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Integrating data from global information systems via the internet with cad software will add certainty to architects' plans Knowing your place

Geographical information systems have been under development now for many years. The idea of attaching both statistical and graphic information to a map-based system, and using the internet as a means of distributing such information, has led many software companies to develop products that can fully exploit the potential of this rich information resource. gis is a fast-growing area and although centred around major utilities and government departments at present, its impact on all areas of the construction industry is sure to grow.

At present gis systems are not used by many architects, but access to data would provide advantages at many levels. Access to planning and statutory authority data via the internet will provide designers with information vital to the successful implementation of projects as and when its needed. Rather than having to wait for days for information the latest data will be only a few mouse clicks away.

AutoDesk, as well as being dominant in the cad arena, is a market-leader in the field of gis. It is about to release a major upgrade to MapGuide, the communication component of AutoDesk's trinity of gis products. The other elements of the suite are Autocad Map, which provides a set of cad- based tools for creating and maintaining mapping information, and Autocad World, a data integration tool .

Based on Autocad R14, Map supports all the major map formats as well as being file-compatible with Autocad R12-14 and Autocad lt 95/R2. Once your content has been created it needs to be published to become really useful. Autocad World is a data integration and management tool built around the Microsoft Office environment. World is designed as a scalable environment allowing single or multiple users on a network to integrate and analyse gis data sets. As well as producing reports, World can construct data sets from multiple sources. cad drawings, geographic files, attribute data and raster image files can be combined to form a meta data set. Each individual element is maintained in its original format, reducing the need for conversions.

Autocad MapGuide, the final element of the suite, is an internet-based sets of tools providing a means of distributing data over an intranet or the internet. The recent upgrade to version 3.0 reflects the improvements in internet technologies, as well as improving basic functions such as printing and plotting.

MapGuide is the only gis application solely developed around internet technologies, providing both users and developers with a set of highly functional, easy-to-use tools. Its various elements provide the means of both interacting and publishing data over the internet. The inclusion in the package of Cold Fusion from Allaire, one of the best data publishing development systems available for internet/ intranet environments, means that the combination of these tools allows you to build and maintain an intelligent raster/vector map based Web site.

MapGuide combines raster, vector, point and attribute data in a proprietary data format, SDF (spatial data format). sdf files can be produced from Autocad Map or imported via the sdf loader application. Once the data has been sourced, MapGuide Author can be used to custom-map a document known as a Map Window File, in a wysiwyg environment. The interface makes it simple to indicate which vector and raster information you want to include in your map, as well as setting the level of interaction the user has with the map data. Cold Fusion can then be used to link the graphic data with external relational databases, charting software or even e-mail applications. html or JavaScript can be used within the Cold Fusion environment to create your final web documents. MapGuide Server is then used to host the site on an internet/intranet server managing the delivery of map data to users making calls on the system.

The final component is the MapGuide Viewer. This free application is in fact not really a viewer, more an interrogator. This intelligent client allows users to interact with gis data at many levels. All vector and layer data are maintained within the viewer, allowing users to view detail within the map at many levels. The viewer can be installed as either a plug-in for Netscape Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer or as an ActiveX control. The plug-in and ActiveX control can be downloaded free from the AutoDesk site (http://www. mapguide.com/mvr_dnld.htm) and a number of sample data sets are available to view. The plug-in is available for Windows 95 and nt, but no other platforms at the moment.

The integration of cad information into data sets could take us one step closer to providing users at all levels with virtual environments based on real data, not just representations of the built environment.

For further information on AutoDesk gis and cad products contact AutoDesk on 01483 303322 or web site http://www.autodesk. com.

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