Widening stakeholder involvement: exploiting interactive 3D visualisation and protocol buffers in geo-computing

  • Christopher McCreadie

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Land use change has an impact on regional sustainability which can be assessed using social, economic and environmental indicators. Stakeholder engagement tools provide a platform that can demonstrate the possible future impacts land use change may have to better inform stakeholder groups of the impact of policy changes or plausible climatic variations. To date some engagement tools are difficult to use or understand and lack user interaction whilst other tools demonstrate model environments with a tightly coupled user interface, resulting in poor performance. The research and development described herein relates to the development and testing of a visualisation engine for rendering the output of an Agent Based Model (ABM) as a 3D Virtual Environment via a loosely-coupled data driven communications protocol called Protocol Buffers. The tool, named Rural Sustainability Visualisation Tool (R.S.V.T) is primarily aimed to enhance nonexpert knowledge and understanding of the effects of land use change, driven by farmer decision making, on the sustainability of a region. Communication protocols are evaluated and Protocol Buffers, a binary based communications protocol is selected, based on speed of object serialization and data transfer, to pass message from the ABM to the 3D Virtual Environment. Early comparative testing of R.S.V.T and its 2D counterpart RepastS shows R.S.V.T and its loosely-coupled approach offers an increase in performance when rendering land use scenes. The flexibility of Protocol Buffer’s and MongoDB are also shown to have positive performance implications for storing and running of loosely-coupled model simulations. A 3D graphics Application Programming Interface (API), commonly used in the development of computer games technology is selected to develop the Virtual Environment. Multiple visualisation methods, designed to enhance stakeholder engagement and understanding, are developed and tested to determine their suitability in both user preference and information retrieval. The application of a prototype is demonstrated using a case study based in the Lunan catchment in Scotland, which has water quality and biodiversity issues due to intense agriculture. The region is modelled using three scenario storylines that broadly describe plausible futures. Business as Might Be Usual (BAMBU), Growth Applied Strategy (GRAS) and the Sustainable European Development Goal (SEDG) are the applied scenarios. The performance of the tool is assessed and it is found that R.S.V.T can run faster than its 2D equivalent when loosely coupled with a 3D Virtual Environment. The 3D Virtual Environment and its associated visualisation methods are assessed using non-expert stakeholder groups and it is shown that 3D ABM output is generally preferred to 2D ABM output. Insights are also gained into the most appropriate visualisation techniques for agricultural landscapes. Finally, the benefit of taking a loosely-coupled approach to the visualisation of model data is demonstrated through the performance of Protocol Buffers during testing, showing it is capable of transferring large amounts of model data to a bespoke visual front-end.
    Date of AwardJun 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRuth Falconer (Supervisor) & David J. Blackwood (Supervisor)


    • 3D vsualisation
    • Protocol buffers
    • Interactive visualisation
    • Rural sustainability visualisation tool
    • Serious games
    • MongoDB

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