TouchTerrain: 3D Printing Elevation Models Using a Web Application
Associate Professor Chris Harding and Assistant Professor Franek Hasiuk, geological and atmospheric sciences
Commodity 3D printing technology (~$2,000) can print small (10 cm x 10 cm) 3D terrain “maps” reliably and cheaply. Such touchable 3D maps may augment digital maps when learning about landscape forms, geologic features, human impact, etc. However, the primary issue now is the creation of the to-be-printed 3D digital models and the need to create physically larger maps. To hand-craft a 3D map of an area, knowledge of GIS (such as ArcGIS) and/or a 3D modeling package (such as Blender or Rhino) is usually required.
The project aims to radically simplify the creation of high-quality physical terrain maps in lesson plans. The TouchTerrain project offers a simple web interface to select an area on a Google map and then creates downloadable 3D model files (Obj or STL format) of this area’s Digital Elevation Data, at different resolutions, from the 1 km ETOP01 DEM to the 30 m SRTMv4 DEM to the 10 m resolution NED DEM. The 3D print resolution (typically 0.1 to 0.5 mm) of the specific printer model can be set, thus avoiding downloading needlessly large models that cannot be printed adequately by a given 3D printer. Physically large models can be created by tiling the area, e.g., into 4×4 tiles, printing each 10×10 cm tile separately and then assembling them into a 40×40 cm map. Processing, such as projection to UTM, is done in Python via Google’s Earth Engine API. Try the TouchTerrain web application