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What Is 3D GIS And Why Is It Important?

What Is 3D GIS And Why Is It Important?

Cesar Suarez
By Cesar Suarez
Geospatial Product Manager
Oct 26th 2020
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Before computers became a part of our everyday lives, maps were both static and paper-based.

As we entered the computer age, maps became not only digital but also dynamic, allowing us to better track and measure changes in land use and land cover.

Medieval map of Constantinople. This is as 3D as it got in the 16th Century.

Digital maps also allowed the “democratization” of the third dimension as computers offered an easy viewing of 3D maps from multiple angles through a virtual camera. This capability gave map users a new perspective: bringing them close to the ground and providing them with detailed views of the environment, as well as soaring skyward to experience large-scale terrain features and topography.

3D maps give us the ability to represent and navigate complex datasets and concepts

Aside from the obvious visual appeal of a 3D representation, 3D maps give us the ability to represent and navigate complex datasets and concepts. Whether it be the trajectory of an aircraft, line of sights, electro-magnetic signals, or the verticality of a dense urban environment, 3D maps of complex and diverse environments are extremely effective at helping visualize space and relativity in an intuitive and natural way.


Without 3D GIS coordinates, 3D maps could not exist. When we talk about 3D in GIS, this typically means adding an extra variable to the (x,y) location, which, in some cases acts as the elevation variable (or z value).

A 2D digital map of building footprints in Singapore, and a VELOCITY reconstruction based on GIS and 3D GIS data.

Using 3D GIS coordinates offers a different perspective in terms of visualization and perception of objects or features. However, its use and maintenance can prove to be a challenge to some extent. Not only because of the need to deal with different software or approaches, but because of the paradigm change that comes with it.

As GIS professionals, we are used to seeing 2D maps all the time, and depending on the type of analysis we are conducting, they are sufficient. Yet, when dealing with multiple stakeholders in a complex environment like, for example, urban scenarios, it is worth looking at things from a different perspective.

Creating a digital twin of a city, means replicating – as accurately as possible – a city with all of its assets, which allows us to simulate and plan scenarios that could have an impact (positive or negative) on a city. Moreover, integrating the digital twin with several other smart technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors facilitates a full integration with the Smart Cities ecosystem, which is constantly generating, collecting, monitoring and analyzing data from different sources and devices, such as, infrastructure, utilities, transportation, and security – amongst others.

Infrastructure GIS: Use Cases

When working with an urban environment, there are several use cases or implementations where the use of 3D GIS adds extra value. For instance, when city planning, cities have limited areas in which to expand. These days, with the growing gentrification process, cities are increasingly looking to expand and grow vertically. planners can now integrate 3D models with a digital version of the city and its assets – or its Digital Twin – to create proper planning initiatives.

Additionally, the increased cost of living in the city has pushed people to look for alternative, more economical solutions, such as living in suburbs. The constant flow of people choosing to live outside a city’s core not only affects the city’s land use, but also puts pressure on city planners to considered changes in its infrastructure. Using 3D GIS during an urban project’s design phase, city planners can now integrate 3D models with a digital version of the city and its assets – or its Digital Twin – to create proper planning initiatives.

At the same time, during the planning phase of a construction project, different stakeholders including architects, engineers, planners, and the community can collaborate and identify the impacts a project can bring to a specific location. Impacts such as environmental (noise, pollution), density analysis, or disaster response could all be integrated and analyzed before the construction phase begins.

Another example is the construction or modification of an airport’s infrastructure. Projects such as the replacement of a new control tower, or the addition of a metro station, or construction of a new hotel or office building in the surrounding area must identify and estimate potential issues, improvements or changes before construction begins. In addition, the wellbeing of passengers, crews, workers and the community in general must also be taken into consideration.

Synthetic environments built using 3D GIS data are not only accurate, but can be used for a wide range of simulation, planning, and design needs.


The Building Information Modeling (BIM) process also plays a key role in facilitating the planning, design, construction and managing of buildings and infrastructures when integrated with 3D GIS approaches.

The integration of 3D GIS provides added value by facilitating the creation of multiple analyses or scenarios – such as the evaluation of various disaster response scenarios within an infrastructure whether it is the evacuation of individuals during a fire, flooding or earthquake. For example, in city areas prone to flooding, it is possible to analyse bridge clearance for evacuating traffic, or for street segments under water, the replacement or improvement of catch basins the storm pipeline system can be predicted and plans made accordingly.

VELOCITY is also able to map and create networks such as transportation, telecomunication, or utilities.

Digital Twin Benefits

Implementing a digital twin and including all of its assets (including infrastructure) allows you to model and simulate different project designs and propose a variety of scenarios that evaluate and address a wide range alternatives to address stakeholder concerns.

Infrastructure projects are often massive in scale, not only from a financial perspective but also in terms of the number of involved stakeholders throughout the process. Incorporating infrastructure 3D models into a digital twin can facilitate the interaction among all those involved and reduce costs when the time comes for the implementation of such projects.

Creating a digital twin is complex.

The results are only as good as the data used. Of course, 3D GIS data is essential for this endeavor, but adding more layers of detail and complexity can enhance the final product. Data such as satellite imagery, point clouds, WAMI, hyperspectral imagery, and a slew of commercial, public and private data can be used. The integration of sensors, for example, is critical for smart cities, as it adds an analytical component.

Presently, there exists a few software solutions can help you with a digital twin project. Presagis, for example, has created VELOCITY, an AI-powered content creation solution that is able to consume large amounts of data to produce rich and immersive 3D environments – whether they be facilities, cities, or entire countries. Easily integrated into existing workflows and work environments, VELOCITY’s advantage lies in the ability to ingest multiple sources of data and intelligently creating a 3D synthetic environment in an automated manner.

The creation of maps has come a long way – especially in the last 50 years. At Presagis, we are comitted to helping the GIS community through research and innovation to ensure that the next decade is just as exciting.

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3D synthetic representation of Honolulu created using Presagis' VELOCITY – an automated content creation solution..

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To quickly create a digital twin environment is invaluable. Presagis solutions empower architects, engineers, and builders to create digital twins of facilities, neighborhoods, cities, and countries in order to model and simulate project design alternatives.