GeoForAll Webinar

Tangible Landscape:

open source environment for geospatial learning, science, and community
Helena Mitasova, Anna Petrasova, Brendan Harmon, Vaclav Petras, Payam Tabrizian, Ross Meentemeyer
North Carolina State University

Inaugural GeoForAll - UCGIS - ASPRS webinar

The first webinar in an open source geospatial series offered by

  • GeoForAll: Education and research outreach initiative by OSGeo
  • UCGIS: University Consortium for Geographic Information Science
  • ASPRS: American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing

The webinar is presented by the GeoForAll Laboratory at the Center for Geospatial Analytics (CGA), North Carolina State University

CGA is an interdisciplinary research and education center with focus on geospatial computing, modeling, analytics and geovisualization.

We offer MGIST professional master's degree (on-line and on-campus) and a new PhD in Geospatial Analytics planned for launch in Fall 2017


Helena Mitasova

Associate Director of Geovisualization

Anna Petrasova

PhD student at MEAS

Brendan Harmon

PhD student
College of Design

Vaclav Petras

PhD student at MEAS

Payam Tabrizian

PhD student
College of Design

Ross Meentemeyer

CGA Director

Motivation for Tangible Interfaces for GIS

  • Interaction through mouse, keyboard and display does not encourage creativity.
  • Manipulating computer models is not intuitive and requires specialized software and training.
  • Collaboration is restricted as typically only one user at a time can navigate and modify models.

The first tangible interface prototypes

Sandscape and Illuminating Clay

Ishii H., Ratti C., Piper B., Wang Y., Biderman A. and Ben-Joseph E. "Bringing clay and sand into digital design—continuous tangible user interfaces." BT technology journal 22.4 (2004): 287-299.

Image source: MIT Media Lab

Tangible interface linked with GIS

Tangible Geospatial Modeling System (TanGeoMS)

L. Tateosian, H. Mitasova, B. A. Harmon, B. Fogleman, K. Weaver, and R. S. Harmon, “TanGeoMS: tangible geospatial modeling system.,” IEEE Trans. Vis. Comput. Graph., vol. 16, no. 6, pp. 1605–12, 2010.

Kinect-based systems

Augmented Reality Sandbox by KeckCAVES

Expensive laser scanners replaced by low cost Kinect

Image source:

Tangible Landscape: real-time coupling with GIS

With Tangible Landscape you can hold a GIS in your hands - feeling the shape of the earth, sculpting its topography, and directing the flow of water.

How it works

Tangible Landscape couples a digital and a physical model through a continuous cycle of 3D scanning, geospatial modeling, and projection

Building physical 3D models

Hand sculpting from polymeric sand

Hand sculpting with difference feedback

blue → add sand, red → remove sand

3D printing

CNC routing large complex models and molds

Casting polymeric sand

In-situ digital fabrication

A 3-axis CNC milling machine to model a landscape in polymer-enriched sand using a plunge cut

Overview of different setups

1 stand, ceiling projector, medium-sized models

Overview of different setups

2 stands, short-throw projector, large models but with distortion

Overview of different setups

2 stands, pocket projector, small models

Overview of different setups

1 stand, portable projector, medium-sized models

Overview of different setups

1 stand, projector with special lens, large models


TypeProduct exampleCost
ComputerSystem76 Oryx Pro$1500
ProjectorOptoma ML750 WXGA LED$500
3D sensorXbox One Kinect$100
Kinect Adapter for Windows$50
Stand2 x Avenger 40-Inch C-Stand with Grip Kit$400
2 x Avenger 3-Inch Baby Wall Plate$20
PeripheralsHDMI cable, extension cord$20
Modeling mediaWaba Fun Kinetic Sand 11 Lbs$50



GRASS GIS 7Geospatial modeling and visualization
libfreenect2Drivers for Kinect v2
PCLPoint cloud processing


  • TUI: no GIS expertise needed, users control the landscape shape
  • GUI: to operate Tangible Landscape and control scanning and displayed layers
  • API: using Python GRASS API to create GIS workflows, examples at Workshop at FOSS4G NA 2016


surface points lines areas

Applications: topographic analysis


Applications: visibility

Visibility analysis

Applications: solar analysis

Solar irradiation and cast shadow

Applications: 3D soil moisture exploration

Applications: wildfire spread

Applications: urban growth

Simulation of urban growth scenarios with FUTURES model

Serious games: coastal flooding

Save houses from coastal flooding by building coastal defenses

Structured problem-solving with rules, challenging objectives, and scoring

Serious games: Termite infestation

Manage the spread of termites across a city by treating city blocks using a model of biological invasion in R

Current work

Tangible Landscape + Immersive Virtual Reality

Tangible Landscape + Immersive Virtual Reality

Tangible Landscape for designers

Intuitive, collaborative environment for landscape design augmented with geospatial analyses.

Tangible Landscape for education

Method to improve understanding of geospatial algorithms, processes and interactions.

Tangible Landscape for communities

Platform for decision-making and science communication where people of different backgrounds can interact.

Making geospatial data and tools accessible to all

Tangible Landscape for researchers and developers

Tool for rapid generation of test data for development and evaluation of geospatial algorithms.

Creating test DEMs for landscape evolution analysis

Open source

Tangible Landscape plugin for GRASS GIS

GRASS GIS module for importing data from Kinect v2

Tangible Landscape repository on Open Science Framework