VIRTUAL NATIONS AND NETWORKS | Australian geospatial organisations are moving to establish one of the world’s first Virtual Nation projects — creating a detailed simulation of the continent’s urban and natural environments.

At the project’s second stakeholders’ workshop, held in Canberra on 15 April 2011, about 25 representatives from relevant public and private sector groups agreed to help launch the Virtual Australia concept at selected technology conferences and trade fairs this year.

Hosted by the Geoscience Australia Office of Spatial Data Management, the meeting was co-chaired by technologies industry leaders Michael Haines and Richard Simpson.

Attendees agreed there are numerous existing public sector ventures of relevance to a Virtual Australia ‘Sim Continent’ – especially the AUScope, TERN and AURIN environmental modelling support projects that have been generously funded from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Several existing and potential Co-operative Research Centres appear logical partners – along with up to seven national research institutions and the Universities Australia consortium.

As well as research, government and community groups, more than 15 peak industry organisations have expressed support.

More co-ordination and communication is required to ‘connect up’ the diverse operations and organisations.

Said Michael Haines: ‘VA is Australia’s part of a ‘true-to-life computer model of the physical world’ … a fully interoperable interactive 3D simulation of the natural and built environment (including internal spaces and below ground) … on all relevant scales, over all relevant time periods, plus all related information. It will also be subject to the same authentication, security access controls and privacy rights as are applicable in the physical world.

‘Like the real world, it will be built progressively over time … but much more quickly!’

The Virtual Australia project also has potential to join with similar environmental modelling projects now being set up in New Zealand – potentially creating a Virtual ANZ project that could launch in relation to the 2015 Centenary of the ANZAC joint military alliance set up during the First World War.

Virtual ANZ would contribute its databanks and visuals to the emerging Digital Earth | Nations | Cities global technology network. Inspired by the ‘Technology Mechanism’ promised in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, the network’s initial partners are the International Society for Digital Earth, the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association, the United Nations Habitat World Urban Campaign, the Metropolis World Association of Major Cities and the international Smart Light low-energy light art celebrations.

More than 75 other global special interest organisations are relevant to the growth of what appears to be the 21st century’s most substantial political and economic movement: variously titled Digital Earth, Smart Earth, Smarter Planet and Living Earth Simulators.

The Virtual Australia project is being informally supported by some federal Government Ministers because it has potential to become a popular rationale for substantial spending on the proposed National Broadband Network.

VA’s proponents say they are keen to involve state and local governments to organise various Virtual Cities and Towns projects, where local children and adults could supply to the national databank GPS-tagged images and information about different conditions in their localities. Among geospatial technologies experts, this idea is known as volunteered geographic information (VGI).