By Nigel Jaffe
As with many industries at the cutting edge of technology—bitcoin, AI, machine learning—the world of 3D data can seem opaque even to companies who make use of it every day. Modern society is awash in data to an extent that’s truly unprecedented, leaving few able to wrap their heads around it, and fewer knowing what to do with it. That’s where Cesium comes in.
The American Geographical Society spoke with COO Bonnie Bogle to discuss 3D data, open standards, and Cesium’s recent partnership with Spatial Networks and Vricon.
Cesium began as an offshoot of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI), a software company in the aerospace industry, but it soon adopted a more interdisciplinary focus. “Cesium started over eight years ago because we wanted to track satellites moving around space with our parent company, AGI,” Bogle said. “Since then, our mission has changed many times over. The amount of data out there is far greater than it used to be.”
The sheer quantity of data available to companies in the geospatial industry is a common (though somewhat counterintuitive) problem. Faced with a massive variety of methods for data collection, many companies end up with a surplus of raw information that they aren’t sure how to utilize. To that end, one of Cesium’s primary goals is to address that challenge. “What’s really interesting to us is having a platform that makes data usable and understandable,” Bogle said. “Not only do we visualize 3D data and tie it to its actual location on the globe, but we also take the data off hard drives from wherever else people are collecting it—drones, sensors on the streets, construction sites, whatever it may be—and, through 3D Tiles, suck into our platform.”
3D Tiles are an open specification geared toward making it easier to stream and render massive heterogeneous datasets. If that sounds nebulous, just know that the key word here is open— Cesium has been striving to keep their products open-source and accessible from the very beginning. “We pushed to have that become an open standard because we want our system to be as interoperable as possible—that’s one of our core values,” explained Bogle. “We want to make this data more accessible, to make it possible for you to stick your own data on top of it to add more context.”
According to Bogle, that philosophy of interoperability (defined as the ability of a product or system to work with other products of systems) was at the foundation of Cesium’s recent partnership with software companies Spatial Networks and Vricon. “[Vricon] was looking for a way to more easily get their 3D data and models online in a way that they can share to show off how amazing their actual data is,” she said. “They started using Cesium, and then we were like, ‘Hey, why don’t we just make your data available to our customers so they can use your data and then put their own data on top of it?’ And then we were talking to Spatial Networks, and we were like, ‘Hey, want to put your data on top of Vricon’s awesome imagery?’ All of a sudden, everything has more context, and it’s the perfect story for what we want to do.”
Last month, Cesium spun out from AGI to become an independent company after securing a $5 million investment from Falcon Global Capital. The move will allow Cesium to broaden its horizons in terms of the types of data it processes. “Part of the reason we moved out from our parent company was because their focus was on aerospace and defense, which was how we got started, but Cesium now had so many other possibilities that we wanted to be able to go after,” Bogle explained. “What we found is that a lot of our interest was coming from the commercial sector— from autonomous vehicles, and all these different industries, and we wanted to be able to go after them, and not be stuck in one place. We think that a lot of what we’re building is applicable across the board.”
In the future, Cesium is looking to focus on growth and expansion. “We’re definitely interested in doing more partnerships similar to what we do with Vricon and Spatial Networks. Making more data available through Cesium to other people is very interesting to us.”