At USGIF’s GEOINT Community Forum, The Geospatial Metaverse – Infrastructure, Tradecraft, and Applications, a panel of esteemed industry experts discussed the latest technologies and approaches to defining 3D and 4D visualization and the impact those advancements have on analysis. 

Moderator Ash Richter from In-Q-Tel opened the panel by highlighting the overwhelmingly collaborative efforts among what would otherwise be industry competitors in building out the metaverse. Patrick Cozzi, CEO of Cesium, discussed the increasing volume of data that 3D and 4D visualizers have to work with; its increased resolution, availability, and collection frequency; and its skyrocketing level of demand in the context of teamwork. “I believe that no one person, no one company—I would even say, no one industry—is going to solve all of that,” he said. “We need the collaboration that you see among us today to help extract value from data in front of us as quickly as possible.”

Panelist Sebastien Lavier, the Head of Geospatial at Unity Technologies, elaborated further to reemphasize the definition of availability in analytic value chains. 

As new technology becomes more readily integrated, available, and easy-to-use, Lavier stated anyone can do the “heavy-lifting” associated with geospatial data and applications.

What’s so special about 3D and 4D visualization, however, is the restructuring of the analytic cycle. Chris Andrews, Group Product Manager at Esri, compared it to the traditional workflow of a GIS user: they typically identify a problem, collect data, analyze it, and generate a visualization, such as a map or a report. Integrating 3D and 4D techniques brings the final steps of that process to life: “You have a problem, you assemble the [3D visualized] data, and then suddenly, you can explore it,” Andrews said.

Sebastien Loze, Industry Manager of Simulations at Epic Games, went further to note that this goes beyond the evolution of data collection and analysis patterns—it includes the mindsets of those controlling the technology. The innovation and imagination of 3D and 4D creators is what truly enables tech to extend beyond the horizon and reach its full potential.

Richter directed the conversation to prognosticate on the applications to come within 3D and 4D tradecraft. Lavier excitedly described what he hoped the future: the ability for “any user or any teenager to be able to drag and drop his or her neighborhood within a game engine and just develop an application as easy as they develop video games today.” 

As it turns out, 3D and 4D leaders anticipate entertainment and diversion applications of their technology just as much as they expect practical, real-world problem-solving applications.

The discussion then turned to address the technical and cultural challenges that remain between the present day and both the near and distant future concerning 3D and 4D modeling and the metaverse. There are many elements to consider—data rights, sharing, public acceptance, dissemination, and regulatory policy, to name a few—that may delay the adoption of 3D and 4D technology. Despite these obstacles, panelists agreed that a focus on tomorrow’s trends would best prepare today’s problem-solvers. 

Lavier mentioned both legal and licensing barriers, especially depending on the data source. 

Though legal and policy frameworks are, at times, lagging behind the proliferation of 3D and 4D technology, he maintained that “government agencies are…very interested in seeing what happens when you start mixing open data with commercial data.” In other words, there is still an overwhelming level of public and private interest in progress that exceeds the concern for establishing a comprehensive set of standards and practices before development begins.

Cozzi went on to further explain why legal issues still exist at such a late stage in the technological age. “Many people don’t realize that in the data agreements that were created 5, 10, 15 years ago…nobody was even thinking about creating derived machine learning models from the data,” he said. “Now we’re in a situation where there are many contracts and dependencies that simply prevent us from offering capability around advanced analysis and modes of use that are needed and actually in demand from our customers.”  

Understandably, many of the legal complications with 3D and 4D modeling stem from the times in which 21st-century technology has extended beyond the imaginative foresight of a 20th-century legal team.

The issue of intellectual property, credit, and ownership also plays a large role in constructing GEOINT products. These legal problems may not always be entirely negative, however. Every company has the right to create its own terms of service agreement for instance. Because of this fragmentation, Cozzi predicted an increase in competitiveness regarding what companies will and will not allow with respect to data usage, management, and manipulation. 

“I think [this] will be good for all of us downstream,” he said.

“Leveraging these capabilities [includes] removing some limitations,” Loze added, “because you will create scenes that suddenly become geotypical instead of geospecific.”

These legal, technical, and ideological breakthroughs will, again, require creativity and innovation on the development side, but perhaps collaboration with consumers is also a crucial pillar to fulfilling the true potential of 3D and 4D visualization. 

“It’s maybe time to look at it from the user’s perspective and build-up environments based on consumption or the application of the user’s intents,” Lavier revealed. “Our challenge is to try and guess what the user wants to experience.”

The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation thanks Ash Richter, Patrick Cozzi, Chris Andrews, Sebastien Loze, and Sebastien Lavier for their outstanding dialogue revolving around 3D and 4D visualization.

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Posted by Lauren Est