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The Vision

The Digital Earth as a Platform for Virtual Communities


To demonstrate the potential of the Digital Earth, we have been using existing imagery and elevation data to create a digital Yosemite National Park  We have created a terrain visualization of the Park using 15m Landsat 7 imagery and 30m DEMs. This visualization will soon be supplemented with 1m aerial imagery so that more detailed features can be seen.  Using this visualization as a foundation, we plan to enable communities of users to share georeferenced data about the park “in place.”

We are proposing a formal partnership with Yosemite National Park.  SRI will adapt its Digital Earth tools to create a virtual Yosemite environment within which data can be shared.  Our intent is to create a system, in the next two years, wherein anyone with georeferenced data about the Park can make that data available via this environment.  Then finding information about a place in the Park becomes a matter of “flying” to that spot in the virtual environment using a web browser plugin.  This intuitive style of data access will make GIS and other location-oriented data accessible to the general public on a dramatic new level.

We envision that this system will be used by the Park and some of its educational endeavors, such as WildLink, in the following way:  Researchers in the field will post their data to the system, and students in the classroom will then be able to discover and investigate that data in the virtual environment.  So, if a student were interested in a particular location, say the Chain Lakes, they could use the interface to “fly” to that region.  As they approach they would cascade through a continuous series of increasingly higher resolution terrain models, giving them a powerful sense of the look and shape of the terrain.  Then, any supplementary data associated with the place will appear.  Such data might be geometric models of objects on the ground (trees, buildings, etc…), scientifically generated models (simulations results, GIS vector data, etc…), or icons linking students to external data sources (media, papers, etc…).  Using the same interface, students will be able to submit and access their own commentary, annotations, media, and other data.

The same system could also be made available to travelers and photographers. The QuickTimeVR (QTVR) community would provide an excellent first user testbed for this application.  This community of panoramic photographers, who already have a wealth of QTVR data online, would be able to use the Digital Earth to share their images with the world by making their pictures available via this shared virtual space.  Eventually, as the system is made publicly available, travelers could annotate their experiences at various places within the Park.  Then, when planning trips, travelers could call upon this information resource to help decide where they want to go.  It is our expectation that the utility of this resource will expand exponentially as the diversity of users and data increases.  Many scenarios are imaginable: a researcher attempting to choose the next focus area of their study may be pleased to find a plethora of ground photographs taken by tourists of the places they are considering, or an amateur birder planning a birding tour in the park may benefit by being able to access the observations made by an ecologist or a student project.

The Virtual Yosemite project could become an invaluable resource for the community, facilitating scientific research, education, travel, and resource management.  If successful, we envision expanding the project to eventually include the National Park System as a whole.  This effort could serve as a representative example for future Digital Earth projects.

 

Copyright ©2000 SRI International. All rights reserved.

For more information, please contact: digital-earth@ai.sri.com.
Last Updated: Friday, 07-Jul-2000 10:17:40 PDT.