3D Dominates the News- @Last Software sold to Google- Bentley Announces Google Earth Tools Integration:  Connecting MicroStation to the Google Earth Environment
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3D Dominates the News- @Last Software sold to Google- Bentley Announces Google Earth Tools Integration:  Connecting MicroStation to the Google Earth Environment

Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! The CAD and GIS industries rarely have groundbreaking announcements in common or back to back, but this week they had both. On Tuesday we learned that @Last Software, a company known to CAD users as an easy to use 3D design tool and only recently to GIS users, was acquired by Google, Inc. Bentley had already scheduled a press conference for Wednesday, and the rumor was that they were announcing a MicroStation 2D/3D connection to the Google Earth environment - a rumor that proved true. Read about this exciting news in this week's Industry News.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think. Send your comments to me Here.

Best wishes,
Susan Smith, Managing Editor



Industry News

3D for Everyone, Well Almost

- @Last Software sold to Google
- Bentley Announces Google Earth Tools Integration:
   Connecting MicroStation to the Google Earth Environment


by Susan Smith

The CAD and GIS industries rarely have groundbreaking announcements in common or back to back, but this week they had both. On Tuesday we learned that @Last Software, a company known to CAD users as an easy to use 3D design tool and only recently to GIS users, was acquired by Google, Inc. All day Tuesday, bloggers were having a field day, but still had difficulty getting much information. Both @Last and Google are traditionally untraditional in their approach, and so did not send out a formal press release, rather, they allowed their blogs and the SketchUpdate newsletter to convey the news. Bentley had already scheduled a press conference for Wednesday, and the rumor was that they were announcing a MicroStation 2D/3D connection to the Google Earth environment - a rumor that proved true.



@Last Software Sold to Google

In August of 2005, I wrote about SketchUp for GISWeekly, as the product had just gained the notice of the GIS industry with its then-newly announced SketchUp ArcGIS plug-in which enabled ArcGIS users who have the 3D Analyst extension to quickly create highly detailed 3D models. In that article I mentioned that Google Earth type technologies had brought home the fact that we no longer needed to spend an arm and a leg to have 3D to view maps and geometric data.

In that moment of lucidity, I saw the two companies--@Last and Google--traveling parallel paths. I also began to wonder what SketchUp would come up with, now that Autodesk was planning to release its competing Vespa product.

Founded in 1999, SketchUp was created by a group of design software veterans who wanted to create a program that would allow design professionals to actually sketch on the computer to develop their ideas. Inexpensive and simple, SketchUp is something that nearly everyone can use, but has tremendous potential for professionals.

I spoke briefly with Jeff Martin, former senior market director for @Last Software, now Product Marketing Manager for Google. Interested parties were directed to the SketchUp website to find out the scoop on the acquisition.

The following from the website blog describes how the acquisition came to be:

“Here's the story. We got to know a bunch of Googlers while we were building the Google Earth Plugin for SketchUp, and it quickly became apparent that we could really stir things up together. At first, it was kind of hard to imagine; after all, we'd been blazing our own trail for so long. But after we kicked it around awhile, it started to seem right. One thing led to another, and here we are. This is one of those wonderful win-win situations; it would have been impossible for us to feel good about this acquisition if we didn't feel our culture, our users and our mission would be in good hands.”

I mentioned to Martin that this industry space has received a lot of attention recently: Autodesk will release their Vespa, a SketchUp-like program later this year, and Bentley is connecting MicroStation to the Google Earth environment.

Where once @Last representatives might have been more forthcoming as employees of a private company, now they are all part of publicly-owned Google. “What I can say is the activity in the marketplace has validated the mission of SketchUp to make 3D easy and accessible for everyone because they are recognizing that it is a valid space to be in,” said Martin.

Future product plans can't be discussed at this time, however, Martin was reassuring about SketchUp development being maintained under the Google moniker. “Our early success has been due to adoption in the AEC market and those people in the AEC market have been our greatest evangelists and our most dedicated users. Going forward, we wouldn't dream of doing anything that would draw away from that. We will continue to develop for and support those guys in the AEC market.”

Although at this point it's uncertain how many AEC guys know about Google Earth, it won't be long before they do. The following are KML links to examples using SketchUp and Google Earth.

Statue of Liberty
SketchUp headquarters
Google Mountain View campus

As reported in the SketchUp blog: “We're bringing the '3D' part; Google's contributing the 'Everyone.'”

@last Software purchased by Google Earth

Google Blog: A new home for @Last Software



Bentley Announces Google Earth Tools Integration: Connecting MicroStation to the Google Earth Environment

CLICK TO ENLARGE
@Last is obviously not along in their desire to make “3D for everyone” possible. In Bentley's case, they want to provide 3D for their SELECT subscribers to be able to reach a broader audience. Bentley has taken MicroStation and connected it to Google Earth, so that users will be able to navigate high resolution 2D and 3D models of infrastructure in the Google Earth environment.

This integration offers a way to effectively combine CAD and GIS data to enable reliable contextual decisions. In a demonstration, Joe Croser, global marketing director of Bentley platform products, showed a view of the Bentley Exton facility and its surrounds. The model shows a rich collection and the impact of 2D, 3D, civil and GIS information upon the landscape. This model can be viewed by going to the website and clicking on “eseminar.”

An entire design team can access the high resolution contained within the MicroStation environment. But when they want to publish the model to a wider audience and communicate with different people, it makes sense to put the model information into a more relevant file format such as KML. “We've developed the integration and the publishing tools form MicroStation to Google Earth so that we're always just one click away within the MicroStation model and publishing it to the MicroStation environment,” said Croser.

To begin to use the Google Earth Tools, Croser first opened the published file inside of Google Earth, then zoomed in to see the imagery provided by Google Earth. You can also see the MicroStation 2D, civil and utilities information overlaying that imagery. If you zoom in closer you can see some text and links, and can see how the high resolution raster image that came attached to the reference file within MicroStation has been transferred along with the model, along with the hyperlink and the civil and GIS data, to be incorporated with the image data in Google Earth.

“The image data in Google Earth is not always in the same high resolution, depending upon where you are located on the earth,” explained Croser. “That's one of the reasons why it's important to be able to enhance detail with the imagery that you have, not only when you're working in MicroStation when you develop your model, but also when you take that out to Google Earth and you want to zoom in really close to your projects and get a good understanding of what's happening there.”

CLICK TO ENLARGE
As Croser zooms around, he can access the generator on one of the Bentley buildings and link to the company that maintains it. He can move over to the main Thomas P. Bentley building and link directly to the PDF floor plan of the office building there. “Google Earth is providing a very simple, very intuitive, graphically rich environment for us to be able to move around our project and access a whole range of different pieces of information in the format which is most relevant to the person accessing the information, for example, 2D drawings in PDF, weblinks, images, and we could just as easily have links to Word documents and Excel files depending upon the needs of the audience that we're publishing that information to.”

Saved views in MicroStation are also published to the Google Earth environment, so that you can turn on and of level information, turn on and off reference files to be able to see the additional information that was first added to MicroStation and later published to the Google Earth environment.

Moving location to central Philadelphia, shown in the demo is a model of a proposed extension to the Philadelphia Convention Center. Towards the top left hand corner there is another link, that upon a closer look, you see another link to planning details. “This is a complex junction,” Croser noted. “We want to have a different file format here that would communicate a different level of information to the reviewer. By following the link I can open up a 3D PDF file which is a richer model that is already rendered, and we can have a pre-defined animation in here and interact with it dynamically. We just created this model at a different level of detail and illustrate the different purposes so we can see how the various components might be assembled.”

Moving across the country to San Diego, you can see the utilities grid overlaid across the imagery in San Diego. Here you can turn levels on or off and include simple block modeling of the existing city buildings within the Google Earth environment. You can also zoom in and rotate in Google Earth to see how the utilities information overlaps the city grid.

It would seem that CAD data would slow transmission across the internet considerably. By using the KML format from Google you can optimize your MicroStation content, and selectively determine what content you want to publish to that KML file. Bentley has used 3 Mb as a practice example.

Features of MicroStation Geographics coordinate systems are exported to the correct locations in Google Earth. Raster references can be added to DGN and DWG files and be published in the KML format within the Google Earth environment. MicroStation levels are also transferred to the KML file as are the saved views in MicroStation to make it easier to move around to pre-defined positions. “Very importantly, url links in MicroStation are published as Google Earth placemarks so it means that we really can treat the model that has been initially prepared in MicroStation and publish to Google Earth as a fabulously rich and intuitive graphical environment for navigating models, finding other extended pieces of information and being able to communicate that to a wider audience, and make far more informed design decisions about projects in their context.”

In order to place MicroStation information in the correct location, the user must define one or more points by going into Google Earth, and importing those points that signify where in MicroStation design they're located. Then it will calculate the projection for you. This does mean that you're registering your CAD file to Google Earth, which is done once as a one time use.

It all sounds good, but what about access control, an issue that has been raised around Google before? “We're publishing the KML file and integrating into the MyPlaces on the Google Earth interface. At this point I don't think there is any level of access control in the free download - you certainly could control access to the KML file through any of our tools in ProjectWise systems,” lead developer, Ray Bentley, noted.

Beta testing took place at 150 sites for about 1 ½ months. As the product is part of the MicroStation V8 XM toolset, it will continue to be part of the product and enhanced, based on user feedback worldwide.

What do you have to buy? Everything demonstrated on the website works in the readily available product that you can download from Google Earth's website. The Bentley Google Earth Tools Integration is available right now for existing SELECT subscribers and the tools will be included in the V8 XM edition of MicroStation when it's released in May.



Top News of the Week

Intergraph Corporation announced a new version of the ImageStation(R) suite of products, which increase customer productivity with an enhanced user interface, improved computation performance in triangulation, automatic Digital Terrain Modeling (DTM) and improved orthophoto processing.

Key features of the new ImageStation release include:
Added different GPS/inertial measurement unit (IMU) correction models, enhanced exterior orientation (EO) analysis tools and increased speed of bundle block adjustment
Consolidated sensor modules to a single product - ImageStation Satellite Triangulation
Decreased automatic DTM generation computation time of color imagery by approximately 40%
Added distributed processing capability to orthophoto software - enabling true ortho and mosaicking as well as multi-threaded support for mosaicking
Increased speed of mosaicking and true ortho processing - freeing users to focus resources on other areas
Added support for expanded MicroStation V8 design plane - simplifying customer processes

Experienced and novice software developers will convene March 17-18, 2006, to advance their abilities and learn about the future of GIS applications at the 2006 ESRI Developer Summit. Aside from technical sessions, networking opportunities, and other events, the summit will host several keynote presentations by experts in the field including Martin Nally, an IBM distinguished engineer, and Eddie Amos, senior director of the Developer and Platform Evangelism Group at Microsoft Corp. For more information about the 2006 ESRI Developer Summit or to register, visit Developer Summit website.

MapText, Inc. has announced that Label-Web, the Company's high-quality text placement engine that labels web-based maps on the fly, is now compatible with Intergraph's GeoMedia WebMap 6.0 environment.

The new version of GeoMedia WebMap provides powerful visualization capabilities and analytical tools, as well as the opportunity to easily create and configure industry-standard web services.

MapInfo Corporation, global provider of location intelligence solutions, released demographic insights into Baby Boomers, an influential demographic group that is watching its first members turn 60 this year. See press release



Acquisitions/Agreements/Alliances

GlobeXplorer, provider of online aerial, satellite and map data, has expanded its reach by partnering with Zillow.com, a new real estate information Web site. Zillow.com provides free valuations and data for more than 60 million U.S. homes, including high-resolution satellite, aerial and parcel images in many areas, provided by GlobeXplorer.



Announcements

The Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC) announces the availability of two online multimedia demonstrations documenting the milestones achieved in the OGC Web Services Phase 3 Initiative, (OWS-3). The focus of the presentations is to share the OWS-3 goals and to provide a synopsis of the final demonstration. The presentations are available as interactive Flash and Web-streamed video and illustrate the use of a variety of draft and approved OpenGIS(R)standards in an emergency response to a fictitious wildfire threat in Southern California. The presentations are available at http://www.opengeospatial.org/demo/ows3/

AccuWeather.com announced it will use Apple's QuickTime 7 to stream and playback weather videos via the highly popular video section on AccuWeather.com. The initiative makes AccuWeather.com the first website in the weather industry to offer city forecasts and breaking weather news using MPEG standard H.264/AVC clips that deliver high resolution video at low data rates and further underscores AccuWeather.com's standing as a technology leader in the weather sector.



New Products

NAVTEQ, a global provider of digital map data for vehicle navigation and location-based solutions, announces the availability of phonetic transcriptions for its Netherlands map database. Because NAVTEQ(R) voice data, is developed using local knowledge of street, administrative and destination names, applications utilizing NAVTEQ voice phonemes can increase the functionality of voice- enabled navigation systems by reducing recognition complexities.

The new UNEP/GRID-Arendal Maps & Graphics Library has been set up as a repository to present outputs from publications, projects and web-products that has been produced by UNEP/GRID-Arendal through out the years. These include, among many others, the popular Vital Graphics series of publications, the GLOBIO human impact maps and illustrations from the Environment Times newspaper.

Thales has introduced GPSDifferential Module, a software extension for MobileMapper CE that seamlessly adds the power of post processing to virtually any mobile GIS/mapping software application. With the GPSDifferential Module, sub-meter and up to sub-foot mapping is easy to achieve, even where real-time corrections are not available, or when used in difficult signal environments required by applications such as forestry.

A new book from ESRI Press illustrates how to use spatial analysis as a tool to solve real-world problems facing social scientists and students of public policy. Think Globally, Act Regionally: GIS and Data Visualization for Social Science and Public Policy Research explores the spatial aspects of everything from the preservation of farmland, endangered plants, and animals to urban and regional planning and management of light rail lines.

eSpatial, Open Standards based Geospatial platform provider, announces the availability of NAVTEQ's map data products in an Oracle 10g format for Enterprise Applications.

Spectrum Mapping, LLC has advanced the art of LIDAR processing with SILC - Spectral Imagery LIDAR Composite. To facilitate the editing and feature extraction process for LIDAR mapping projects, multispectral pixels are associated with individual XYZ values to discriminate between roads, buildings, trees, water and other features



Upcoming Events

GITA Annual Conference 29
Date: April 23 - 26, 2006
Place: Tampa, FL USA
GITA's Annual Conference and Exhibition is the most highly regarded educational event for professionals involved in geospatial information technologies.

PROGIS-Conference 2006
Date: April 19-20, 2006
Place: Vienna, Austria
The event explores background, legislation, needs and technologies for farm advisory systems, as they are necessary to comply with the new situations like commitments regarding Cross Compliance, documentation needs to ensure food- and feed-traceability, to calculate, to map etc..

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