Augmenting the Potential of Participatory GIS

Hedley et al’s 2002 article highlights the state of the art in augmented reality (AR) applications in geovisualization and multi-party collaboration.  Emphasizing a multidisciplinary approach encompassing computer science, human-computer interaction and geovisualization, the authors describe their 3D AR PRISM interface and its successor, the GI2VIZ interface.  Important features of the interfaces they design are representation of multi-attribute data, “support for multiple views” (i.e. ego- and exocentric), “the use of real tools and natural interaction metaphors”, and “support for a shared workspace”.  The interfaces take advantage of three different levels of geovisualization: the physical object, AR object, and even an immersive virtual reality environment complete with avatars.   This allows an arbitrary number of people to interact with an incredibly rich 3D map environment to analyze information and make decisions.  Sort of reminds me of that 3D GIS in James Cameron’s Avatar!

While the antagonist-allegorical colonists of Avatar were certainly not using it as such, this type of technology holds great promise for participatory GIS applications, particularly in urban planning.  Most design charettes today consist of a group of citizens at a table with a paper map, using markers to draw abstractions of desired features and conditions.  With some additions and modifications to the GI2VIZ feature set, it isn’t difficult to imagine citizens being able to collaboratively place markers to represent buildings, roads, landmarks, paths, public spaces and natural areas over a 3D terrain model during the participatory development of a site or neighbourhood plan.  Then, with the help of an engine capable of procedurally generating architectural features and other details, citizens could take a virtual walk through the environment they’ve just designed.  This is just one example of how this technology could produce benefits in planning and participatory GIS applications.

Seeing what the leading edge of technology was in 2002 makes me very excited about the prospects of AR for collaborative geovisualization a decade later.  With Microsoft Surface and Google Glass hardware coming down the pipeline, it is certainly conceivable that we may soon be seeing group AR workspaces become an integral part of GIS practice.  The key challenge in widespread adoption will be in crafting a user interface that rivals the power, comprehensiveness and simplicity of the good old keyboard, mouse and context menus we’re all used to.  Surmount this, and the possibilities are endless.


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