Maximising your return on time and 3D

With the growth of the so-called Internet of Things (IOT), and a data landscape that is getting broader every year with more and more organisations taking up new and varied types of spatial data like LiDAR, real-time streaming feeds, and unstructured Big Data, I hear the question “What do I do with all of this?” come up a lot.

There’s broad recognition of the fact this data has value in it – and this leads to organisations committing to the collection piece, but that’s really just the beginning. In the ‘new dimensions’ session I delivered at Directions LIVE today, my aim was to provide examples of how ArcGIS can be used to exploit time and 3D in existing and new spatial data in your organisation, and deliver real value.

3rd dimension

The session began with an exploration of four major applications of the third dimension (3D) – planning, analysis, visualisation and communication.

3D – Planning

In the domain of planning I explored how the procedural rule-based approach used by Esri CityEngine can deliver significant time and cost savings in urban planning  and geodesign workflows by speeding up the iterative stages where a model/design grows in scale and complexity from simple rough rendition to final rendering.

CityEngine – fast tracking 3D workflows

As an illustration in a city planning context, I referenced a Story Map that walks you through the City of South Boston’s planning challenges. If this is your area of interest then I would recommend checking out this year’s Esri Geodesign Summit Proceedings.

3D – Analysis

As examples of 3D applied to analysis, I touched on some of the ways you can make sense of large amounts of LiDAR data using ArcGIS, and highlighted some additional, free tools that increase your options when dealing with LiDAR. I followed that with an example of a 3D Line of Sight analysis helping plan for a major event to make sure it was clear what the real vantage points would be for the public.

Major event planning with 3D Line of Sight analysis

3D – Visualisation

No surprise, but visualisation is a very visual thing! With that in mind I showed a number of examples of 3D visualisation including the type that many people are familiar with – data draped on a 3D globe. I used ArcGIS Earth for this and demonstrated how it could be used to bring together ArcGIS and open data formats both inside and outside your organisation. I also highlighted the fact that it’s not always about the terrain and the globe – sometimes it’s ‘Z’ being used to simply emphasise an additional dimension in your data on the map. I used a 3D Global Stats Dashboard to illustrate this.

Emphasising dimensions in your data with 3D

By the way, if you want to build a dashboard like this – have a look at the new 3DFx Widget that is part of Web AppBuilder in ArcGIS Online and the downloadable Developer Edition V2.0

3D – Communication

I finished up the section on 3D by showcasing a couple of applications that were designed to open a conversation with stakeholders and solicit feedback on proposed changes to an environment. Both used 3D Scenes but in different ways. The first, built on a 3D Web Scene example was designed to be super simple – and allow the end-user to compare and contrast two different visions for the future.

Engaging the community with 3D

You can view the app, as well as reading a great blog post that shows you how you can build a similar app yourself.  The final communications example used a CityEngine Web Scene to illustrate how you can enable your end users to provide feedback by way of dynamic comments on the 3D scene.

Opening up a channel for feedback

4th dimension

The session then transitioned to the fourth dimension – time – an area when where there is big potential to deliver more from data you probably already have.

Then and now

I started by looking at example of using data from two different time periods to visualise and evaluate change. Using imagery data is a classic application of this and I used before and after imagery from the earthquake in Nepal last year, and the growth of a refugee camp in Syria in the period of the current civil war in that area as examples.


Comparing before and after state


Many of your datasets have some form of time expressed in them already – perhaps a single data time field, maybe start and end times, or even dates that are strings right now, but could be converted to a real date time value. ArcGIS makes it really simple to enable time in your maps and apps and really enhance your information products. I used an example of time-enabling a large dataset of METAR weather observations and displaying them in a Web AppBuilder app with the Time-Slider Widget as an example. The resulting animation that was enabled simply by turning time on in the original map turns what would otherwise be a very confusing map in to an interactive exploration of the weather across the period.


Simple but  powerful – time enabled layers

Future state

Examining what has happened in the past is a powerful way of predicting what might happen in the future and I explored a number of tools available in ArcGIS that could be applied in your own organisations to tease out insight in to the future from your existing data. I discussed the ArcGIS Predictive Analysis tools available and explained them in this blog post.

Space time

Although the time scales of different datasets vary enormously, GIS is often about exploring what happens to something spatially over a period of time, and from different perspectives. Time and space are inseparable in many cases, and ArcGIS has some great capabilities to let you make the most of this kind of combined analysis. I used an example that combined Hot Spot Analysis Space Time Cube tools to present crime stats in Chicago changing over time. This tied nicely in to the 3D visualisation topic I had discussed earlier.


Multiple dimensions made clear

Right now

To round this session off I switched focus to what is happening right here, right now and looked at real-time GIS as way of connecting your GIS with what is going on in the real world. This is an area that is exploding in interest as the Internet of Things takes off, and sensor networks proliferate. I used an example of global flight positions to illustrate how you can make sense of what on face value seems to be an unmanageable volume of data arriving at pace, and use it in your analysis and visualisation workflows in ArcGIS.

The screenshot below shows a web map that is dynamically  displaying a layer of binned observation counts from a stream of flight position data that is accumulating new observations at a rate of about 200/second. It is taking advantage of the new Spatiotemporal Big Data Store in ArcGIS 10.4 and the map and feature services it supports for instant analysis of high volumes of data.


If I had to pick two topics that will capture the most attention in the next twelve months in the GIS world, I would pick 3D and real-time. Watch out for some exciting developments from Esri in both areas as 2016 progresses.

Josh V

Directions LIVE is currently travelling around the country until the end of May. If you haven’t registered for your local event, visit the Esri Australia website now.

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