DRiVEdecisions: Open Data In Virtual Reality

November 26, 2014 11:14 am PDT | Data Apps & Visualization, Open Data

Think about your local bus stop. When you imagine it, you see it as a place. You can see the intersection and the trees and the bus shelter. It isn’t just a pin on a map.

But, the way we look at almost all data these days, is in the latter context. We don’t see data in its place. We see it as pins on a map, bars on a graph, lines in a spreadsheet. And, in so doing, we are losing the context around our data.

DRiVEdecisions puts spatial context around open data through the use of virtual environments. As the company’s founder, Luis F. Borrero said on phone interview with Socrata, “Transparency is good, but in the end, it’s really just offering you data. We are giving that data clarity by showing what the data means to you, in the shortest amount of time and the most memorable way.”

Borrero explains that DRiVEdecisions visualizes data in a virtual environment because it triggers “memory space” in your brain. As an example, he offers bike fatality data. When the DRiVEdecisions app zooms you to the corner where bike fatalities are the highest, you’ll never go through that intersection forgetting it. It’s not possible to trigger that level of comprehension and meaning on a map.

“It would have been easier to create maps or lists,” says Borrero, “But’s that not as high impact as virtual environments. The experience we create is tailored for decision makers at the highest levels.”

Three-dimensional visualization offers an extra channel of information for better insights. As an example, Borrero offers “a heat map showing the percentage of households with Asian households per block may be misleading in 2D. In two dimensions a block with two out of two Asian households would be rendered in red. Because, technically that is 100% of all households in that block. But, an adjacent block with 100 Asian households out of at total of 200 would render in yellow.”

That’s accurate, Borrero says, but it’s not giving context. As shown in the above rendering, DRiVEdecisions’ virtual environment “visualizes the total population as the volume of the block in 3D. That 3D volume is layered with translucent color to solve the 2D problem. The implications of having this level of clarity in decision-making could be huge.

Because DRiVEdecisions aggregates data across regional agencies, cities, county, and state  governments, the tool is ideal for not just cities, but entire municipal regions, like the Bay Area, which alone has over 100 connected municipalities.  As Borrero claims, the app is “creating a lot of value by breaking down silos. You can look not just at jobs versus schools versus building permits and crime, but you can see across cities and see how they work as a system.”

Currently, DRiVEdecisions is deployed only in the Greater  Seattle area, so Borrero is anxious to roll out the application for municipal regions across the country.  He says the company is actively looking for mayors to use DRiVEdecisions in their own cities. Mayors’ offices, as the principal coordinators of public and private requests, on neighborhood to regional scales, would most benefit from seeing multi-layered data in a virtual environment.

Former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who recently joined the DRiVEdecisions team agrees the app would simplify mayoral cabinet meetings. Looking at data from numerous agencies, across geography, in a single, lifelike view would eliminate the need to sort through PDFs and other formats.

Borrero adds DRiVEdecisions is especially useful for cities undertaking large scale transportation or urban development projects. “If cities are doing any comprehensive planning that will touch so many lives and maybe impact the planet, shouldn’t they do so in the most advanced way possible?” he asks.

While the app would be a boon to any civil servant, Borrero believes that all citizens could learn and innovate from virtually visualized data. He’s hopeful that a forward thinking foundation or regional government will be willing to fund public access to DRiVEdecisions.

“With the rise of Oculus Rift, Google Glass, and the upcoming launches of virtual reality browsers from Mozilla and Chrome, augmented and virtual reality are poised to become commonplace ,” according to Borrero. “We will all come to expect to see some information in that way. Why would it be any different with government data?”

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This post is part of a series about apps available through the Socrata Marketplace


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