Display GIS Data in AutoCAD with MapRelate

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Industry News
Display GIS Data in AutoCAD with MapRelate
By Susan Smith

A new product from 1Spatial, called MapRelate, is a plug in for AutoCAD which utilizes Autodesk Open Source Feature Data Objects (FDO) that allows the display of geographic information. 1Spatial, formerly Laser-Scan, is an Authorized Autodesk Developer and part of the Autodesk Developer Network, that provides a “GIS-neutral, standards-based approach to integration.

Andy Gosney, MapRelate Product Manager, explained the origins of the product.

AG: MapRelate is the brainchild of our Scottish office. We have a number of offices around Europe and we’ve just established new office in Australia. The Scottish office houses our Autodesk experts who are really looking at the AutoCAD Map products, and helping customers who need to use geographic information and design information implement their systems, store their data and keep their data at a high standard. Basically a developer came up with an idea in January that is utilizing Autodesk’s Open Source Feature Data Objects (FDO) for translation. He’s developed a plug-in for standard AutoCAD that allows the display of geographic information to be translated instantly from a corporate data store or from a computer’s hard drive. So you’re looking at the normal FDO translations of MapInfo, ESRI ArcMap, Oracle SDO, etc. being translated through MapRelate into your standard AutoCAD environment.

AW: Where do you see MapRelate fitting in?

AG: We saw there was a niche in the market – most AutoCAD users require some element of mapping context for their designs but find it difficult and expensive to translate large vector data into DXF or DWG, so we see this as an opportunity to introduce the standard CAD user to using geographic information. The great news is we have the full support of Autodesk. They see this as a natural stepping stone towards a CAD map. It allows them to try out geographic data. We realize a lot of designers don’t require the full capability of AutoCAD Map, they don’t require the full GIS suite. This product allows them to view mapping data. Currently it doesn’t allow them to edit. It really takes a snapshot of the corporate data store, one snapshot at a time.

If someone has updates and you press refresh or redraw, it will take the latest version straight from the database you’re looking at. What we’ve tried to do is bring it in line with the standard AutoCAD interface so it’s got layer control and most of the functionality accessible via the command line, instead of an AutoCAD editor having to break away and use his or her mouse although we have that interface as well.

AW: Can you cite an example of use?

AG: We’ve seen the sort of application in the UK where the Ordnance Survey are looking to withdraw their old DXF supplied landline vector product and are now looking at supplying the more detailed attribution based OS Master Map that isn’t delivered in DXF formats. We see this possibly as a solution for users of large scale data here in the UK because they can now translate the newer data into standard AutoCAD without having to go through a third party GIS or without having to go through an expensive translation process. The product is only £99, or just over $200.

We’re offering a 30 day trial, so people can download it and plug it into AutoCAD, see if it does help them, and then obviously register after 30 days.

AW: I thought that AutoCAD Map was designed to bring GIS data into AutoCAD, so why another product?

AG: Yes, AutoCAD Map does do that. Our technology is based on the exactly the same fundamental FDO technology that Map is based on. However, this is a much more lightweight version. All our software allows you to do is take a snapshot of geographic data that’s corporately held and then basically display that behind your design. On the other hand, Map gives you much more GIS capability where you can edit the data, manipulate the data, and do detailed analysis and thematic mapping. We realize there is a gulf in price between standard AutoCAD and AutoCAD Map and we’re trying to introduce the CAD user to using geographic information and spatial data, something that is within their reach. You don’t need to be a geospatial expert to use this information.

AW: Is this a product Autodesk asked you to develop?

AG: No, they didn’t. As a developer partner, we’ve been working with their technology on a daily basis, with respect to AutoCAD Map, AutoCAD and Autodesk MapGuide as well. However, we came up with this idea and as a partner, asked them to look at it, see how it would fit in with their product strategy and they’re happy with it.

You can view all the main formats supported. If there’s an FDO converter, it will work with it. If somebody’s already written an FDO converter for it, with a small amount of advice from our technical people you can drop that converter into the cache where all the converters are stored and it should then just appear on the list within our interface to say this is the format of data we require.

AW: Is it easy to install?

AG: Yes, you can go to the website, read up on it, download a trial which is in essence the full product, and you’ll get full product for 30 days. Obviously, if you’re happy with it, you can come back and pay and we’ll send you an unlock code which will unlock your product permanently, so there’s no limitation on the license at the moment. It currently works with AutoCAD 2007, 2008 and 2009. MapRelate includes a full interface, downloadable from the Internet, with full 65 page online documentation.

AW: As you are a company with primarily a geospatial emphasis, how do you see entry into the architectural design and engineering markets?

AG: We try to emphasize that AutoCAD users and GIS users often have the same goal, but they’re always separated into different camps. They’re both using geographic or geocoded information and it’s just a case of bringing the two contexts together, in either design or raster or vector environment.

The GIS user obviously will be able to understand and interpret their data. This will give them the opportunity to use this as a way to integrate their data with AutoCAD designs if they don’t have AutoCAD Map. One thing I’ve experienced in the past in the UK, is that often designs are pushed together and sort of overlaid on top of each other. As a result, you can lose a lot of preciseness, especially if you’re doing hard copy with paper. What MapRelate allows you to do is literally line up designs with context mapping or backdrop mapping and integrate a level of precision in there. The real customer drivers for us to do this are through transport and customer regulations. MapRelate allows a user/designer, be it a GIS user, engineer or architect, to create a design with backdrop mapping to a high level of precision that they can just print off and send to either their customer, the local authority, the planning body or the transit board authority, whoever is demanding a legal representation of the real world or real world to be.

MapRelate is currently being offered as a free 30-day trial. You can download the trial from the website where you can also find out more about the benefits of MapRelate .

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