<UPDATE>
This life of this tool has been extended to August 12th 2013 so get back out there and start using it some more!
</UPDATE>

Do you like using aerial imagery while working in Civil 3D? I know it’s always helped me when I’ve had access to it. You could use Google Earth but it has issues (see why HERE) and there are other alternatives to getting the imagery but they are all pretty tedious. Well, just announce is a new and very simple way to bring aerial images into your drawing.

Just announced is Project Basejump. This is a new product available at Autodesk Labs. This tool will allow you to easily bring in maps from Microsoft Bing. These maps are brought in via the Map 3D FDO tools. Don’t worry if you’ve never used FDO, it’s REALLY easy!

After you install the add-in, simply open up the Map Task Pane. You can access this by typing MAPWSPACE and then choosing the ON option. If you are using Civil 3D 2013, there is a button on the Palettes panel on the Home tab. This button basically runs the MAPWSPACE command so you’ll still have to tell the program you want it ON.

One thing you must do is assign a coordinate system to your drawing. If you don’t do this, your images won’t work. If you aren’t familiar with this, simply right click on the drawing name on the settings tab of the Prospector and choose Edit Drawing Settings. On the Units and Zone tab, assign an appropriate coordinate system to your drawing. If you aren’t sure what to use here, check with your surveyor on the project.

Assign Coordinate System

In this example, I’m using a Colorado state plane coordinate system and I’m in a blank drawing.

If you haven’t done so yet, go install the tool. You can find it HERE. Once installed, go to your Map Taskpane and select the Data button and choose “Connect to Data…”

Connect to Data

This will then bring up the Data Connect panel, also known as “FDO”. If you are familiar with this tool, you’ll notice a new option (in my case it’s the second one listed), “Add Basemap Services Connection”. If you aren’t familiar with this tool, just trust me that it’s new. Select the new connection type, on the right hand side give it a name (I called mine “Bing Maps”),  and then select the Connect button.

Creating the Connection

After selecting the button, you’ll be presented with the available data sources. Simply toggle on the ones you want (go ahead and select them all, it’s easy to toggle them on and off afterwards) and then hit the Add to Map button.

Select the Data

Civil 3D (or Map 3D) will then go out and query the data source and bring in the imagery for the coordinate system you assigned. As you can see in the following image, it brings in data for the entire defined coordinate system (Northern Colorado in this case).

Image Imported

This is a very low resolution image but as you zoom in, you’ll see more and more detail. You can also easily toggle on and off the images using the Map Taskpane. Simply hit the check box next to the image you want and deselect the images you don’t want (I can’t think of any advantage of having more than one turned on at any time). Personally, I kind of like the “Aerial with Labels” map.

Choose Your Image

When you zoom in, Civil 3D will continue to check with the Bing servers and get the best image it can for that specific zoom level. Here’s a picture of my house:

The image is about a year old as we now have grass in our yard and there are several more houses built in the area (we built our house, doing our part for the economy). We don’t live in a big city so the imagery isn’t quite as detailed. If I go check out someplace in Denver, the image is much higher quality:

Home of the Colorado Rockies

Go check it out! Let the developers know what you think. If you have any issues or problems or wishes or complaints, let them know. I’m pretty excited about where this is going.

One thing to note, this is a “Labs Technology Preview”. What this means is the technology might not ever actually make it into the program. In other words, check it out, give your feedback, and do everything you can to let Autodesk know that this is a good tool and they should continue to work on it and eventually make it a part of the program.

Now if they could just get it to bring in DEM information as well…

Have you ever brought a Google Earth surface into your Civil 3D drawing and it comes in at the wrong elevation? Now, I’m not tallking off by 50′ (well maybe if you’re in Florida) but drastically off. I did a test and in Google Earth, I zoomed in on Longs Peak, one of the 14,000′ mountains visible from my house. In C3D, I set an appropriate coordinate system, import the surface, and everything works. Here’s a screenshot of the surface properties:

However, in two other drawings, using the exact same coordinate systems, the elevations are drastically different:

Now, what on earth could be causing such a drastic change in the elevations? It’s almost like the elevations on the left are being scaled by the conversion factor from feet to meters and on the right the conversion factor from feet to inches, and that’s exactly what is happening. It’s using the drawing units, the AutoCAD drawing units, to scale the Google Earth surface elevations (which units are in meters) as it brings it into the drawing.

In the above image, the left surface was brought into the drawing with units set to unitless (INSUNITS=0) so the elevations are set to meters, since that’s the units Google Earth uses. On the right, the drawing units are set to inches (INSUNITS=1), so that’s how many inches high Longs Peak is. If you are working in an imperial drawing, i.e., your Civil 3D units are set to feet, then you must have the AutoCAD drawing units also set to feet (INSUNITS=2). If you are working in a metric drawing, i.e. your Civil 3D units are set to meters, then you must have the AutoCAD drawing units set to meters (INSUNITS= 6).

Thanks Jeff for letting me know about this one!

So, you’ve heard that there is a lot of free data that you can use in your GIS software.  Well, some of that free data, you can also use in Civil 3D.  Civil 3D is built on top of MAP so all that free GIS data, you can use as GIS data in Civil 3D.  But, I don’t want to use it as GIS data, I want it to be Civil 3D data!  Well, if you have a DEM (Digital Elevation Model), you can add that to a surface and away you go!  Follow the link to find out more.

(more…)

If you are familiar with the coordinate systems in Civil 3D, you may be aware that the transformation tab allows you to transform a local coordinate system to a known coordinate system.  In other words, Ground (project coordinates) to Grid (known coordinates).  Now, how does this tab affect bringing survey data into the survey database?  Well, it all depends on where the data is coming from.

<begin disclaimer>I am not a surveyor nor do I pretend to be one on TV.  I’ve just learned a lot about this stuff in recent years.  I’m by nature an engineer and engineers aren’t allowed to play with survey data so everything I have, I made myself.<end disclaimer>

So what happens when you have transformations set to your drawing and you import survey data from a point file?  Well, point files typically don’t have coordinate systems assigned to them (can they ever?).  When using the import survey command, the points come into the database as if they were collected using the same coordinate system as the survey database.  Since I live in Colorado, I’ll use NAD83 Colorado State Planes, North Zone, US Foot as the coordinate system.  I create a point file that has the following points in it:

2,50016.9791,40018.2566,100.0000,GS
3,50053.5856,40023.9971,100.0000,GS
4,50068.3375,40063.0876,100.0000,GS
5,50060.6884,40110.9256,100.0000,GS
6,50012.0618,40132.2476,100.0000,GS
7,50002.7736,40084.4096,100.0000,GS
8,50036.3751,40087.9633,100.0000,GS
9,50036.1019,40056.5269,100.0000,GS
10,50082.2699,40017.9832,100.0000,GS
11,50102.7586,40075.3888,100.0000,GS
12,50104.9441,40162.5906,100.0000,GS
13,50039.9265,40165.3242,100.0000,GS
14,49981.1921,40022.0836,100.0000,GS
15,50051.4002,39978.8927,100.0000,GS

The survey database has the same coordinate system as the drawing, NAD83 Colorado State Planes, North Zone, US Foot and has a very simple transformation assigned to it.  Basically, it will translate the ground coordinate N=40,000 E=50,000 to the grid coordinate N=1,040,000 E=3,050,000. When the point file is imported into the survey database, the points are brought in and the transformation settings in the drawing are not honored.  I don’t know exactly why but, this is my theory on what is happening.  When you bring the points directly into the survey database, they don’t come into the drawing and then into the database, they are brought directly into the database from the point file bypassing the drawing altogether.  Since the point file has no coordinate system (yet alone a transformation setting), they are simply brought directly into the database.

As you can see, the points coordinate match the points in the point file and do not reflect the transformation settings.  If you need the points to honor the transformation settings, import the points into the drawing first, and then import the points into the survey database from the drawing.  Since the points are in the drawing, the settings of the drawing will be used and the points will be transformed as they are brought into the database.  In this image, you can see that the points in the drawing are in the project coordinates:

And after the points are brought into the survey database, they are in the known coordinate system:

Hopefully, this will help clarify some of the mystery of the survey database.