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CityEngine 2018.0 beta and beyond (a sneak peek?) UPDATED

CityEngine 2018.0 beta and beyond (a sneak peek?) UPDATED

Is this technically a sneak peek? – probably not

NOTE: This post has been updated to include response from Pascal Mueller Director of Esri R&D Zurich and the creator of Esri CityEngine, scroll to the end to see his response.

CityEngine 2018.0 beta has been out for a while now and is pretty much over, I’ve been lucky enough to have been using it in anger for a bit too.   Building on the CityEngine 2017.1 release there are some small improvements, new CGA code as well as a couple of new features, but essentially this feels like a minor release which is not a bad thing.  Just because it’s minor doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like progress , it will be well worth the update!   

The Confession

Firstly a confession, the title is a bit of a click-bait (hey if respectable news organisations can try it why can’t I?) I can’t show you a sneak peak this time or really talk about specifics, well because of um beta stuff and all that…. (last time I had a special agreement).  What I can tell you is that if you want to participate in the future CityEngine betas you can sign-up here https://earlyadopter.esri.com .  If you like CityEngine and are interested in where it’s going and of course helping out the team at Esri then I thoroughly recommend you sign up!

I can assure you that some bug fixes have happened and a couple of new features added which complement the analysis side of things.

Where next for CityEngine?

The real interesting thing here is how Esri CityEngine is moving very much in the direction of the urban design / geodesign space now.  As is much of Esri’s push at the moment, 3D is a natural fit for planners and planning departments.  The discussion on cities/urban (smart or otherwise) is a clear market strategy for Esri and the push towards BIM having been resolved through a ‘partnership’ with Autodesk fits nicely.   

Planning, designing and development must take the full picture into account. Create, visualize and share in 3D to make better designs and present your work more effectively. Source: Esri

This I guess poses a question for Esri, does it continue CityEngine long term with so many products that seem to tick the urban space box?  As someone who has trained many clients in CityEngine and offers consultancy services over the last 5 years I certainly have an interest in its future!  There are big questions of whether it will be just consumed by ArcGIS Pro or placed in some cloud container and interacted with via ArcGIS Online.   

I think (and I have no insider knowledge here) the answer is all of these things will happen, but also that CityEngine will continue to be a standalone product for the foreseeable future.   Esri is in the movie industry now and I don’t think it will want to leave that, but also CityEngine is a great design tool that fits Jack’s interest in urban and geodesign.

“is a simple-to-use 3D city editing and visualization tool” – “Build Flexible Scenarios Faster” – “Create Realistic Context”

The real worry for me is what form will CityEngine evolve into.  The marketing literature still talks of easy operation and high quality realistic outputs.   Sorry but it’s not easy to learn or use (from a typical planners perspective) and the high quality outputs don’t come instantly (unless you like Redlands building typologies!).   

Handles don’t help with the usability issues of CityEngine as they require coding to implement

CityEngine’s great power is it’s flexibility of format support and usage.  But it has fundamental technical issues/challenges with terrain and roads that need addressing.   Esri also needs to decide whether this is a tool for the drag and drop users among us, or some highly technical development environment for urban planning.   

One glimmer of light and a direction of travel is the ESRI.lib folder, promisingly for new users it shows a path of drag and drop produce something now.  Unfortunately this seems to have gone a little stale, anyone who does CGA coding in CityEngine knows organising and keeping up to date rule files is difficult especially if projects vary like ours do.    The ESRI.lib has some great rules I use over and over again, roads and trees, in fact the more generic the better!   Give me more of those tree assets!   These smaller rules enable a greater freedom and I can write rules that work with these easily because I know they are installed with every CityEngine workspace.   

In conclusion, and I’m not good at concluding thoughts so forgive me, CityEngine is here to stay but has some challenges to overcome.   Like all software it has to evolve as it’s users ask more of it.  Currently I worry that CityEngine as a tool is too technical for widespread adoption this means that businesses will be reluctant to invest in it if only a hand full of users (CityEngine professionals) are out there.   On the plus side CityEngine professionals like myself will probably have some consultancy work coming our way! 

Update and response from Esri Zurich’s R&D Director

(originally posted as comments on LinkedIn)

So I posted the link to this blog on LinkedIn and amazingly Pascal Muller (read a post I did called Life Changer to understand why I am honoured to get this) very kindly responded.  I have got his permission to post those comments here, these have been copied directly and no editing has been done although I have tried to keep the paragraph breaks.   What I now need to do is a follow up post to contemplating this response! 

 

Thanks Elliot, really great read!

I could answer some of the raised questions : ) hmm, maybe we should do an ‘ask me anything session’ here…

Two things:

(1) You are correct, not a ton of new features in this release. Reason is that we changed our release cycle this year and are releasing now 3 months earlier. As a result the time between CE 2017.1 and CE 2018.0 was much shorter. CE 2018.0 comes out next week and you can expect CE 2018.1 in September instead of November.

(2) Yes, CE is here to stay. There are no plans to discontinue it. In contrary: maybe you have heard about our new product initiative ArcGIS Urban which is basically a streamlined urban planning platform (on top of AGO) for the planning departments of cities. It will feature cool web apps/interfaces and it will also work great with CE. It’s all developed under the same roof here (also includes the 3D JS API 4.x team btw). In the ArcGIS Urban context, CE will (still) be required for the more advanced workflows such as for example Devin’s site plans, Bruno’s Masterplanner, or the various greenfield mega city projects of the HOKs and F+Ps.

ohh, and of course Blade Runner 3 will need these off-world cities Batty was talking about : )

Besides all this, CE continues to be one of Esri’s development platforms where bleeding edge technology gets applied before it goes mainstream, see for example the push on game engines (more about that later…).

Pretty exciting stuff and I am extremely happy that all the pieces fall into place finally, but we know that we have to keep working hard and improve things. Huge thanks for your continuous support and wise long-term thinking.

 
Making the ‘Craftsman Rule’ more interactive….

Making the ‘Craftsman Rule’ more interactive….

In CityEngine you can use a feature called ‘handles’ to add visual controls to your models.  This means you don’t have to interact with specific numbers or values in the inspector.  It also means many more people can use your rules as they were intended.   The real issue here is how much control do you give you users via this method? 

As you can see there is a balance to be had between being highly configurable and being too configurable (i.e. too many attributes to muck around with!).

Early days on the handles, but I’m getting there!

Many people have reached out to me asking whether this rule file will be available for sale sometime.  The answer is probably!  Drop me a message if you’re interested and I’ll let you know how it goes.   Or keep an eye on twitter, LinkedIn or this blog for more updates.  I suspect I will have to stop sometime.

Procedural modelling the UK high-street

Procedural modelling the UK high-street

Some of our latest CityEngine work is looking at the high street and in particular here at home the UK high street.   Commercial buildings in a typical UK town are a mixed bag of traditional older buildings with some often badly maintained concrete buildings and the odd brick built modern monster designed and built in the 1980s.  More recent buildings like glass a lot …  We’ve been creating rules to describe building frontages, not all are pretty but that’s kind of the point! 

This set is early work for a project that we’re helping on for the Transport Systems Catapult based in Milton Keynes who are helping out the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) creating simulated virtual environments to test out way-finding technologies.  Stay tuned for some more outputs! 

Collaboration with Transport Systems Catapult

Collaboration with Transport Systems Catapult

Ryan at the Garsdale Design offices overlooking the Howgill’s and Sedbergh. (Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales National Park)

Some of you may have noticed a post I shared on LinkedIn by a gentleman called Ryan Johnston from the Transport Systems Catapult (based in Milton Keynes) coming to our office here in Cumbria last Friday. 

Getting the train this morning to Cumbria for some collaborative work with Elliot Hartley #Garsdaledesign . Looking at how City Engine can help create fast environments for testing and stimulation.

Ryan was here to gain insight into how we here at Garsdale Design build virtual 3D environments from GIS data.  We use the Esri platform to do this and one of the key tools Ryan was here to get an understanding of was CityEngine and ArcGISPro.  As you all should know by now is that at Garsdale Design is well known for our CityEngine and 3D GIS expertise! 

In any GIS workflow data preparation is vital

This is part of the Peterborough way finding research project for the partially sighted. Helping to understand how spatially correct 3d urban models and VR technology; can help the partially sighted to navigate from the train station to the RNIB Peterborough head office.

Ryan’s visit was in relation to a way-finding project for the partially sighted in Peterborough, home to the head office of the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).  Here the TSC has brought together a range of industry professionals (such as Garsdale Design and MK Surveys) to create a virtual environment to test various sensors, beacons and navigation methods around Peterborough town centre and the offices of the RNIB.   As this project progresses more information will be posted on the Transport Systems Catapult website

Ryan was here the whole day (interrupted only by a nice lunch at the Three Hares Cafe), and we discussed various project workflows, for example making all that nice Ordnance Survey MasterMap data 3D, as well as managing terrain data.   We looked at game engine workflows and the exciting possibilities of Unity as well as the new datasmith tool for Unreal.   Of course once we have a dynamic and flexible (i.e. easy to modify) 3D model we also need to look at analytical tools to help in the process of assessing various ‘way marking’ technologies.   Whilst the discussion was focused on the Peterborough project we’re happy to report that many of the issues we were addressing also would come in use for future projects too.

CityEngine 2017.1 beta demoing how the new viewshed tool could be used for bluetooth beacon placement

At the end of the day Ryan and I were able to make a quick mock-up of part of Peterborough to identify where CityEngine tools may help create this virtual environment.  We also looked at the 2017.1 beta version with viewsheds which could be useful in this particular project.

We had a great day and it was fantastic to work with Ryan, I’m pretty sure we could have kept going for a lot longer, but sadly a work day must come to an end sometime!   

 

 

GISTEC’s 3DGIS Workshop/Seminar session

GISTEC’s 3DGIS Workshop/Seminar session

You may have seen that I was out in the United Arab Emirates a couple of weeks back.  I was there for two reasons, one to conduct a CityEngine training session for a number of GISTEC clients (we do this training here in the UK either with EsriUK or at our offices in Sedbergh as well as worldwide).  As always training often turns to bespoke advice and discussions around workflows and use cases.   

A great big thank you to all my trainees!

Basically, most things that a client asks for with 3D GIS can be done, you just to have a clear idea of what you want (oh and a budget!), technology (hardware and software) has progressed so much recently that most clients are now spoilt for choice. 

Want a smart city? Well you may need a 3D basemap.  Do you have any sensor data? If so what’s the quality?  The answer invariably to all these questions and more is “it depends”.   That’s why on the 20th of September I went to help present at our friends and partners GISTEC 3D GIS workshop/seminar event in the Roda Al Bustan in Dubai.   

A fun interactive format of round table discussions about new workflows and technologies for enabling your 3D GIS

As a new format for GISTEC we were all excited and apprehensive to see how invited guests and clients would respond.  We shouldn’t have been nervous as the response was overwhelmingly positive.   The sessions allowed people to find out what was possible with particular aspects of the Esri platform and where they could join up some of those dots.   My discussion table didn’t just talking about CityEngine.  We talked about data acquisition (from UAVs for example, in fact I used demo data from the UAV table), about smart cities and story maps.  The day was designed to find out more about everyone’s workflows and problems as well as informing and discussing potential solutions.

 

The format was informal and less about a sales pitch and more about discussion (no one likes presentations which basically say ‘buy me’).  We had divided the session up into tables and each table had a theme to talk about (mine was Geodesign and Urban Planning of course!).  The table’s moderators also used flipcharts and post-it notes to engage with the attendees and come up with  problems and solutions around each table’s theme.   This meant that at the end of the day each table had gained insight into some of the issues surrounding 3D GIS (in for example designing cities) but also discussed potential solutions and workflows (as well as software) to help.   These flipcharts and notes would then be shared with the attendees as well (not just the table group but everyone). 

Each table’s theme discussion was led by an expert in their field and as you can see we had some amazing people:

  • Geodesign and Urban Planning – Designing Cities
    Elliot Hartley – Garsdale Design Limited
  • Smart Cities and IoT Solutions – Smart City and IoT
    Andrew Rippon – NXN
  • Getting 3D-GIS Data from 3D-CAD – BIM to GIS 
    Nandakumar Menon – GISTEC
    Data Capturing and 3D Data Preparation from Drone – Working with Drones
    Giuseppe Catania – b-link
  • Texturing Your Landscape and Building VR Solution – VR Solutions
    Dileep Verma – Cirqus
  • Building Different 3D Applications – Working with Story Maps
    GISTEC
Great roundtable discussion on Smart Cities and the Internet of Things by Andrew Rippon of NXN

The largest group of attendees had come to hear about smart cities and the ‘Internet of Things’ from Andrew Rippon of NXN (formerly Nexgen group)  from what I heard (and saw a little of) this was a well received talk and discussion on some issues and challenges as well as the amazing solutions NXN are implementing for smart city projects.

Dileep from Cirqus discussing VR & texturing of GIS buildings

The day ended with a quick panel summary of each tables discussions and a question and answer session.  Questions about workflows and interest in what was possible seemed to be the main concerns.   All in all I really enjoyed the day with GISTEC and the attendees I think I may have learnt more off of them then they did of me! 


CityEngine 2017.0 now released

CityEngine 2017.0 now released

Okay so this came sooner than I thought it would and just in time for the Esri UC in San Diego next week! 

If you are a CityEngine user this is a very good release with key improvements that will make our lives easier when working on projects.  If you’re thinking about working with CityEngine for the first time this is a good release to come in on, and you can come to us for one-to-one training to get you started!

CityEngine 2017.0 has now been released and you can download it from your ‘My Esri‘ area, alternately you can grab a 30-day free trial here.

I’ve not got time to give you a run down of all the new features and interface improvements that have gone in to this release, but you can read my blog post on the beta release I was using here.

I can give you a key some key highlights though:

  • A user interface refresh
  • Scenario based planning and custom dashboards
  • Local edits for procedural models
  • Measurement tools
  • CGA neighbourhood queries (more advanced occlusion queries)
  • Improved import and export functionality including unit information for FBX exports. Also KML can export multiple models to SketchUp.

You can read more on the release here: “What’s new in CityEngine 2017“, or skip straight to the release notes here.  Or even better than that skip to the changelogs on the CityEngine help pages

Exciting things to watch for from us this year

Exciting things to watch for from us this year

 

After a period of ‘radio silence’ I’m looking at doing more regular postings here.  As I’ve discussed before this blog is naturally a semi-official Garsdale Design blog as well.  As such we’re looking to have our Southampton colleague Nicholas Duggan contribute every so often.  Nick (or @Dragons8MyCat ) is a well known blogger and the European Editor for XyHt magazine as well as having vast GIS and mapping experience in the Nuclear and off-shore industry. 

Garsdale Design’s work in 3D GIS is well recognised in the Esri world, I’ve heard us called the ‘3D-Guys’ more than a few times from separate people/organisations now.  We’re looking to capitalise on our knowledge by creating a new brand (which will be launched soon) to separate ourselves a little from Garsdale’s Architectural, Planning and heritage business.   We’re also on the cusp of launching (subject to some bureaucracy, don’t ask) a 3D data service for people who just want their 3D basemap now.   If you’d like some more details you can contact us directly.

If you’re an Esri user you should start looking at ArcGISPro seriously now

We’re getting increasing numbers of enquiries for CityEngine and ArcGISPro training, not least because we are the official EsriUK CityEngine trainers!  I think this is mostly down to increased awareness of the 3D capabilities of the Esri platform (have you tried ArcGISPro yet??).  Planners seem to especially ‘get’ Esri CityEngine.   Also whilst there is much talk of BIM more and more organisations realise that BIM doesn’t sit in a vacuum and often requires GIS.  BIM is 3D and so knowledge of 3D GIS is required.

This year we hope to organise a geospatial mini-conference here in Cumbria, with some speakers and followed on by a couple of days of training/workshops.  If you’re interested in getting involved or coming along please get in touch.

Keep on the look out for our new brand, we’ll do a blog post here on launch day.  In the meantime if you need Esri CityEngine or ArcGISPro training contact us!

ArcGISPro Animation Sedbergh3D

ArcGISPro Animation Sedbergh3D

At Garsdale Design we’ve just got ourselves a Vimeo account for hosting videos.  In preparation for GISWORX 2016 we’ve been getting some demo videos together and I thought we’d share them with you!  

ArcGISPro’s new animation features are surprisingly easy to use and can give you some great results!  As per usual CyberCity3D buildings and Blue-sky International’s National Tree Map make an appearance.

Like this? Just wait till you see what Nicholas Duggan has done in ArcGISPro with our new mapping templates!