Markets Technology

The Shift from 2D to 3D

  1. The Aero and Defense Test 2009 Show will be staged at the Baltimore Convention Center Sept. 29 and 30.
  2. I have been searching for the lowest common denominator theme for the technology era we are living in.
  3. My vote is that this is when the mainstream switches from 2D to 3D workflows and technology.

Before getting on another soap box, I wanted to make note of next week’s Aero and Defense Test 2009 Show in Baltimore, MD. Being staged on Sept. 29 and 30 at the Baltimore Convention Center, this event will feature all of the major players in this huge industry. There will certainly be plenty of opportunity to discuss 3D laser scanning with the participants.

Which in a way leads me to the topic for today. I have been trying to distill the technology era in which we find ourselves down into one common, universal theme. As the title of the post indicates I think it will be seen as the time in which we switched from 2D to 3D. Regardless of which technology you choose, whether it be hardware or software based I think history will note this past 5 years and at least the next 5 as the time in which the standard operating procedures and workflows switched from 2D to 3D.

Of course in certain industries, like automotive this has been going on for a much longer time and the shift has probably already occurred. But that is the exception. Most users of CAD and GIS, for instance are still working in 2D. More importantly the required deliverables are still 2D and in many cases paper.

Which in many ways is encouraging, in terms of the future potential growth of 3D products and of course the need for 3D data capture and analysis. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, laser scanning is one of the core technologies for supporting this truly paradigm shift in engineering, design, construction, manufacturing – the list goes on and on.

Do you agree that this will be the 3D era?


  • I bet that for the vast majority of GIS users 3D is strictly a visualization medium. Until spatial analysis tools transition to 3D, the 2D environment will still be important. I think it is worth noting that 2D has persisted not simply due to technological limitations, but because humans are very adept at taking 2D data, like aerial imagery, and understanding the inherent 3D environment it represents. I would never argue that 2D display provides everything we need, but in many cases 2D data can adequately represent features of interest.

    We work with a lot of LiDAR (3D) but the end products we generate from GIS analysis are 2D. Sometimes I lament that I am dumbing down the data, but sometimes simplified representations are more meaningful. I bring this up because I don’t think 3D data necessarily means 3D GIS, as sometimes the value of 3D data is that it can improve the accuracy of 2D end products.

  • Great question Gene, I definitely agree that we are in an era of 3D. It’s all around us – product design and manufacturing, Google Earth, video games, our movies, etc. I bet folks are already working on 3D TV! Oh boy…

    As for how this transition occurs, back in my early days in the aerospace business (way back in the mid-80’s!), we realized we were now engineering the parts in a 3D environment using Catia, but that we lacked effective tools for measuring the actual as-built parts in 3D, at least for larger parts out on the assembly floor.

    That led us to develop the Faro Arm portable CMM, which then led to laser line scanners on the arms, paralleled by the development of white-light patch-based scanners and may other scanning systems, and now today’s marketplace with many solutions. And this was over some 25 years.

    So as a parallel, as the AEC industry is now adopting more 3D design tools and environments, such as BIM, we are seeing the adoption of the 3D measurement tools, specifically long range spherical laser scanners. And we’re also seeing the growth and adoption in downstream uses for scan data for visualizations, analysis, documentation, quality control, reconstruction, etc.

    The bigger question on the 2D to 3D conversion is when and how all of this 3D content will be made available and presented on the internet? I’d like to virtually visit museums and historical sites around the world from my desktop…

    Michael Raphael
    Direct Dimensions, Inc.

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