Geo Week News

July 12, 2011

3D mapping the world, on demand

Earthmine co-CEO talks Autodesk, ESRI, Streetview and more

SAN DIEGO – The ESRI User Conference is in full swing here, and there have been a few 3D-related announcements coming out of the show, including the news that ESRI has acquired Procedural, a Zurich-based company that partnered with ESRI last year to integrate its CityEngine platform, which is used for 3D city modeling and design. Procedural, for example, just helped out with the very impressive city graphics that help make the 3D film Cars 2 a visual delight (editorial aside: That movie is way too violent for young children, however).

Another related announcement came from earthmine, a company that specializes in vehicle-based mobile mapping systems that produce 3D panoramic imagery, rather than the point clouds created by laser-scan-oriented mobile mapping systems. The company has extended its partnership with ESRI by unveiling an earthmine Widget for the ArcGIS Viewer for Flex, “providing a simple way for earthmine and ArcGIS users to publish their geospatial data and earthmine 3D street level imagery to the web.”

This “out-of-the-box solution” is central to earthmine’s business strategy, said earthmine co-CEO and co-founder Anthony Fassero, in an interview with SPAR 3D. It’s similar to a recent announcement that earthmine is now an Autodesk AEC Industry Partner, and now has available its latest addition to the earthmine desktop product suite, earthmine for AutoCAD Map 3D.

“Earthmine’s strategy is to support the world-leading workflows,” Fassero said. “It’s much easier for our partners to sell when it plugs right in to ESRI and Autodesk, and we’re very excited about plugging in easily to other workflows.” He mentioned Bentley as another potential company earthmine would like to integrate with, and said earthmine would look to work with other companies that are interested in making its easily navigable 3D data available to their users in a way that fits right in with their current workflows.

“Maybe there’s more value to earthmine for GIS than for something like building an overpass,” Fassero acknowledged, as earthmine’s accuracy is not survey-grade, but if earthmine is going to part of a bigger overall solution, it needs to be part and parcel with the tools surveyors, designers, engineers and others are already using.

“We partnered with ESRI around this time last year,” he said, “the integration with ARCGis desktop, and we’ve found that to be incredibly popular with our customer base. We’ve had a huge response from our community. With Autodesk and Map 3D, in some ways we’re replicating that workflow for those who are already embedded in the Autdesk workflow … This is a very early step with Autodesk, but maybe we can integrate with geo design, or things like BIM. There are so many wonderful ways we can go that are different than with ESRI.”

Currently, he said, it’s the GIS community with which earthmine is resonating most loudly. “We solve a very hard problem with GIS: How do I populate my GIS with data? I’ve heard that maybe 80 percent of setting up the GIS is filling it with data, and that doesn’t even account for time. We’re solving that problem right now very effectively, and with an interface that’s much easier to understand. It’s something that’s as easy to use as Streetview.”

So, how do earthmine’s street maps differ from what’s available for free from Google or Bing?

One way is simply that earthmine is done on demand through its partner network. “This is a key thing,” Fassero said. “Data freshness isn’t something that can be driven at the global scale.” With earthmine, a state DOT gets street data when it needs the data, not when a global company gets around to refreshing it.

Second is the integration, he said: “It goes right into your GIS with the precision that you’re looking for.”

Further, he sees laser-based mobile mapping as complementary to what earthmine and its partners are doing. “We have a partner network coming up with solutions that might include earthmine; they might include pointclouds too.”

“What you see with the lidar industry is that they’re looking at very high precision and expensive tools that are designed for high precision applications on a small scale,” Fassero said. “But that is never to be used again. You collect for that project, and then you never really use that data again. Maybe they go back to it again, and pick up a few more things, but it’s a limited-use dataset.

“Were in the data business. We want to tap into the worldwide network of mapping experts to build a dataset that’s used many, many times. We don’t look to produce an engineering-accurate solution, because it’s not scalable. It’s not that we don’t want it to be, but it’s just not feasible to drive a laser scanner around on a car for 16 million kilometers around the world.”

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