Virtual Geographic Environments

Data Visualization: Virtual Geographic Environments combining AEC and GIS

A Virtual Geographic Environment (VGEs) is a virtual representation of the natural world that enables a person to explore and interact, in cyberspace, with the vast amounts of natural and cultural information gathered about the physical and cultural environment. Compared with the data-centered GIS, VGE is defined as a human-centered environment. The VGE consists of the five types of space: network spaces, geographic data spaces, multidimensional presentation spaces, sensory/perceptual spaces and social spaces. These spaces make VGE quite different from the traditional virtual reality space associated with unrealistic expectations. VGE is equated with reality by making the spaces continuous and coextensive.

VGE is firstly expected as the topmost human-computer interface for geographic information communication and is definitely related to certain adopted devices or intermedia. The interface technologies include visual, auditory, tracking, primary user input and haptic interfaces, which offer a more intuitive metaphor for human-computer interaction and are widely used in virtual environments. VGE is therefore designed to provide the interaction with a virtual environment in the same way that interaction takes place in the natural world. Because of the multi-sensory perceptual capability, the human-computer communication channel is broadened and we can take advantage of unused ‘bandwidth’ for more flexible spatial information communication during the collaborative design procedure.

As the topmost geographic information communication tool and human-computer interface, the VGEs provide the augmentation of sensory reality, and open up new ways for us to comprehend the real world, as well as the AEC and the GIS worlds. VGEs provide multidimensional and multisensory user-interfaces, intended to facilitate both browsing of the multidimensional dataset and further specific exploration within the same visualization context. Therefore the two distinct areas of AEC and GIS are seamlessly merged in the same VGEs.