The rapid march of mapping and visualization technologies has worked to erode the wonder of maps, and has led to expectations for real-world duplication. Gone is the awe of measurement tools and even an interest with today’s mapping technologies. The public’s expectations are so heightened that we mostly can’t fail but disappoint.
Up until rather recently, the difficulty of capturing the world realistically was acknowledged, and anyone that was capable of mapping with accuracy was lauded for their skills, with an understanding that there was some error inherent in the presentation. Today’s tools allow us to accurately capture the 3D reality with textures, colors and other elements, but the public has been primed to expect much more than a static captured reality for years through high-priced visualization projects and depictions of futuristic mapping applications on film, in video games, and in the media.
Appreciating a Well-Designed Map
The cartographer’s skill is still very much relevant, although under appreciated. We all can discern a well-designed map that has the right mix of colors and notations to quickly convey a message, although that appreciation is best conveyed by showing a well-designed map next to one that is horrifically presented. Maps are abstractions, and are snapshots in time, but the well-crafted map is a beautiful means of communication.
A well-balanced map creation can be mesmerizing, but in this age of online maps, we expect some interaction and an ability to drill deeper into details. Sadly at this point in time, the craft and conveyance of information via an online interactive map rarely captures the communication capability of a cartographic creation. And when you move toward a realistic visualization, there’s very little awe or appreciation for the data capture and display work that have gone into creating it – as we understand that technology created it, and nothing less than realism seems to satisfy.
The ability to realistically geovisualize a zooming view from space down to the ground was an amazing achievement that sticks in my mind from the film Koyaanisqatsi from 1982. Just yesterday, I saw the same zooming capability at the Asian fast-food restaurant Pei Wei on their LCD menu boards via a Google Earth animation. The public has come to see such artistry as an expectation, because they know the technology exists to create it, and that it is easily accessible.
While we can’t yet capture a similar zoomable viewpoint from an on-the-ground perspective, we all seem to acknowledge that this capability is coming and expected. This next level of visualization gets tough though, particularly in turning such a perspective into something that is interactive such as an augmented reality scenario where our locations become like a browser interface to query and visualize details of our surroundings. We know today’s data capture and visualization tools can make such a thing possible, and we’re sadly disappointed when our technology fails to deliver.
When we’re looking at a visualization that approaches reality for a city scale model in our urban areas, there is a wild expectation for an interactive and realistic rendering. We want to be able to browse the model more intuitively, and to view the surroundings in realism. While most cities and urban-scale project designers fail to even capture the extruded building footprints of their city-scale models, our imaginations have flung far forward to expect an immersive experience that conveys a depiction of the changes and benefits.
The design and mapping professions can still generate interest in rendered maps and drawings, but it’s becoming far more difficult to communicate via these representations. With the advent of LIDAR scanning technologies, and visualization software advancements, we’re starting to see the reach toward an easily captured and realistic reality that will provide the means to meet these expectations.
In parallel with the effort to assist professionals in their depiction of projects, there are many street-level 3D imagery capture efforts right now by the likes of Google, TomTom, NAVTEQ, and Earthmine. These companies are in the data capture phase with very few interfaces yet available to view and explore such next-generation visualizations. They’re tapping the ability of these immersive realities for marketing purposes, and are largely unaware of the vast possibilities of engineering-grade visualizations to transform the workflows of our infrastructure professions. When these new tools for consumers become available, how long will it take for our professional software to catch up? Better yet, what will it take for your city to realize the importance of capturing and depicting their inner workings on an engineering-grade scale?