Esri Adds 3D Design Tools with Procedural Acquisition

by Matt Ball on July 11, 2011

Esri announced today the acquisition of Switzerland-based company Procedural with their CityEngine application that allows for the quick modeling and visualization of cityscale models. With this acquisition, Esri enters the 3D design and city modeling space in force, further blurring the lines between what the CAD and GIS toolset are capable of in terms of city modeling, 3D creation, visualization, and 3D analysis.

Esri has not been a company that has grown via acquisition in the past, having only acquired a few companies over the past decade, instead preferring to create their own technology to fulfill their vision. The 3D space has been one that they have wanted to improve upon for some time, and with this acquisition they’ve taken a huge leap forward with a platform that was built to embrace GIS visualization and vector data types.

The Procedural CityEngine is a rather mature product that has been applied for many high-profile urban design scenarios as well as entertainment visualization applications, despite its rather recent launch in July 0f 2008. Among the projects highlighted on the Procedural website are the masterplan for the Nanjing high-tech sustainable city in China, and the building model that has just appeared in the major motion picture Cars 2.

CityEngine is a standalone software for 3D content creation, with rules-based tools for quick and efficient creation of 3D cities and buildings. With building footprints selected, you can apply a rule on how to extrude building heights. You can further improve the quality with further data on height and roof type of buildings. The addition of 3D streets is also automated based on street centerlines and street profile details.

Outside of parameter tweaking in text-based editors there is also the ability to directly edit the nodes of the model and add great detail to building facades. The tool also allows for design in 3D, with the quick creation of massing models based on urban planning rules for empty lots that effectively begins the urban planning and building design process.

CityEngine supports industry-standard file formats for GIS and CAD, with Shapefile, DXF, Collada, 3DS, Wavefront OBJ and e-on software’s Vue support to allow to import and export any geospatial vector data. There is an integrated Python scripting interface for writing custom scripts. CityEngine is also available for Windows (32/64bit), Mac OSX (64bit), and Linux (32/64bit).

On the 3D analysis side, the software environment has the ability to generate customized rule-based reports to analyze the urban design.

Esri’s embrace of 3D extends into raw Lidar data improvements, with the ability to work with millions of points of Lidar data within ArcGIS 10.1. The new capabilities allow for quick viewing of points, 3d previews, and the ability to look at profiles and 3d as a surface. You can filter the lidar data for slope analysis and contours. Lidar data management and sharing are also enhanced by taking advantage of the Amazon cloud. Esri also taps into ground-based Lidar data with the lidar collected from NAVTEQ’s roving trucks. This full-resolution terrestrial data allows for the quick addition of colors and texturizes into scenes in 3D models.

With these 3d movements, it’s clear that Esri is serious about the GeoDesign concept and the role of GIS for design and planning our next generation of cities with an evolutionary set of digital design and visualization tools. There is great promise for the use of geospatial tools in planning and infrastructure design, and exciting times are ahead with Esri’s further foray into this area of convergence.

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