Thursday, June 30, 2011

Modeling the Real World with Silverlight 5 3D

Late last year Esri’s Applications Prototype Lab published a Silverlight-based web application that could render a small area of the Earth’s surface in three dimensions. This app used Einar Ingebrigtsen’s graphics library called Balder and referenced imagery and elevation services from

This year at MIX11, Microsoft released the beta of the Silverlight 5. Probably the most important improvement is the added support for GPU accelerated 3d graphics. This means Silverlight apps with 3d content will be rendered by a computer’s graphics card rather than dominating the CPU. It is now conceptually possible to develop Google Earth-like applications using Silverlight 5 3d!

Creating a virtual globe is a rather daunting project. However, inspired by Andy Beaulieu’s physics sample and associated blog post I decided to explore the possibility of modeling real world data in a browser.

Nicknamed “project alpha”, the prototype shown in the video above used the following pieces:

  1. Esri Silverlight SDK 2.2 (link)
  2. Microsoft Silverlight 5 beta (link)
  3. Balder (link)
    3D graphics engine
  4. JigLibX 0.3.1 (link)
    3D physics engine

Displaying a 3d world using streaming imagery and elevation data is not new. What is interesting about this prototype is the inclusion of a physics engine. Objects such as cars, people, tanks, planes can interact with each other and the Earth’s surface. Additionally, this prototypes shows that any location, and at any scale, can be modeled completely within a browser.

Whilst dropping hundred of tennis balls on Mount Ruapehu might seem a little fanciful, there are many practical uses of combining a 3d physics engine with mapping data. For example, an engineer may want to test drive a proposed road to examine it drivability and view. In defense, this technology can be for modeling and simulation of the battlefield.

Unless there is significant interest, the app and source code will be published once Silverlight 5 goes final.