Grey peaks jutting upwards among sawtoothed, sharp little points – at first glance, this rendering looks like it’s a model depicting stalagmites on a cave floor. But this isn’t a sculpture of a miniature cavern – it’s actually a data visualization representing the transit patterns in Toronto’s core.

While it’s evident a data visualization is almost always more eye-catching than an Excel spreadsheet, Toronto-based startup DataAppeal Inc. is taking that a step further by allowing users to present their data as 3D models, freshly formed from a 3D printer.

(Image: DataAppeal). The number of transit riders in Toronto and the GTA in a 24-hr time period.
(Image: DataAppeal). The number of transit riders in Toronto and the GTA in a 24-hr time period.
(Image: DataAppeal). A 3D print of a data visualization showing the number of transit riders in Toronto.
(Image: DataAppeal). A 3D print of a data visualization showing the number of transit riders in Toronto.

DataAppeal, which creates location-based data visualizations in 3D, launched a new update to its service last month. It allows users to use DataAppeal to create 3D maps and then export them as a DAE file, a type of file extension typically found in 3D modeling programs. That makes the 3D maps compatible with widely-used programs like 3ds Max, AutoCAD, and SketchUp.

The hope is by making DataAppeal compatible with these programs, the 3D mapping service service will open itself up to more users, says Nadia Amoroso, one of DataAppeal’s co-founders.

“Imagine like an architect or an urban planner, if they’ve created a master plan of their designs,” she says. “They can integrate now the actual 3D data maps, almost like datascapes, and import them into their other applications. So they could integrate what they see with the information in terms of relating it to the built form.”

“That could allow them to judge, for example, if you were to see a higher concentration of people moving in a particular corner of a street, and you’d see a building that’s taking up or occupying a lot of space, maybe they might consider creating more open areas than that particular area because of the amount of people walking by that space.”

And now that Data Appeal has made its 3D maps compatible with these modeling programs, users can now make 3D prints of their visualizations if they choose, Amoroso adds.

So far, DataAppeal has made only a few of these 3D prints, with the help of a Toronto-based company called Draft Print 3D. One of them showcases the number of transit riders within a 24-hour time period in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area, based on a study called the Transportation Tomorrow Survey.

When the data from the survey was pulled into a visualization, it showed huge spikes in densely-packed areas. With the two most dramatic spikes in the city’s downtown core, it appears as though the University of Toronto’s St. George campus has the most traffic, followed by Union Station in the Front Street area. Other highly populated areas include Keele Street and Steeles Avenue.

DataAppeal also worked on a project alongside architecture students at George Brown College, measuring the energy efficiency of houses in the Beaches, a neighbourhood in Toronto’s east end. Houses received rankings of between one and 10 based on their sustainability, their building materials, their lighting, and so on. The project was a partnership between DataAppeal and Steffanie Adams, a professor at George Brown.

(Image: DataAppeal). Data visualization showing energy efficient homes in the Beaches.
(Image: DataAppeal). Data visualization showing energy efficient homes in the Beaches.
(Image: DataAppeal). 3D print of a data visualization showing energy efficient homes in the Beaches.
(Image: DataAppeal). 3D print of a data visualization showing energy efficient homes in the Beaches.

While this 3D visualization wasn’t nearly as sharply defined as Toronto’s transit patterns, it does show little bubbles of where homeowners have been more conscientious about their energy use. However, the project would have shown more starkly defined examples of sustainable houses if the data had used a larger number scale like one to 100, instead of just one to 10, Amoroso says.

Still, these 3D data visualization prints have proved more compelling than just plain old charts and tables – something Data Appeal found when they brought the 3D printed models to a conference.

“When you think of data, it’s not quite interesting, but if you take it from an image and then further extend that outreach to a physical form or sculpture, it’s much more interesting,” Amoroso says.

“We had created this in Data Appeal, and then we brought it into 3ds Max, and from there we manipulated a little bit of the design. And then we created this little sculpture of the data, and people found it really interesting because it’s an actual, physical form. They can pick up the data and look at it.”

Data Appeal’s new feature is a free update for customers using its Appeal package, which is priced at about $499 a year, Amoroso says. However, right now the update is also available with the free version of the solution, so users can give it a trial run.

For a link to DataAppeal’s interactive Google Earth representation of Toronto’s transit patterns, head on over here.

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