Thursday, February 16, 2012

Layerscape escapes (into a public release) [Think "Earth Science visualization and story telling set of tools based on the WorldWide Telescope" ]



Microsoft Research Connections Blog - Data Visualization Reaches New Heights with Layerscape

"In December, I blogged about the beta release of Layerscape, a free set of research tools from Microsoft that enable earth scientists to visualize and tell stories around large, complex data sets. The full release is now available to the public at Layerscape.

We’re calling Layerscape an “ecosystem” to emphasize its focus on earth science and to communicate that Layerscape’s research tools include a community-based content sharing website, powered by Windows Azure. I’m pretty excited about Layerscape because it offers researchers new ways of looking at lots and lots of data, both above and below the earth’s surface—but also because the community site provides a great venue for learning how people are actually using Layerscape. Our collaborators are starting to gain new insights into their data and make use of our communities to share and collaborate.


In addition to rendering data in 3-D space and in time, Layerscape has what we call freedom of perspective and free narrative. You can place your virtual eye anywhere you like and connect a sequence of perspectives and automated transitions that emphasize what the data is doing and what story you want to communicate. Such storytelling is ideal for educational outreach, enabling you to share your results with the scientific community and the general public.

Layerscape consists of three parts. Part one is the WorldWide Telescope visualization engine, and part two is the website that supports communities of users and the content they (you!) generate. The third part is a tool for getting data into Layerscape. This tool is built on Microsoft Excel, so if your data is already in an Excel spreadsheet, you simply click a few buttons to send it to the visualization engine. The link from Excel is dynamic, meaning that as you change the data in Excel, your Layerscape rendering changes automatically.


Microsoft Research News - A New Way to Visualize Earth

"As the state geologist for Arizona, Lee Allison knows granite from sandstone, a syncline from an anticline. But he has lacked the ability to look through rocks to visualize the inner workings of the Earth.

Until now.

In the past year, Allison has been using a Microsoft Research-developed tool called Layerscape. Based on the popular WorldWide Telescope, also developed by Microsoft Research, Layerscape is a cloud-based instrument that enables earth scientists to analyze and visualize massive amounts of data. With Layerscape, scientists can create three-dimensional virtual tours of the Earth; explore new ways of looking at Earth and oceanic data; and build predictive models in areas such as climate change, health epidemics, and oceanic shifts.

In Arizona, Allison is using Layerscape to create detailed models of the state’s landscape to help policymakers create ways to manage groundwater, map geothermal resources, and more.

“With Layerscape, we can look not only across the surface and bring in all the geologic maps,” he says. “We’re also bringing in the subsurface data—the millions of boreholes, water wells, oil and gas wells—and looking down in 3-D and bringing that information together to create a 3-D visualization that we've never been able to do before.

“Layerscape is giving us a visualization capability to show decision-makers, to show industry, to show the public how to use this scientific data and what the implications of it are to their lives.”


Get It Now

Layerscape is available as a free download to run in conjunction with WorldWide Telescope.

“We believe the earth sciences are an important space in research, and we know that, for most researchers, money is tight,” Fatland says. “We believe these people are worth supporting.”

Although downloadable by anyone, Layerscape is aimed primarily at scientists, who can sample the program and provide more feedback. That will help Microsoft Research build features in preparation for a future release.

Certainly, if the success of WorldWide Telescope is any indication, Layerscape in time will prove popular with the public as well as the scientific community. WorldWide Telescope has been downloaded 4 million times and is used by researchers and educators, as well as people simply interested in exploring space from their desktop.

Using Layerscape, that exploration now extends to a planet—our own—that is well-known to most people, but not really well-understood."

Something different to check out at least... :)


Related Past Post XRef:
Cool Earth-Science storytelling with the new Layerscape from Microsoft Research (powered by the WorldWide Telescope)

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