Friday, June 16, 2006

Google Earth 4.0: A New Ballgame

Here's a lesson in "be careful what you wish for"...

All along the development of Earth Connector for AutoCAD and Earth Connector for Revit (soon to be public, I promise!), I've been grumbling - the buildings look so flat, there's no textures... Google Earth has such fast rendering, but the 3D geometry is so... basic.

So along comes Google Earth 4.0 (Beta). And right off the bat, the pictures show even more impressive 3D, along with far more realistic texturing (see picture).

As I dig into what makes it possible though, I start to feel mildly ill... Instead of improving upon the geometry capabilities of KML, Google has gone down a completely different route. They've brought in Collada - an industry-standard XML format for representing 3D models (at least it claims to be industry-standard in some industries - I personally had not heard of it - apparently it's well integrated with Maya, Studio Max, etc).

The Good
Our recent efforts to pull more AutoCAD solid and region data into KML have shown the fundamental inadequacy of KML for more complicated surfaces. Because KML represents faces by their boundaries, Google Earth arbitrarily defines what a face looks like (and for a given boundary, there are many possible permutations when you talk about more complicated, non-planar faces).

Further, by pushing this data into the Collada file and then referencing it within KML, this should make it easier to "reposition" data once it has been generated (since the KML does some of the work we currently do to position the 3D model at a given lat/long).

In fact, the new mechanism for "Placing" a 3D model in space is awesome... once you have the 3D completed, you just drag it into the right location all within Google Earth (for you current architectural Earth Connector users, you know how much better that is).

The Bad
While everything in Earth Connector will continue to work, if we want to move forward with the "nicer" 3D - we'll have to re-work everything into this Collada format.

If my initial suspicion is correct, this new format may also change one of the things that I really liked about our Earth Connector products - the ability to segment models, so that you could toggle Roofs/Windows/Walls on and off - this doesn't seem to be possible within a Collada file...

The Moral of the Story
Be careful what you wish for - you might just get it!

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