Open Access Highly Accessed Editorial

Web GIS in practice VII: stereoscopic 3-D solutions for online maps and virtual globes

Maged N Kamel Boulos1* and Larry R Robinson2

Author affiliations

1 Faculty of Health, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, UK

2 Geospatial Sciences and Technologies Branch, USGS-BRD-Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, 2630 Fanta Reed Road, La Crosse, Wisconsin 54603, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

International Journal of Health Geographics 2009, 8:59  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-8-59

Published: 22 October 2009


Because our pupils are about 6.5 cm apart, each eye views a scene from a different angle and sends a unique image to the visual cortex, which then merges the images from both eyes into a single picture. The slight difference between the right and left images allows the brain to properly perceive the 'third dimension' or depth in a scene (stereopsis). However, when a person views a conventional 2-D (two-dimensional) image representation of a 3-D (three-dimensional) scene on a conventional computer screen, each eye receives essentially the same information. Depth in such cases can only be approximately inferred from visual clues in the image, such as perspective, as only one image is offered to both eyes. The goal of stereoscopic 3-D displays is to project a slightly different image into each eye to achieve a much truer and realistic perception of depth, of different scene planes, and of object relief. This paper presents a brief review of a number of stereoscopic 3-D hardware and software solutions for creating and displaying online maps and virtual globes (such as Google Earth) in "true 3D", with costs ranging from almost free to multi-thousand pounds sterling. A practical account is also given of the experience of the USGS BRD UMESC (United States Geological Survey's Biological Resources Division, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center) in setting up a low-cost, full-colour stereoscopic 3-D system.