SA8905 – Cartography & Visualization
Automation’s prevalence in society is becoming normalized as corporations have begun noticing its benefits and are now utilizing artificial intelligence to streamline everyday processes. Previously, this may have included something as basic as organizing customer and product information, however, in the last decade, the automation of delivery and transportation has exponentially grown, and a utopian future of drone deliveries may soon become a reality. The purpose of this visualization project is to convey what automated drone deliveries may resemble in a small city and what types of obstacles they may face as a result of their deployment. A step-by-step process will also be provided so that users can learn how to create a 3D visualization of cities, import 3D objects into ArcGIS Pro, convert point data into 3D visualizations, and finally animate a drone flying through a city. This is extremely useful as 3D visualization provides a different perspective that allows GIS users to perceive study areas from the ground level instead of the conventional birds-eye view.
Area of Study
The focus area for this pilot study is Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada. The city of Niagara Falls was chosen due to its characteristics of being a smaller city but nonetheless still containing buildings over 120 meters in height. These buildings sizes provide a perfect obstruction for simulating drone flights as Transport Canada has set a maximum altitude limit of 120 meters for safety reasons. Niagara Falls also contains a good distribution of Canada Post locations that will be used as potential drone deployment centres for the package deliveries. Additionally, another hypothetical scenario where all drones deploy from one large building will be visualized. In this instance, London’s gherkin will be utilized as a potential drone-hive (hypothetically owned by Amazon) that drones can deploy from (See https://youtu.be/mzhvR4wm__M). Due to the nature of this project being a pilot study, this method be further expanded in the future to larger dense areas, however, a computer with over 16GB of RAM and a minimum of 8GB of video memory is highly recommended for video rendering purposes. In the video below, we can see the city of Niagara Falls rendered in ArcPro with the gherkin represented in a blue cone shape, similarly, the Canada Post buildings are also represented with a dark blue colour.
The data for this project was derived from numerous sources as a variety of file types were required. Regarding data directly relating to the city of Niagara Falls – Cellular Towers, Street Lights, Roads, Property parcel lines, Building Footprints and the Niagara Falls Municipal Boundary Shapefiles were all obtained from Niagara Open data and imported into ArcPro. Similarly, the Canada Post Locations Shapefile was derived from Scholar’s Geoportal. In terms of the 3D objects – London’s Gherkin, was obtained from TurboSquid in and the helipad was obtained from CGTrader in the form of DAE files. The Gherkin was chosen because it serves as a hypothetic hive building that can be employed in cities by corporations such as Amazon. Regarding the helipad 3D model, it will be distributed in numerous neighbourhoods around Niagara Falls as a drop-off zones for the drones to deliver packages. In a hypothetical scenario, people would be alerted on their phones as to when their package is securely arriving, and they would visit the loading zone to pick up their package. It should be noted that all files were copyright-free and allowed for personal use.
Process (Step by step)
First, access the Niagara Open Data website and download all the aforementioned files in the search datasets box. Ensure that the files are downloaded in SHP format for recognition in ArcPro (Names are listed at the end of this blog). Next, go on TurboSquid and search for the Gherkin and make sure that the price drop down has a minimum and maximum value of $0 (Figure 1). Additionally, search for ‘Simple helipad free 3D model’ on CGtrader. Ensure that these files are downloaded in DAE format for recognition in ArcPro. Once all files are downloaded open ArcPro and import the Shape files (via Add Data) to first conduct some basic analysis.
Basic GIS Analysis
First, double click on the symbology box for each imported layer, and a symbology dialog should open on the right-hand side of the screen. Click on the symbol box and assign each layer with a distinct yet subtle colour. Once this is finished, select the Canada Post Locations layer, and go to the analysis tab and select the buffer icon to create a buffer around the Canada Post Locations. Input features – The Canada Post Locations. Provide a file location and name in the output feature class and enter a value of 5 kilometres for distance and dissolve the buffers (Figure 2). The reason why 5km was chosen is that regular consumer drones have a battery that can last up to ten kilometres (or 30 min flight time), thus traveling to the parcel destination and back would use up this allotted flight time.
Once this buffer is created the symbology is adjusted to a gradient fill within the layer tab of the symbol. This is to show the groupings of clusters and visualize furthering distance from the Canada Post Locations. In this project we are assuming that the Canada Post Locations are where the drones are deploying from, thus this buffer shows the extent of the drones from the location (Figure 3). As we can see, most residential areas are covered by the drone package service. Next, we are going to give the Canada post buildings a distinct colour from the other buildings. Go to ‘Select by Location’ in the ‘Map’ tab and click ‘Select by Location’. In this dialog box, an intersection relationship is created where the input features are the buildings, and the selecting features is the Canada Post location point data. Hit okay, and now create a new layer from the selection and name it Canada Post buildings. Assign a distinct colour to separate the Canada Post buildings from the rest of the buildings.
3D Visualization – Buildings
Now we are going to extrude our buildings in terms of their height in feet. Click on the View tab in ArcPro and click on the Convert to local scene tab. This process essentially creates a 3D visual of your current map. Next you will notice that all of the layers are under 2D view, once we adjust the settings of the layers, we will drag these layers to the 3D layers section. To extrude the buildings, click on the layer and the appearance tab should come up under the feature layer. Click on the Type diagram drop down and select ‘Max Height’. Thereafter, select the field and choose ‘SHAPE_leng’ as this is the vertical height of the buildings and select feet as the unit. Give ArcPro some time and it should automatically move your building’s layer from the 2D to 3D layers section. Perform this same process with the Canada Post Buildings layer.
Now you should have a 3D view of the city of Niagara Falls. Feel free to move around with the small circle on the bottom left of the display page (Figure 4). You can even click the up arrow to show full control and move around the city. Furthermore, can also add shadows to the buildings by right clicking the map 3D layers tab and selecting ‘Display shadows in 3D’ under Illumination.
Converting Point Data into 3D Objects
In this step, we are going to convert our point data into 3D objects to visualize obstructions such as lamp posts and cell phone towers. First click the Street Lights symbol under 2D layers and the symbology pane should open up on the right side of Arc Pro. Click the current symbol box beside Symbol and under the layer’s icon change the type from ‘Shape Marker’ to 3D model marker (Figure 5).
Next, click style, search for ‘street-light’, and choose the overhanging streetlight. Drag the Street Light layer from the 2D layer to the 3D layer. Finally, right-click on the layer and navigate to display under properties. Enable ‘Display 3D symbols in real-world units’ and now the streetlamp point data should be replaced by 3D overhanging streetlights. Repeat this same process for the cellphone tower locations but use a different model.
Importing 3D objects & Texturing
Finally, we are going to import the 3D DAE helipad and tower files, place them in our local scene and apply textures from JPG files. First, go on the view tab, click on Catalog Pane and a Catalog should show up on the right side of the viewer. Expand the Databases folder and your saved project should show up as a GDB. Right-click on the GDB and create a new feature class. Name it ‘Amazon Tower’ and change the type from polygon to 3D object and click finish. You should notice that under Drawing Order there should be a new 3D layer with the ‘Amazon Tower’ file name. Select the layer, go on the edit tab and click create to open up the ‘Create Features’ dialog on the right side of the display panel (Figure 6). Click on the Model File tab, click the blue arrow and finally, click the + button. Navigate to your DAE file location, select it and now your model should show up in the view pane and it will allow you to place it on a certain spot. For our purposes, we’ll reduce the height to 30 feet and adjust the Z position to -40 to get rid of the square base under the tower. Click on the location of where you want to place the tower, close the create feature box, apply the multi-patch tool and clear the selection. Finally, to texture the tower, select the tower 3D object, click on the edit tab and this time hit modify. Under the new modify features pane select multi patch features under reshape. Now go on to Google and find a glass building texture JPG file that you like. Click load texture, choose the file, check the ‘Apply to all’ box and click apply. Now the Amazon tower should have the texture applied on it (Figure 7).
Finally, now that all of the obstructions are created, we are going to animate a drone flying through the city. Navigate to the animation tab on the top pane and click on timeline. This is where individual keyframes will be combined for the purpose of creating a drone package delivery. Navigate your view so that it is resting on a Canada Post Building and you have your desired view. Click on ‘Create first key frame’ to create your first view, next click up on the ‘full control view’ so that the drone flies up in elevation, and click the + to designate this as a new keyframe. Ensure that the height does not exceed 120 meters as this is the maximum altitude for drones, provided by Transport Canada (Bottom left box). Next, click and drag the hand on the viewer to move forward and back and click + for a new keyframe. Repeat this process and navigate the proposed drone to a helipad (Figure 8). Finally, press the ‘Move down’ button to land the done on the helipad and create a new key frame. Congratulations, you have created your first animation in ArcPro!
Through the process of extruding buildings, maintaining a height less than 120 meters, adding in proposed landing spaces, and turning point data into real-world 3D objects we can visualize many obstructions that drones may face if drone delivery were to be implemented in the city of Niagara Falls. Although this is a basic example, creating an animation of a drone flying through certain neighbourhoods will allow analysts to determine which areas are problematic for autonomous flying and which paths would provide a safer option. Regarding the animation portion, there are two possible scenarios that have been created. First, is a drone deployment from the aforementioned Canada Post Locations. This scenario envisions Niagara Falls as having drone package deployment set out directly from their locations. This option would cover a larger area of Niagara Falls as seen through the buffer, however, having multiple locations may be hard to get funding for. Also, people may not want to live close to a Canada Post due to the noise pollution that comes from drones.
Scenario 1. Canada Post Delivery
The second scenario is to utilize a central building that drones can pickup packages from. This is exemplified as the hive delivery building as seen below. In sharp contrast to option 1, a central location may not be able to reach rural areas of Niagara Falls due to the distance limitations of current drones. However, two major benefits are that all drone deliveries could come from a central location and less noise pollution would occur as a result of this.
Scenario 2. Single HIVE Building
Conclusions & Future Research
Overall, it is evident that drone package deliveries are completely possible within the city of Niagara Falls. Through 3D visualizations in ArcPro, we are able to place simple obstructions such as conventional street lights and cell phone towers within the roads. Through this analysis and animation it is evident that they may not pose an issue to package delivery drones when incorporating communal landing zones. For future studies, this research can be furthered by incorporating more obstructions into the map; such as electricity towers, wiring, and trees. Likewise, future studies can also incorporate the fundamentals of drone weight capacity in relation to how far they can travel and overall speed of deliveries. In doing so, the feasibility of drone package deployment can be better assessed and hopefully implemented in future smart cities.
Gerkin Model DAE File https://www.turbosquid.com/3d-models/free-30-st-mary-axe-3d-model/991165
Simple Helipad DAE File – https://cgtrader.com/items/212615/download-page
Postal Outlet Points (2020) – Scholar’s GeoPortal
Niagara Falls Building Footprints (2010) – Niagara Open Data
Road Segments (2021) – Niagara Open Data
Niagara Falls Cellular Tower Locations (2021) – Niagara Open Data
Street Lighting Pilot Project (2021) – Niagara Open Data
Niagara Falls Municipal Boundary (2021) – Niagara Open Data
Niagara Falls Property Parcels (2021) – Niagara Open Data