Conservation Biology Institute Webinar

Tangible Landscape

as a tool for modeling and science communication
Helena Mitasova, Anna Petrasova, Brendan Harmon, Vaclav Petras, Payam Tabrizian, Ross Meentemeyer
North Carolina State University

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


surface points lines areas areas

Applications: topographic analysis


Applications: visibility

Visibility and line of sight

Applications: solar analysis

Solar irradiation and cast shadows

Applications: trail planning

Optimized trail routing between waypoints based on energetics, topography, and cost maps with feedback including trail slopes and viewsheds

Applications: 3D soil moisture exploration

Applications: wildfire spread

Applications: Sudden Oak Death management

Using Tangible Landscape in participatory modeling:

  • participants together explore options to slow down the spread of SOD in Sonoma using tangible user interface
  • stochastic, spatially-explicit model (Meentemeyer et al. 2011) implemented in R (by F. Tonini)

Applications: Sudden Oak Death management

Applications: urban growth

Simulation of urban growth scenarios with FUTURES model

Application: erosion control

Sculpting a check dam to retain storm water and reduce erosion

Application: erosion control

Placing colored felt to modify land cover. Adding grass (light green) and patches of trees (darker green) changes the c-factor thus reducing erosion.

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

System setup

projector, scanner, stand, computer, model, table

Total budget: $2500




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

Current work

Tangible Landscape + Immersive Virtual Reality

Tangible Landscape + Immersive Virtual Reality

Immersive Tangible Geospatial Modeling

Presented at ACM SIGSPATIAL 2016: see publication

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