A group of public and private bodies have banded together to create a new entity charged with building a 3D virtual recreation of Australia and New Zealand.
VANZI, the Virtual Australia & New Zealand Initiative, has been summoned into existence by the Co-Operative Research Centre for Spatial Information, the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing, the Australian Logistics Council, the Municipal Association of Victoria and National ICT Australia (NICTA).
The new company's mission is to work with owners of spatial data to devise a way they can all share it more effectively and widely online.
The idea for VANZI started with “recognition that the geospatial has been tied up in a mapping viewpoint,” says Michael Haines, VANZI's CEO. Elsewhere in industry, meanwhile, businesses are busy creating 3D models of their buildings and assets for reasons including the creation of training simulations, risk management and myriad other applications.
“That work is left without a spatial context,” Haines says. “But if you bring it all together and create a virtual world you end up with more and more of what is generated in one place.”
Haines imagines city planners and policy makers will enjoy access to 3D models as they go about their work, but the benefits could be as simple as being able to construct a 3D model of a building and the surrounding water pipes and and electricity ducts. For business such a model would help with construction planning. For home owners it could mean an easier way to find phone lines before a gardening accident cuts off the neighbourhood's internet connection.
VANZI envisages individuals will create data about their own properties and Haines believes Apps will emerge to help individuals do so. He also hopes that over time a 3D model of every building in Australia and New Zealand will reach a database somewhere.
But VANZI won't host that database or provide an online service to access 3D models. Instead, the organisation is working on legal and technology frameworks to allow the sharing of 3D data and foresees a role for itself analogous to the bodies that facilitate transactions between banks so that creators of 3D data can share it among trusted and authorised partners.
Haines' preferred scheme will mean that the owner of an asset will have the choice of whether or not to make their models available. If they choose to do so, their identity and right to do so will be verified. “It could be like going to Australia Post to get a passport,” he says.
Asset owners will then be able to determine who can access or alter its spatial data and how it will be consumed.
Privacy will be a key element of VANZI. Haines says that if a homeowner cannot see over their fence to a neighbour's backyard in the real world, that same impairment should remain in the virtual version of Australia and New Zealand.
Haines hopes to test this approach in the Australian Capital Territory in late 2012 and says he plans to initiate discussions with State and Territory governments about the legislation needed to make VANZI real.
“I think this will be a 20 year journey,” Haines says. “Over the next few months we'll get a clearer picture, but at the moment it looks positive.”