Autodesk Labs' Latest Preview Inspires Map 3D Users

18 Jan, 2012 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

A new software extension simplifies the process of searching spatial metadata on catalog servers.

On January 5, Autodesk Labs launched a free technology preview of Project Inspire for AutoCAD Map 3D 2012. The project was developed in support of INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community), a 2007 directive to create a European Union spatial data infrastructure (SDI). According to the European Commission, "[The SDI] will enable the sharing of environmental spatial information among public-sector organizations and better facilitate public access to spatial information across Europe ... [and] assist in policy-making across boundaries."

Project Inspire is designed to help AutoCAD Map 3D users share INSPIRE-compliant data using a Catalog Service for the Web (CSW) interface. CSW is an Open Geospatial Consortium specification that defines interfaces for searching metadata. According to Autodesk, the result is that Map 3D users can more easily share spatial information, both locally and over the Internet.

Justin Lokitz, senior product manager of infrastructure modeling at Autodesk, explained that it's far more cost-effective for organizations to share existing data than to acquire it from scratch for every project. "INSPIRE is something of growing importance – more so now than ever," he stated. "Getting people to go out and capture information is really expensive."

Local Needs, Global Standards

INSPIRE's purpose, Lokitz explained, is to get the necessary standards in place so users can easily search and share data from many organizations — just as Google users can quickly sift through masses of information from a wide variety of sources. That's no small feat in a community as complex as the European Union, where data is being shared in more than 200 formats, said Lokitz.

The multifacted region has an enhanced need for this kind of data, however. "In Europe, which is divided into so many countries, every piece of infrastructure, at some point in time, is going to touch a geopolitical boundary. Geospatial data is needed to understand what's happening and how it's affecting the citizens."

The importance of INSPIRE isn't limited to one region of the world, however. It's an umbrella directive for utilizing standards that affect all spatial data consumers, said Lokitz. "It's a European directive, but it really spans the entire globe in some way or another," he said, noting that Autodesk is already getting feedback from Project Inspire users in countries including India, Brazil, and Japan. "They think this brings some great capabilities to their countries — capabilities that they didn't have, or had only to a limited extent." Even U.S. organizations, used to an environment where data-exchange standards aren't as pervasive, benefit from complying with INSPIRE standards, stressed Lokitz.

Currently, Project Inspire is available in English, French, and German. Lokitz expects that list to grow in the future, since AutoCAD Map 3D is available in more than a dozen languages.

Flipping Through a Catalog

Autodesk has a substantial customer base in Europe, but that wasn't the only impetus behind developing Project Inspire. "At Autodesk, we have been implementing the underlying standards for INSPIRE for a very long time," said Lokitz. "In Map 3D, we have had the capability to edit INSPIRE data for about four years now, because our customers around the world utilize these things ... It's a natural fit for us to create the pieces that are needed to encapsulate these standards and be part of INSPIRE directives."

The Project Inspire extension works with the existing metadata editor inside Map 3D to ensure that metadata is properly transformed into an INSPIRE-compatible product. Lokitz said that the biggest benefit of Project Inspire, however, is the ability to connect to a catalog server on the Internet or an intranet; find data based on metadata, a geographic search, or both; and use it in Map 3D. "It's about the the metadata, but also about connecting to an established catalog server, searching, finding, and binding to that existing data."

Applications include asynchronous sharing, such as finding government mapping data for a corporation or a separate government agency, and internal sharing. In the latter case, an organization can set up its own catalog server for internal use that's totally cut off from public access.

Interactive Research

Lokitz observed that that customer feedback is an essential factor in developing Project Inspire and every other Autodesk Labs venture. "Based on users' feedback, we may graduate a project from Labs — as a better product than it was when it was launched — or we can cost-effectively discontinue it if they don't find it valuable."

Autodesk's open approach is intended to benefit both the company's end users and its product developers. "We relish handing over that control to our users and letting them help guide us in the right direction," said Lokitz. "It gives us a lot of flexibility not just for testing software, but for testing people's reaction to software."

If you'd like to take part in this process for Project Inspire, you can send your feedback to or share it at the Autodesk Map 3D discussion forum. The technology preview will operate until December 31, 2012.

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