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Whatever Happened to SketchUp? — Trimble Dimensions

November 18, 2014  - By 1 Comments

Earlier this month, I attended the Trimble Dimensions conference in Las Vegas. More than 4,000 attendees made it the largest Dimensions conference to date. Since Trimble has been on a corporate acquisition binge for the last 10+ years, one has to pick an area of interest to focus on; otherwise, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with their wide offering of geospatial technology. In my Survey Scene newsletter earlier this month, I focused on Trimble’s satellite-based GNSS augmentation services. In this month’s GSS Monthly newsletter, I’d like to touch on Trimble’s activities in the geospatial software arena.

If you recall, Trimble bought SketchUp from Google a couple of years ago. SketchUp is software for 3D modeling used for a wide range of apps from interior/exterior architectural design to video game design. It’s not hard to understand why Google would want to sell SketchUp. Google products like Google Earth and Gmail are everyday consumer-friendly products that have mass appeal to a huge audience. SketchUp is a product that takes a higher level of geospatial user knowledge and time investment to use. It seems to be a perfect fit for a geospatial-oriented company like Trimble.

I used to be involved in a lot of 3D modeling projects in the landscape architecture area. I know how labor-intensive it is to generate high-quality 3D models and 3D video fly-throughs. I also understand the value that 3D models offer in bringing a proposed design to life. For example, look at the following photo taken of an unimproved site:


To visualize the golf course architect’s design, following is a 3D model of a proposed golf hole overlaid on an image of the unimproved land:



Imagine how much more effective it is to show a client this sort of visualization, rather than trying to explain this using a 2D set of architectural or engineering plans.

This is the kind of visualization that SketchUp is designed to address, but more structure (building) oriented. The impact on the the client is the same, bringing 3D and color to design ideas. In fact, SketchUp goes further than just helping designers visualize their ideas for their clients. In some cases, it can produce a list of materials to construct the building. At a short briefing I received at Dimensions, Trimble said that the following structure was designed, and a list of building materials was generated, using SketchUp.



OK, it’s not a high-rise building and SketchUp can handle more complex designs than this, but this illustrates where the technology is headed and that the fundamental workflow exists. Also, it shows that this type of technology is becoming available to a wider audience. I recall that 10 years ago, we needed a lot of computing horsepower, sophisticated software (such as 3D Studio Max), very specialized technicians, and a lot of time to generate 3D visualizations. SketchUp brings this capability to a wider audience.

For geospatial professionals, there’s obviously a lot of applications for SketchUp. A simple, yet powerful task is bringing Google Map imagery and topography data into SketchUp to give your buildings context. Following is a five-minute video describing how to import a Google Map into SketchUp:

To learn more about SketchUp (free and Pro versions), a number of YouTube videos are available, as well as videos of SketchUp’s annual conference called SketchUp 3D Basecamp.

Seven Best New Features of SketchUp 2014 (five-minute video):

Lastly, following is a collection of YouTube videos from SketchUp 3DBasecamp 2014 (60 minutes) for you to peruse if you’re interested:

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

Of course, UAS are still all the rage. While Trimble showed off its UAS product lineup (a la its 2012 acquisition of GateWing), last month in Reno, Nevada, there was a conference entitled UAS Mapping 2014 that was focused on UAS for mapping. More than 500 geospatial professionals attended to view the UAS technology demonstrations. We’ll have a report on this conference in next month’s GSS Monthly newsletter. UAS technology is still in the early stages of development (and, of course, still not legal to use commercially in the U.S., according to the Federal Aviation Administration) so a lot is happening.

There’s certainly a push toward using low-end UAS for GIS mapping. The UAVs themselves are becoming so inexpensive that the image-processing software ends up costing more than the UAV. For example, one image-processing company I hear about quite a bit is Pix4D. The company recently announced its Pix4Dmapping app that will turn a $900 DJI Phantom 2 Vision UAV into a 2D mapping and 3D modeling system. If you’re interested in the capabilities of this low-cost UAV mapping system, take a peek at the following 60-minute webinar from Pix4D.

Thanks, and see you next month.

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Eric Gakstatter

About the Author:

Eric Gakstatter has been involved in the GPS/GNSS industry for more than 20 years. For 10 years, he held several product management positions in the GPS/GNSS industry, managing the development of several medium- and high-precision GNSS products along with associated data-collection and post-processing software. Since 2000, he's been a power user of GPS/GNSS technology as well as a consultant with capital management companies; federal, state and local government agencies; and private companies on the application and/or development of GPS technology. Since 2006, he's been a contributing editor to GPS World magazine and the Geospatial Solutions website. He is the editor of Geospatial Solutions Monthly, a weekly newsletter focused on geospatial technologies. Follow Eric on Twitter at @GPSGIS_Eric.

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