January 31, 2011
FME 2011 Addresses 2011 Spatial Data Concerns
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News
FME 2011 Addresses 2011 Spatial Data Concerns

By Susan Smith

Last week, Safe Software launched a new version of its spatial data transformation platform, FME 2011.

Safe's President Don Murray and vice-president of development Don Lutz travel all over the world talking to customers and have shaped this release to address both customers' greatest concerns and industry advancements. Everything in FME 2011 is designed to empower people in the GIS, CAD and IT technical professions to get more out of their data sets, do more with less, and be able to do this more easily.

With FME 2011, users can read, write, and visualize LiDAR data in a range of industry formats, including LAS, Pointools POD, and XYZ ASCII.

Not surprisingly, one of the main enhancements of Safe Software's FME 2011 release is new functionality for manipulating point cloud data. Many people must deal with lidar point cloud data as part of their daily work, and they don't know how to manage it. The sheer size of this data makes it awkward to deal with.

Other features of the new release: during the authoring phase users can inspect data. Historically users had to wait for the authoring to be over and then they could look at all the data at various stages. Now the whole authoring stage is interactive so rather than make it batch as it was before, when authoring workbench scripts users can stop the transformation process to examine the current state of the data.

There is also new database support, and the ability to inspect point clouds.

Point Clouds

“We learned this year there are more folks having to deal with lidar point cloud data as part of their daily data challenges,” said Lutz. “The point cloud initiative wasn't necessarily on the radar for 2011 but because of the road shows we have been to last year, it came out loud and clear that there was all this lidar data just sitting there. We didn't start this until June. We had to really execute very efficiently to pull this off in a short period of time.”

Users are getting the lidar data and don't know how to manage it. “So we were looking to see if we could use the power of FME with that problem. There are many new tools in 2011 for people to handle and manipulate point cloud data,” said Lutz.

No matter what the data interoperability challenge, FME 2011 delivers extraordinary new data transformation powers to help users unleash their inner Spatial Superhero.

What do GIS professionals want to do with point clouds? Very commonly they want reprojection, said Lutz. They receive a big point cloud, it's in the wrong projection, it's in lat long and they want it in UTM to match their data.

“We can do both horizontal and vertical projections - there were some people that had the z elevation value measured against the wrong model of the earth. And so we can correct that too. That's the main one for us. Also the data volumes are so huge people can't use them, so thinning the data - you can thin it in a number of ways. Just the way point clouds are organized, the reflection count or the return count - you might only want the last one or the first one depending upon what you are doing.”

Pointools is an output that would be of interest to some customers, said Murray. Just cutting a big point cloud into smaller tiles is another way to manage the large data volume, in smaller and easier chunks.

The following are the capabilities offered in FME 2011 for point cloud data:

  • Integrate point clouds with conventional GIS data
  • Restructure point cloud datasets by clipping, thinning, reprojecting, combining, splitting, and creating surface models
  • Read and write point cloud data in a range of industry standard formats, including LAS (multiple versions), Pointools POD, and XYZ ASCII
  • Inspect point clouds

Workbench Productivity

In FME 2011 the productivity of the workbench has been increased and the product is easier to use. New tools have been added so the user can take the authoring and creation of spatial database scripts and during the authoring phase, inspect the data. “Historically you had to wait for the whole thing to be over and then you could look at all the pieces at various stages,” said Murray. “Now we've made the whole authoring stage interactive so rather than make it batch as it was before, when you're doing the authoring of workbench scripts it's truly interactive. If I'm running and I stop and see something I can actually change what's going on and continue executing from there.”

Database support

In FME 2011 it is much easier to write arbitrary SQL, go to the database and get values back.

On the server side, users wanted the ability to have the FME Server trigger data translations or data jobs on a schedule, so Safe built in a scheduling concept. Customers have been scheduling FME to do things but there has never been a built in way to manage that before 2011.

There is a new evaluation program included with FME 2011 to help prospective users learn how to use the product.

FME 2011's innovative Inline Inspection lets users pause the transformation process to instantly examine the current state of their data.

Usability improvements include the following (from press release):

  • Inline inspection: A key innovation in FME 2011, Inline Inspection lets users pause the transformation process to instantly examine the current state (geometry and attributes) of their data. Users can now benefit from this "X-ray vision" to quickly create workspaces with this new superfine feature-level debugging power.
  • Templates: Designed as a starting point for common spatial data transformation tasks, quickstart templates enables users to author new workspaces at lightning speeds. Users can also publish their own workspaces as templates for efficient re-use and sharing with others.
  • Scheduling: With the scheduling tool in FME Server 2011, organizations can centralize and completely automate their recurring data transformation workflows - no human intervention required.
  • XML Innovations: Thanks to the XMLTemplater, validation, styling, metadata, and cataloguing capabilities, FME 2011 decimates the time it takes to work with XML data. Superhuman XML expertise is no longer required!
  • Performance Improvements: FME 2011 delivers on Safe Software's commitment to ensure that every release of FME is faster than the last. Performing data transformations in FME 2011 is now an average of 11% faster than the previous version. “You don't have to buy a bigger machine to run 2011,” Lutz said. The new release is smarter with how it uses memory, so it will use all memory now to get maximum performance. Dynamic memory usage depends upon what resources are available.

Format Support

Besides the new support for cloud data, FME 2011 can read and write Windows Azure, SQL Azure, OGDI and Google Spreadsheet data. FME 2011 has also been updated to let users with work the latest applications and environments; support for Esri ArcGIS 10 and Autodesk FDO 2011 already included.

Murray and Lutz said that there is a lot of interest in conversions of CAD to GIS. Safe has been doing CAD to GIS conversions since 1993 but haven't promoted it much. They are now making it easier for those users. Approximately 7% of all translations are going from GIS to CAD. Data is constantly flowing back and forth between different departments in an organization. “More and more it's about bringing different systems together so that you continue to use tools you want natively back and forth,” explained Lutz.

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