Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »
PufferSphere Makes the World Go Round with Spherical Displays
August 10th, 2017 by Susan Smith
Since 20o4, when Edinburgh-based Pufferfish co-founders Oliver Collier and Will Cavendish had an idea for an innovative digital display that will give a physical presence to digital content, Pufferfish has been gaining in popularity as a digital display medium of extraordinary versatility. PufferSphere is a compact, acrylic globe with on-sphere touch interactivity for the inflatable range. I saw the PufferSphere at the Esri UC in the Start-Up Gallery, and thought then what an innovative and engaging tool it would be for many geospatial uses. While other companies offer spherical display, Pufferfish has continued to increase its expertise in exclusive touch technology with professional signage range, and pushes the envelope for innovation in spherical displays and data visualization.
GISCafe Voice: How much GIS do you use to develop the material for the globes?
We use GIS to extract and prepare geographic data with spatial attributes, translate formats and to carry out complex colouring and raw data editing.
The PufferSphere® is used to display all sorts of digital media and creative concepts including images, motion graphics, video, 360° virtual reality content, infographics and of course, global data. Even where an application is not exclusively globe-focused, our clients are often keen to incorporate globe interfaces into applications, because global data becomes extremely intuitive when shown on a native display delivering deeper levels of understanding and incredible engagement.
GISCafe Voice: What are the most common forms of installation for your product and how many are there now?
We’ve been in business for over a decade now and have established ourselves as the world leader in spherical display technology. Our displays have been installed in museums, visitor attractions, event spaces, concert venues, academic institutions, corporate offices, festivals, government buildings, art galleries, tradeshows, transport hubs and even an Olympic village!
An obvious fit for museums and visitor attractions looking to tell stories on a global scale. Science communicators and GIS professionals also use our technology worldwide, working in both research and commercial fields. GIS-based content also bleeds into many other seemingly unrelated spaces, underpinning apps we make for clients in the events sector, being included in corporate and marketing communications and augmenting experiences designed to geo-locate 360°.
With hundreds of displays now in use, we’re slowly populating the globe with little globes of our own. Our clients are located all over the world, in places as far from our HQ as Kenya and Kazakhstan.
GISCafe Voice: Do you use Esri ArcGIS or other GIS for the globe and what types of data can you use for it?
Most GIS models can be visualized spherically. This can utilise shapefiles, raster images and spreadsheets of a wide variety of types.
In addition to using GIS for offline preparation of materials for display, as an Esri Emerging Business Partner we also provide a solution that connects the PufferSphere directly with ESRI ArcGIS servers or webmaps, to display live GIS data. This can be integrated with other media to create incredible sphere applications. We recently incorporated this function into an application for the United Nations Environmental Assembly.
The live content focused on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Air Quality Indexes and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) with additional content reflecting the momentum for change following the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as an additional section on Climate Refugees showing the human costs of the climate change phenomena being seen around the world.
We can also use the sphere to zoom from global to localized information or do comparative analysis on local vs. global information. Any coordinate on the sphere can be used to locate a button, which can then further contextualize that location using images, text or video.
Part of the fun and the challenge in using GIS data in the creation of content for our clients, is that while we need the output to be visually striking, we also need the GIS data to help us in telling a story. For that, we use a myriad of different data because of the diversity of our client base.
The type of GIS data we utilise can vary wildly from environmental data, to weather models, to transport links, to population densities, satellite movements, shipping routes and all manner of cultural statistics. In many instances, we use geo-data to showcase a client’s global reach e.g. their locations, customer demographics etc.
GISCafe Voice: What new developments have you added in the past year and will you add more in the fall?
We’ve had a focus this past year on creating even more visually stimulating maps. We have a very talented team creating motion graphics and incorporating more GIS data filtering on globe interfaces using a new intuitive interface we call the ‘mandala’. We have additionally been working with stunning 360° 3D model ‘flythrough’ visualisations of topographical land- and cityscapes, helping us address the transition from global to local views in ways that maximize the inherent possibilities of the display. A recent addition to our team is a GIS specialist who has brought with him a wealth of additional knowledge in cartography, topology and geography.
We are constantly developing our core product, as well as building custom content for customers. Innovations over the past year have been related to spherical applications and content, ease of use, user setup, monitoring and maintenance. We plan to continue investigating the ways is which GIS data can be uniquely presented and understood by virtue of being rendered on an interactive spherical display. We look forward to exploring more in 3D in the coming year.
GISCafe Voice: Do you have different levels of products and if so, what are they? Do customers buy a globe and then subscribe to a data service? How does that work?
Our PufferSphere systems range in size from the smaller format PufferSphere 600 (2ft) screens up to the large format PufferSphere 1800 (6ft), and we have selection of interactive elements, which can be combined to create interfaces. At small sizes we offer on-sphere touch capability, and at all sizes there are options for integration with external touch screens and other systems.
We offer a full range of software to support users building their own integrations with our displays and there is a common toolset of features for graphic workflows that can be accessed and used across all displays. There are also code-based routes who want to carry out deeper level integrations with external systems via our PufferPrime API.
In practice we often work closely with our clients to provide a range of spherical content and application development services, using our unique understanding of the spherical space to bring stories to life using data, motion, video and code. These services are usually tailored to the client’s needs, expertise, existing assets, timelines and budgets.
Our approach starts with concept development, through to realisation, installation and beyond, and is designed to ensure solutions deliver functionality and value long term.