The advent of I3S

Contributed by: 
Barry Tilton and Monica Wamsley, @TheGlobeIn3D

The future of mapping is coming — or is it here already? With the advent of Indexed 3D Scene Layers (I3S) as a community standard, everyone stands to benefit.

Discussions around creating data-display standards have taken place for decades now, most famously including VHS vs. Beta. The first attempt at 3D standards was in the late 1980s with computer graphics, but came toward maps about 10 years later. So few sets of data were collected in 3D, and 3D was (and is) memory intensive because of the six variables necessary to place an object at a point in space at the correct angles. Everyone had vested interests in standards reflecting the work they were already doing.
That last part hasn’t changed, but approving I3S as a standard means that this form of 3D will be generally exploitable by many more users in the near term. I3S is one workable and robust protocol which has been both fleshed out and vetted by a knowledgeable user community.

A map based solely on looking down cannot present to its users the difference between a two-story building and a 100-story building — and that difference is critical. There is much more content to the world than what is represented on 2D maps! It’s an epiphany of sorts, looking up at a building from the ground instead of just down from sky. Eventually, this will be the norm: The 25-and-below age group has grown up with immersive gaming experiences, so stepping into I3S feels natural, and, in a few years, when that age group is teaching, it will be native. 

Meanwhile, who benefits the most from I3S? Certainly, those who need to understand the implications of 3D are at the top of that list. This includes first responders, soldiers, and various program operators, among others. There are members of the American intelligence community who recount their days in the military and cite logistical challenges without viewsheds. But 3D applications are not limited to militaries and emergencies: The telecommunications industry cannot rely on paper maps to determine optimal placement for power lines or antennae.

With standards comes a renaissance! OGC approval for I3S makes 3D more available and used increasingly in communities. It is important to agree on a set of high-quality standards that are open to others instead of spending additional money and manpower on this all-important but seemingly exclusive facet of product development. So where do we go from here? Get data into users’ hands to build communities, of both professionals and lay users. The Internet of Things is growing, and disasters strike with perilous force. Hunters can scope out boundaries and the best places for blinds, and major professional golf courses have been mapped down to an eyelash. The potential for aid from 3D imagery is limitless. Let’s embrace the variety of applications, and welcome the input.

Vricon, like others in the community, supports OGC’s efforts to develop 3D standards and bring acceptance and commonality to the field. How can we get this next-level imagery and data to analysts, warfighters, first responders, urban planners, and all who endeavor to make our lives  — and our planet! — better?