Making that CAD/GIS Connection with GISConnect

Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! Read about Haestad Methods' GISConnect for AutoCAD, a software add-on solution that integrates CAD drawing files and GIS data, in this week's Industry News.

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Susan Smith, Managing Editor


Industry News

GIS Connect for AutoCAD
Making that CAD/GIS Connection with GISConnect
By Susan Smith

The recent release of Haestad Methods' GISConnect for AutoCAD, a software add-on solution that integrates CAD and GIS software systems, is indicative of a trend we have seen in the GIS industry for the past year.

Haestad Methods' integration software “empowers users to work directly within AutoCAD, providing full control over the entire dataset to create, edit, view, and manipulate 'live' ArcGIS data. With GISConnect, professionals can use native AutoCAD commands to perform GIS tasks, filter data spatially or via attribute queries, and select AutoCAD entities using geodatabase queries. GISConnect is compatible with AutoCAD 2002, 2002i, 2004, and all ArcGIS products of version 8 or higher.”

Haestad Methods' GISConnect for AutoCAD is Autodesk's answer to the problem of integrating CAD drawing files and GIS data. Graphisoft, provider of ArchiCAD 3D architectural software, is working with ESRI to integrate ArchiCAD with ArcGIS. Earlier this year, we saw Bentley Systems' AEC/GIS Interoperability Initiative, which makes use of APIs to integrate ESRI's ArcGIS and Bentley's MicroStation.

Obviously, there are some differences between AEC and GIS applications. AEC applications emphasize graphics, where GIS applications are datacentric. AEC focuses on design and analysis; GIS on cartography and spatial analysis. AEC adheres to a drawing/modeling/document paradigm, whereas GIS works with a database paradigm. The list can go on and on.

There are clearly three key areas where the two technologies need each other:
  • Engineers/environmentalists/planners need to work together
  • AEC drawings need spatial references and a socio-environmental context.
  • GIS databases can be improved with detailed drawing content.
Currently I'm exploring just what each of these CAD/GIS integration solutions offers. The integration solutions that ESRI is developing with each of the major CAD vendors presents some challenges because of the varying file formats that each CAD vendor employs. Just how rich and deep the integration goes depends on what can be achieved between the various systems and ArcGIS.

This week GISWeekly features an interview with Scott Devoe, Director of Strategic Development for Haestad Methods.

Was this product, GISConnect for AutoCAD, developed as a result of customer demand?

SD: Originally the product was written for a prominent engineering consulting firm in Connecticut. We were trying to help them with a GIS project, and they were a traditional CAD-focused shop that didn't even own ESRI software when we started. The consultants didn't have the desire or time to learn how to use ArcMap, so we decided to help them leverage their CAD expertise in a GIS-based platform.

One distinguishing limitation that other competing products could never overcome was that they only offered data transfer capabilities-in other words, write to a shape file and read to a shape file-or they were limited to using APIs other than ArcObjects.

GISConnect is superior because it is actually built on both ESRI's ArcObjects and AutoCAD's ObjectARX, providing users with the best of both worlds. In addition, GISConnect offers its users database-integrity protection, which is also not available in competing products. Since we're using a license of ESRI, our customers are pretty much guaranteed that they are not going to be breaking any of their geodatabase rules. Users will get an error if they can't insert something into the geodatabase, just as they would using ArcMap.

Did ESRI and Autodesk come to you for help in building this product?

SD: No, Haestad Methods initiated and developed this product on its own; however, we have held meetings with ESRI and Autodesk, and the product has been favorably received by both organizations. As I mentioned, we had a customer that was under the gun to get a particular project completed, and they needed to get a GIS in-house, they needed to deliver a GIS database stormwater map, and they had all their existing stormwater drawings in AutoCAD. Basically it began with Haestad Methods writing some tools to help them get all their data into a geodatabase. It was easy for us to write the tools since we had been working with both ArcObjects and ObjectARX. Once our client experienced how easy GISConnect made it for them to create and manipulate their ArcGIS data, they recommended that we market it to other mapping professionals. We then approached ESRI and Autodesk and demonstrated GISConnect to them.

Does GISConnect have full read-write or read only capabilities?

SD: GISConnect offers full read-write capabilities. When users open a blank drawing in AutoCAD, they see a similar tool set that they are accustomed to seeing in ArcMap. GISConnect supports three types of GIS data: points, polylines, and polygon feature classes. Users can select individual feature classes to bring in, or they can actually select the entire feature data set. GISConnect for AutoCAD builds a one-to-one mapping between AutoCAD and the feature data.

When users of GISConnect look at the layer list, they see that each of the feature classes comes in on its own layer. Each layer represents the data in the feature class, and a locking mechanism allows them to have data integrity for editing. The underlying values only exist in the geodatabase, not in AutoCAD. GISConnect also supports coded value domains and follows geodatabase rules unlike products that aren't built with ESRI's ArcObjects.

When mappers bring in point data, they come in as AutoCAD points. GISConnect has an option to change point data to blocks. Block attributes can then be mapped to fields in the feature classes, allowing users to edit the way they would in AutoCAD with the changes taking place in their geodatabase.

Are there plans to make GISConnect work with AutoCAD Revit, the company's 3D building information modeling software?

SD: Currently, this product will only work with AutoCAD and all ArcGIS products of version 8 or higher. It supports any 2004 platform, including AutoCAD Map, Architectural Desktop, Land Desktop 2004. It doesn't matter which flavor of AutoCAD users are working with.

How is the data read from ArcGIS to AutoCAD, and vice versa?

SD: GISConnect uses ArcObjects technology to access the ArcGIS data and ObjectARX technology to provide the reactions within AutoCAD. GISConnect allows us to watch and monitor the entire AutoCAD session and makes it very reactive. That way, users don't need specific commands to draw polylines, move points, and so forth and can just use native AutoCAD commands.

Will the GIS user be able to grab drawings out of AutoCAD?

SD: Absolutely, but there are no schema tools, which means that users have to run ArcCatalog to build their feature classes. It's kind of like ArcMap in that you can't build schema in it, you have to actually run ArcCatalog to get the new feature class.

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Over the next two to three weeks GISWeekly will feature CAD/GIS integration stories profiling the solutions offered by various vendors. Reader comments on the topic are also welcome. Write to me at: Managing Editor



Alliances/Acquisitions

Telcontar, supplier of software and related services for location-based services (LBS), announced that it has entered a strategic partnership with RACO Wireless. Under the agreement, RACO Wireless will use Telcontar's Drill Down Server™ and Traffic Manager™ software platform products to enhance its existing library of industry leading LBS applications, and to design new applications in the future. Also in the news, Telcontar announced an agreement that enables Telcontar to resell GlobeXplorer imagery services. Under the agreement, Telcontar is now able to offer GlobeXplorer's high-quality aerial and satellite digital images to customers using either its Universal Telematics Server™ ASP or Drill Down Server™ spatial platform.

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