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B.C. company helping First Nations create 3D 'digital twins' of their territories


A Victoria-based company that uses technology developed for video games to create three-dimensional replicas of real-world locations has partnered with more than a dozen First Nations on digital models of their territories.

LlamaZOO also markets its technology to mining and forestry companies, but its program called "Guardian" is developed for First Nations looking to visualize information about their territories in a central, virtual hub.

Robin Billy is the director of operations for the Stk'emlupsemc te Secwepemc First Nation, one of 15 First Nations currently using Guardian. He told CTV News he sees the technology as an important tool the nation can use both for its own purposes and in discussions with the province and the resource industry.

"Traditionally, our people would always be out on the land," Billy said. "You'd know, like, every nook and cranny, every animal, you know, where the fish are and that type of thing. Not everybody gets an opportunity to get out there now … We've seen this program as an opportunity to basically create a 3D model of the entire territory and then start adding in data."

As an example, he suggested using the topographical data in the model to inform decisions on which forestry cutblocks make sense to log, and which are on too steep a grade for the nation's comfort.

Such information already exists in two-dimensional maps, but the 3D model allows users to experience the data much more viscerally - to see what it looks like in the real world, even if they can't physically visit the site.

LlamaZOO CEO and president Charles Lavigne said visual representations of data are a powerful tool.

"It transcends and breaks down barriers of language and technical understanding and it creates a common operating picture - that unified digital twin, that single image - that all stakeholders can really understand and gather around and be on the same footing from," he said.

"What's really magical about it is that because it's 3D, we can visualize the data at a one-to-one scale, which effectively means that you can fly down to the ground, to the creekbed or to the road, and see how wide the road actually is," Lavigne added.

Billy also talked about the potential of the software for mapping traditional knowledge and cultural information. He said he thinks adequate mapping of cultural sites could stop some conflicts with the resource industry before they start.

"If you tell people ahead of time that these (cultural sites) are there, you kind of avoid people like mining companies coming in there, or what have you," he said.

Both Billy and Lavigne talked about Guardian as a way to "level the playing field" between First Nations, government and industry.

Billy said he's hopeful that having important data visualized and accessible will strengthen his nation's arguments in discussions about forestry, mining and other development.

"If we're talking about reconciliation, our voices have to be listened to when we're making those determinations, and this type of tool can allow us to do that."

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim Top Stories

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