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July 27th, 2011
GIS for Virtual Tourism

Esri Australia Principal Technical Consultant Phil Punter said GIS supported technology would usher in a new era of near carbon-free tourism, change the face of real estate, and initiate unparalleled safety standards for renovators and tradespeople.

“Futuristic movies like ‘Back to the Future II’ used to be pure fantasy, but emerging GIS-backed technology is actually closing the gap between our imaginations and reality,” Mr Punter said.

“Imagine being in your living room and watching as your walls turn into the streets of Tokyo, revealing the real-time sights, sounds and happenings of the city.

“You could walk around your home experiencing what’s happening in Japan’s capital at that very moment – all without catching a plane or a train, and producing the tiniest fraction of the carbon footprint created during an actual visit.

“GIS technology will help make this possible within the next decade.”

Mr Punter said the technology that would make all this achievable was already available, but yet to be combined.

“Many cities already have extensive camera systems filming 24 hours a day. There are detailed maps available  and global positioning systems (GPS) have become incredibly accurate,” Mr Punter said.

“It’s a matter of combining the maps and streamed visual and audio data from the cameras, installing screens in the walls in your home, and using GPS to geo-locate yourself and your movements relative to where you are during your virtual visit.”

Mr Punter said with GIS, the ‘Dial Before You Dig’ program – a free community service designed to prevent renovators and tradespeople from hitting buried infrastructure such as water pipes and power lines – could be transformed so that anyone with a mobile phone could make faster, safer decisions when excavating.

“In this scenario, someone about to dig in a certain area would point a device, such as a tablet computer or a mobile phone, at the ground,” Mr Punter said.

“The device would download the relevant maps from an official host site, presenting the user with the underlying infrastructure in almost the same way an x-ray shows what’s beneath a person’s skin.

“This is known as ‘augmented reality’ – where a view of a location is enhanced by graphics, mapping, information and sound.

“Augmented reality has almost unlimited potential. Hold the tablet in front of a house for sale and see inside without entering the door, or scan a car and see how the engine works without lifting the hood.”

Mr Punter said the common factor tying these technologies together was a location.

“Each of these scenarios uses a location and GIS driven mapping technology,” Mr Punter said.

“Location is a common element in so much of what we do. Everything physical has a location – and these technologies take advantage of that.”

Mr Punter said the age old tradition of scaling a mountain and looking down on a city below would never be the same again.

“In the future you’ll lift up your device and instantly see digital indicators that show the locations of the multitude of possible destinations below,” Mr Punter said.

“Want to propose to your partner atop the Empire State Building, or discover what it was like to live in your suburb 200 years ago, or even just find where you can buy the best Aussie pie?

“That’s easy – it’s just below that green arrow on the screen.”