GeoWorld January 2012

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The Shine Is Off Google Earth; What's Next? BUILDINGTHEGEOWEB I t's been about six years since Google Earth stimulated the imaginations of millions of people; six years since vast numbers of people, perhaps for the first time in their lives, truly understood that the Earth was round and finite. It remains an amazing tool, but somehow the shine has diminished. Although Google has introduced many BY RON LAKE new features (e.g., touring, Earth builder, an improved 3-D model for Street View, indoor imagery, etc.), none of these has the power to revolutionize our view of the world nor the ability to change, in any fundamental way, how we interact with it. So what might be next? What in the next five years could startle us into a new appreciation of the world? Although I make no claims to being a prognostica- tor, I think it's interesting to look at some potential areas that "could" be revolutionary. The Simularium Simulation is the first area I see as potentially being revolutionary. Google Earth, Whirlwind and other such globes are more or less static constructs, which don't offer predictive models of the future with high- quality, "explanatory" graphics. They have limited abilities to show floodwater impacts or the probable outcome of rising sea levels due to global warming, but nothing that would shock someone's sensibilities or give convincing "proof" of the simulation's validity. Future simulations will offer realistic, immersive Ron Lake is president, Galdos Systems Inc.; e-mail: rlake@, blog: www. archives/category/ media-center/blog. 30 capabilities, together with "drill as deep as you want" validation of the simulation model's origin as well as the origin of the data used and on which the simulation is based. Furthermore, I anticipate the ability to rapidly create and launch new simulations, not by a "man on the street," perhaps, but certainly by domain experts that exist in large numbers across the planet. Just as Wikipedia's strength is the collective strength of its many expert contributors, so, too, is the future of the "simu- larium" in the combined knowledge of these experts. 3-D Models, Not Eye Candy A second area with serious potential for revolution- izing how people develop urban infrastructures is 3-D city modeling. Thus far, most 3-D city models have GEO W ORLD /JANUAR Y 2O12 Today's static, panoramic street-level imagery provides just a "fuzzy" precursor of where this might go. been "eye candy" at best; no one would rely on them for even an approximate idea of what things look like. They're not useful for route finding or urban planning, and they can't begin to support the complex engi- neering of cities. The missing element isn't the visual component, but rather the collection of information on which the model is based. To be useful, and truly revolutionary, semantic models are needed: models that identity what's the east entrance to a building or the location of each window. Model encodings currently exist, of course, but accurate sourcing of such information isn't easy. If we could capture feature data and integrate them with survey, imaging and other tools, and then combine these items with the automated processing of "as-built" drawings, then we could begin to have live and useful city models, not far in the future, that would revolutionize how people build and manage towns and cities. Virtual News Worlds One more area with the potential for being revolution- ary, and one where people really could be shocked, would be the complete integration of the day's news events into the virtual world. Think of an earthquake in Turkey or a flood in Thailand or Pakistan. Instead of flat newsreel footage, users could "walk" into the event—see what's taking place all around and under- stand it in its complete geographic context, from down at ground level up to views not obtainable on Earth. The extent of these catastrophes is hard for most people to understand. Abstractly, people can understand such things on a map; they can look at an aerial view on the news but, as yet, can't experience it. That will come. Perhaps such news integration will merge with simulation functionality so people can experience events that just happened as well as gain an understanding of what "might" happen. This also could give people a new perspective on events that just happened as well as those which happened a decade or more in the past. Today's static, panoramic street-level imagery provides just a "fuzzy" precursor of where this might go. Imagery/LIDAR Special Issue

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