Trivia 092: A fashionable Swiss model

The country of Switzerland is well known for their simultaneous neutrality and preparedness. Having remained neutral during both world wars, they are also not a member of NATO nor the European Union, despite being surrounded by member nations. They also boast a robust emergency preparedness system, with a goal of having a nuclear shelter within 30 minutes walking distance of everyone. They have enough emergency shelters to house their entire population – perhaps the only country in the world that can make such a boast.

There is one other thing that makes Switzerland stand out, and though it may not be as flashy as the previous two facts, it is much more immediately accessible. In fact, you can check this out for yourself at home!

All countries maintain maps of their territory. Having highly detailed maps is incredibly important for planning and strategizing. In the case of any sort of invasion, these maps could be used to plan defenses and where to engage the enemy. In peacetime, they are useful for organizing logistics and construction. As Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” But in Switzerland, they have taken things one step further. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say one dimension further.

The Federal Office of Swiss Topography has created a 3D model of the entire country. This is no mean feat, given how mountainous their territory is. But the model goes beyond just the lay of the land. The model includes every single building in the country of Switzerland – faithfully rendered in 3D, and updated every six years. And not only buildings, but bridges, cable cars, forests, and individual trees are represented. The 3D models of buildings can be used for things like analyzing light and shadow, wind, and simulations of natural disasters. Combined with the extremely precise topographic scans of terrain produced by LIDAR, Switzerland is the only country in the world to have a fully 3D national topographic database (as of 2019).

This data is freely available online, through their 3D map viewer. Using it, you can fly over the roofs of Bern, stroll down the streets of Zurich, or climb mountain trails in the Alps. It certainly is incredible to zoom way in on a city, and see the tiny buildings and trees show up. Google Maps attempts to do this, but the results can be blotchy and somewhat inconsistent. The Swisstopo map, on the other hand, renders objects to a precision within 50cm, and can be downloaded in a number of useful geodatabase formats.

And considering that this is the information that is publicly available, think about what level of detail they have on their confidential maps. But I think the ultimate takeaway is that, given a 3D printer large enough, you could replicate all of Switzerland in your backyard.

I have a new schedule at work, so I may be changing my post schedule. If you don’t get a new trivia post next Tuesday, this is why. Also, I recently uploaded a bunch of new photos to my Flickr page – including pictures from the recent aurora. Check it out here if you haven’t already.

If you know anyone who would like to receive these, please have them send an email to [email protected]. And if you are reading this from a bunker in Switzerland, let me know and I can take you off the list.

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