, it’s a green field where the have an economic development zone with great access to Seoul airport which is probably the most efficient airport in the world.”

Salzburg is a historic city where heritage preservation rules mean it can take years to get approval for new development and Vancouver is a typical North American city which is still rapidly growing, he says, and has unique rules around sightlines that bar buildings which may block other buildings from their view of the mountains.

Together they’re a good example of a wide range of challenges in the design approvals process. Zeiss says the pilot will run six months and probably extend but that some of the learning will be put into use immediately on an ongoing basis to improve and further develop Autodesk products to better serve the market.

The technology is based on what’s called Geographic Information Systems (GIS) which traditionally has been left to governments and large enterprises that had the resources and the mandate to create data around topography.

In the context of a city, think of it as a blueprint showing precise locations of sewer, water and power line, and utility conduits for fibre-optic and telecommunications cables overlaid onto a map. Now digitize that map and render it in 3D, in high definition detail, with colour and the ability to navigate through this subterranean world with a game controller just as if you were playing on your X-Box or PlayStation console.

Again, add to that a visual of the city at street level as Google Earth and Microsoft’s Virtual Earth have done by literally driving down every street with a car onto of which is mounted a camera which takes a 360 degree image every 100 metres allowing you to “walk” down the street of major cities and navigate your way from your computer screen anywhere in the world.

“But what Google Earth gives you is the outside of the building,” enthuses Zeiss, who’s unofficial title is Chief Evangelist for Autodesk. “With Building Information Modelling (BIM) we can now walk inside that building before it’s constructed and see how the atrium will look and what the traffic patterns will be.”

Since BIM data is already being incorporated at the design stage via CAD software, it is not a huge leap to start integrating it with the GIS data. The pilot program expects to determine how best to do that.

The goal is to be able to present to planners, politicians and citizens a 3D model they can “walk” through to gauge how the design and footprint will impact the location and others living and working nearby.

“It’s so real, because you have cars driving by in the traffic and people walking through and when you show it, they say, why did you show us this if it’s already built?” says Zeiss. “It really is that real like a video game.”

Dan Campbell manager of graphics community service with the City of Vancouver says the eventual goal is to be able to see what impact a building will have on localized wind currents, where its shadow will fall and how that will impact other buildings.

First, though, he says, they have to figure out where and how 3D fits into the process, what stages it is useful at and how to handle the massive amounts of data that are part of the files.

Vancouver is already well into adding GIS to its mapping and has the popular Vanmap (Vancouver.ca/VanMap) which marks everything from public art locations to utility paths and other infrastructure.

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