GIS and CAD systems traditionally represent and visualize reality in different ways. GIS treats height as an attribute and the extrusion of 2D data with height provides a 2.5D representation. CAD adds volumetric information for full 3D representation and treats data as an object.
To get to intelligent 3D, the volumetric object-oriented models of the CAD world need to be populated by a rich set of attributes such as in GIS, and stored in a database. Objects are assigned feature classes and database storage means that you can run queries and analyze objects based on their attributes, and based on their location in 3D space.
BIM Creates an Intelligent Model
The advent of Building Information Modeling (BIM) is an interesting development as it’s the combination of CAD and GIS concepts for a building. Intelligence is added with the integration of Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) for building attributes. IFCs describe the elements of nested objects that all have a relationship to each other. For instance, in a building a window is an opening in a wall and is made up of a frame of specific size, a specific type of glass, and window hardware. Each object within an object can also have property sets such as material type, cost, maintenance cycles and specifications such as energy performance.
IFC information can also contain building rules, such as inspection requirements. Building elements and configuration are mandated and can easily be inspected in the design for any rule infringements prior to construction.
The BIM should be populated with furnishings and equipment when the building is built and occupied. The constant update of all building details eases maintenance and adds to the analytical power of the model.
The addition of sensors into the intelligent model makes it dynamic and allows for automated responses from the building to its environment. For instance, temperature sensors can communicate with the window coverings to react to the angle of the sun for maximum efficiency and energy gain that’s in tune with the season. Sensor can be tuned to structural elements to make certain no structural failures are imminent. The addition of location sensors allows for the tracking of mobile assets and for the management of security zones.
Ultimately the intelligent model equipped with sensors creates a smart building that would communicate with other systems and other actors. For instance, if a fire were to occur, the electrical system could shut power, turn sprinklers on only in the areas affected and communicate to fire personnel about the fire’s location and conditions.
Beyond BIM to Intelligently Modeled Communities
It’s not hard to extrapolate the intelligent building model to broader based intelligent models for larger geographies. There are benefits to be gained from individual intelligent models, but the significant rewards lie in a larger network of integrated intelligent models.
Connecting many intelligent building models such as within a campus setting can provide optimal energy efficiency and use of space. Going beyond simply the buildings to include water, wastewater and utility networks adds connectivity with the possibility for much greater efficiencies and economic gain. Adding large Earth system models, such as hydrology, adds environmental intelligence.
Integrating sensors into the larger model of models provides for dynamic information update and the opportunity for an intelligent network of autonomous agents that feed off the information of each other.
The popularity of rich 3D models for geographic exploration, such as in Microsoft Virtual Earth and Google Earth, signals that 3D is reaching commoditization and are expected. The expectation of 3D means that tools and methods to create the models will increasingly become automated and will make the process much less labor intensive a less expensive.
The realism and level of detail that is possible with 3D data collection tools are also increasing. Terrestrial LIDAR achieves engineering-level accuracy and is now matched with color imagery for dramatic and detailed models. Marrying terrestrial and aerial LIDAR is being explored and could provide highly detailed and and comprehensive exteriors.
The work that’s being done by the Open Geospatial Consortium on CAD/GIS/BIM integration could greatly spur the integration of these tool sets. Additional integration work needs to be done to bring together the multiple disciplines that could greatly benefit from intelligent 3D models to develop the Industry Foundation Classes that will breathe intelligence into larger models that encapsulate the world outside of buildings.
The capability for 3D data to be stored and analyzed inside a database has implications for greater efficiency and integration of the model with other business processes. Oracle 11g added 3D spatial capabilities, and I’m sure we’ll be learning of some interesting case studies soon.
Going beyond 3D models toward intelligent 3D models holds great promise. I’m excited by the prospects of greater intelligence within models and smarter planning based upon the integration of multidisciplinary business rules within these models. I’m certain that we’ll see major gains within the next five years, because the payoffs for such integrated intelligence is huge.
Read Jeff Thurston’s take on this topic here.