FOSS4G 2017

Immersive Tangible Modeling with Geospatial Data

Payam Tabrizian, Anna Petrasova, Brendan Harmon, Vaclav Petras, Helena Mitasova
North Carolina State University

The talk 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.

Tangible Landscape
Immersive Virtual Environment (IVE)

Why tangible geospatial modeling interfaces?

  • Interaction through mouse, keyboard and display does not encourage creativity.
  • Working with geospatial models and analysis 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.

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


surface points lines areas areas

Applications: visibility

Visibility analysis

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

     Perspective view of inundated landscape                       Surface inundation and flow model

The coupling rationale

  • Real-time updating a georeferenced 3D model of the landscape based on user interaction with Tangible Landscape
  • Updating the attributes (shape, position) of 3D objects (e.g., plants) and surfaces (e.g., terrain) with their corresponding tangible objects
  • Enabling user to control the viewpoints (camera position) and animation (e.g., walkthrough, flythrough)

Physical setup

What is Blender? Why Blender?

  • Free and open source 3d modeling and game engine software
  • Easy scripting (Python)
  • GIS and Virtual reality plugin
  • High-quality real-time rendering and shading

Software Architecture

Landform and water bodies

Interaction: hand, sculpting knife
3D processing: terrain GeoTIFF raster and water polygon
Simulation: Water flow (r.sim.water), Ponding (r.fill.dir)
Projection: Water Surface Area, Mean depth

Vegetated surfaces

Interaction: Felt pieces, laser pointer
3D processing: Importing and populating species classes using the plants library
Simulation: Complexity, Heterogeneity, Biodiversity, Remediation capacity, Landscape structure analysis (
Projection: Percent remediated, No of patches, patch richness, Shannon Diversity,

Linear features, trails

Interaction: Wooden markers, Laser pointer
3D processing : Importing polyline shapefiles and extrusion based on patch profile, assigning animation and camera path
Simulation: Traveling salesman (Python heuristic), Least-cost-path analysis (r.walk), Slope analysis
Feedback: Trail profile, slope, least-cost path

Human views

Interaction: Wooden marker, Laser pointer
3D processing : Importing polyline shapefiles and extrusion based on patch profile, assigning animation and camera path
Simulation: Viewshed
Feedback: Viewshed area, depth of view, viewdepth variation




              Abstract (Low-poly)                                                          Realistic (viewport shading)

Even more realistic

Render engine: Cycles        GPU Rendering time: 1 min       100 samples

Future work

  • User studies (creativity, problems solving, decision-making, collaboration, participation)
  • Completing the features library (plant species, urban features)
  • Research application

Open source

Tangible Landscape plugin for GRASS GIS

GRASS GIS module for importing data from Kinect v2

Tangible Landscape repository on Open Science Framework