For many years I resided in Ha Noi, the 1,000 year old ancient capital of Viet Nam. At the heart of the city, wedged between Lake Hoan Kiem and the Red River, lays the bustling Old Quarter. It was here, amidst the noise and confusion of its 40 streets, where I germinated the idea of a business plan that I called “Sleeping Dragon”.
One of the unique qualities of the Old Quarter was that each of the streets was a ‘guild’ street, selling wares that were pertinent to that guild - like traditional medicine or musical instruments. Often I would casually stroll around and examine the wares of each tiny shop - wondering how other people in the world could explore the inner contents of these fascinating shops without physically being present - in other words, how to make a virtual store.
Ebay had already commenced their online application but I was not interested in a drab format with static pictures. Instead I wanted to replicate the same experience of visiting the interior of a shop and seeing all of its items on display - and being able to conduct the sale transaction online. Fifteen years ago, the technology did not support the implementation of this idea to the degree that it actually does today. E-commerce, shopping carts, Amazon.com and PayPal were still in their relative infancy. So too were 3D reality meshes and interactive virtual tours.
Current geospatial technology provides the means to capture multiple scenes of an interior space (or exterior landscape) and photo grametrically process images into a 3D reality mesh - an immersive 3D environment accessible from any internet browser.
And when it does arrive, it will be as a hybrid of both image capture and point clouds, Both sets of data will be obtained from the use of cheap mobile hand-held devices that can act as portable laser scanners as well as 360` panorama cameras - mounted on a standard smartphone. These devices are now about to become commercially available for under US$1,000.
In the context of my virtual Old Quarter medicine shop, I am now provided with both the means to easily create an interactive and immersive digital virtual environment PLUS being provided with an affordable solution for regularly updating my virtual store. This is a significant and important consideration for small shop-keepers who would like to regularly change the items on display in their physical store - and replicate that as a digital twin of the store’s interior.
I have seen some excellent online sites where virtual tours and e-commerce have been successfully integrated. The one I liked the most is of a nearby suburban liquor shop. I can travel down a Google StreetView and enter through the front door. Travelling along its aisles I can visually inspect all the various rows of wines and spirits - and order any quantity of any item on display. When my shopping cart is full I can then proceed to the checkout and pay for the items and arrange delivery. Looks great and the e-commerce aspect is smooth and intuitive to use. However, I suspect that the back-end integration of a supply chain management database would be a manually tedious task to set up. This is where the next generation of GIS tools and services comes into effect - tightly coupled with more traditional CAD and BIM datasets that have been translated into indoor map data.
3D Indoor GIS maps can be made that consist of cubes and polyhedrons - as opposed to the more traditional 2D polygons - delineating discrete areas where goods are sold (such as rows of bottles in the liquor shop example provided before).
These interior spatial entities can be attributed with retail information such as stock codes, physical dimensions, price, sales history, mark-up and merchandising. A simple spatial information system like this can be useful for store managers to understand the sales performance of particular items. Temporal information can be further analysed to determine what types of goods sell more on certain days or seasons - facilitating where and when merchandising can be located within a store .
Such a dynamic store environment can also include multimedia features - showcasing embedded story maps that are rich in content and provide an exciting narrative for special items. For art galleries and museums, where objects on display often have associated information presented as posters or videos, story maps can provide a more meaningful context to the online viewer. Most forms of virtual tours now available also have the means to tag or hyperlink 3D objects to other websites and multimedia content.
While all of this functionality now exists and can enable me to turn my Old Quarter shop into an online 3D interactive storefront, there is still one other feature that should be noted - the application of augmented reality. The same smartphone that can capture mixed reality can also be used to view it. As witnessed by the mainstream advent of Pokemon Go, the soon-to-be-released Minecraft Earth will go instantly viral and every child on the planet will be demanding a smartphone or tablet from Santa this Christmas. Once engineered appropriately, the rich content and operational GIS database that I have created for my online store can also be accessed when I am physically present in the shop. By pointing my smartphone at the strange looking musical instrument in its glass case, I can learn of its origins, associations with court-life and hear recordings of it in concert.
The next generation of GIS tools, data and processes will provide much more than static 2D maps and geo databases. A new age of discovery and exploration in virtual 3D worlds is at hand and we, its users, will reap its many benefits. Dragon awaken!