GIS Tech News #9

12 Sep, 2005

Cadalyst GIS Tech News

High Visibility

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses 3D printer models to plan military action — and to support Hurricane Katrina response

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is using a 3D model of New Orleans — generated by a 3D printer using digital geospatial information — to support its Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. This new printing technology cuts weeks of labor from the construction of topographic models and displays details that other technologies cannot match, according to its developer,
Z Corporation

3D Perspective
The U.S. Army Corps' Engineer Research and Development Center's Topographic Engineering Center Current Operations Team created the large 3D solid model of a portion of New Orleans using Z Corp.'s Z810 3D printer. The model measures 19" x 22" x 4" high and required 3-4 hours to print. It helps the Army Corps visualize geographic details, street configurations, building locations and other features in a way that isn't possible using other types of mapping.

This 3D color model of a section of New Orleans was created using the Z Corp. Z810 3D printer. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is using the model to aid response to Hurricane Katrina.

The Army Corps has been using the 3D printer to produce models of cities, mountainous areas and other complex terrain around the world in support of military operations and related applications. The models help military tacticians understand the lay of the land in advance to protect troops.

"When you look at a topographic feature on the ground, you see it differently than you do when looking at the contour lines on a map that depict the feature," said retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeffrey Popp of the U.S. Army ERDC's (Engineer Research and Development Center) Topographic Engineering Center. "A 3D model allows you to visualize the terrain without actually being there."

How It Works
The 3D printer transforms digital geospatial files into detailed 3D color models in as little as two hours, printing 1-2 vertical inches per hour. The same task takes weeks or more using sand tables, manually assembled models or other traditional approaches, and producing the 3D models is relatively inexpensive. The printer can scale models up or down, if desired, and can even build models larger than the size of its build box by tiling the image and printing one tile at a time, to be assembled by the user. The models are lightweight, transportable and durable enough for repeated use in operational environments, according to Z Corp. Their high detail helps increase users' understanding of complex geospatial features — and, it turns out, they are of particular value in developed areas.

"We're seeing a growing number of users in the geographic information systems realm use our printers to better visualize landscapes for applications from military planning to hydrological analysis, site selection, emergency services and civil engineering," said Z Corp. president Tom Clay. "We're honored to see the U.S. Army use our products to improve the safety of troops worldwide."

The Z810 system is also used in applications such as manufacturing to produce product prototypes for design review, form and fit testing, and casting, and in architecture to produce models of residential and commercial buildings.

The U.S. Geological Survey's Office of Communications reports that USGS scientists are using geospatial and mapping technology to help emergency responders find stranded victims of Hurricane Katrina. When victims contact 911, it's nearly impossible for rescue crews to locate individuals in flooded areas by their street names and addresses. USGS is working with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Louisiana Geological Survey to remedy the situation by using geoaddressing, wherein researchers, using geographic information systems, are able to take street addresses and provide longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates.

These maps are then provided to rescue-helicopter pilots to assist in locating those people who remain stranded in flooded areas of New Orleans. USGS has assisted with thousands of calls and e-mail messages from stranded hurricane victims or individuals who know where victims are stranded. For more information, click here.

USGS also reports it is supplying geospatial data products to the White House, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers, National Guard troops and other federal partners. It is providing imagery, critical infrastructure data, elevation products and various forms of mapping information, including map products generated with updated FEMA-HAZUS critical infrastructure data integrated onto flood inundation areas in the New Orleans area. The USGS also created maps showing posthurricane satellite imagery, pumping station locations with available capacity, and levee breaches, as well as maps that provided information about oil, gas and electric power infrastructure in New Orleans. To view the USGS Natural Hazards Support System with updated geospatial data that was developed in support of Hurricane Katrina response activities, click here.

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Bentley 2005 InRoads User Training Conference
October 3-5, 2005
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