Applied Urban Modelling 2012

CASA researchers were out in force at the AUM 2012 meeting in Cambridge last week, organised by the urban modelling group at the Martin Centre. It was an enjoyable meeting, with a good range of participants from both academia and built-environment practitioners. I’ll discuss some highlights from my own GIS and visualisation perspective.

It was great to see Paul Waddell present UrbanSim, which is a well established and popular open source platform for land use transport modelling based on microsimulation. Current improvements include adding 3D visualisation capabilities and pedestrian accessibility. Paul also had a demo of an impressive new urban design tool using a procedural architecture approach similar to CityEngine. Colleagues at CASA Camilo Vargas and Melanie Bosredon are developing an UrbanSim model of London, so we will be returning to this software in future posts.

Andres Sevtsuk from City Form Lab MIT presented on modelling retail locations from a street network Space Syntax type approach. His team have developed an Urban Network Analysis tool for performing measures like Betweeness and Closeness within ArcGIS. This tool is also open source and it’s great to see so much interesting software going down this free to access route.

My favourite presentation was from past and present CASA researchers Kiril Stanilov and Paolo Mascucci. Kiril has painstakingly been putting together an incredibly detailed vector dataset of the growth of London’s road network from the 1700’s to the present day. The time-lapse sequence of the network growing looked spectacular, highlighting the path dependence from historical forms and the different sequences of growth in London’s history. There’s fantastic potential in this dataset for improving modelling and understanding of how cities grow and develop. A flavour of the data can be seen in the below poster image:

London 3D Augmented Reality Map

CASA hosted a very successful Smart Cities event last Friday, including presentations from Carlo Ratti, Mike Batty and Andy Hudson-Smith. The event premiered an interactive exhibition we have been working on, based on the theme of mixing physical and digital worlds. Some fantastic and fun exhibits have been developed by colleagues including George MacKerron, Steven GrayOllie O’Brien, Fabian Neuhaus, James Cheshire, Richard MiltonMartin de Jode, Ralph BarthelJon Reades, Hannah Fry, Toby DaviesPete Ferguson and Martin Austwick, who no doubt will be blogging about them all soon. Thanks to everyone who attended and contributed to a great day.

For my own exhibit I had a try at developing an augmented reality app to explore 3D urban data. The idea was to use iPads as the window into a 3D urban map of London, allowing the user to navigate around the virtual model to see different perspectives and focus on interesting parts of the data. Do we respond differently to data with a seemingly physical presence? Well this is one way to find out…

The app was developed in Unity using the Vuforia AR extension, and I was impressed with how accessible augmented reality technology has become using such tools. Firstly GIS data on urban form in London and air pollution was exported from ArcMap into Unity, and an interface to the data was developed. The core app without the AR capabilities can be viewed here (Unity web player required).

Next I followed the Vuforia iOS tutorials to add AR functionality. This approach uses a tracking image to position and scale the 3D model to the user’s viewpoint. Nice features of Vuforia include the ability to select your own tracking image, and that it can handle some occlusion of the image when the user moves to a particular part of the model, although a part of the tracking image must be in view of the camera at all times otherwise the model disappears from the user’s view. A large A0 poster was used as the tracking image, giving users greater flexibility in navigating the data.

The resulting app is very intuitive and delivered the desired ‘wow’ factor with many of the attendees at the conference. The AR aspect certainly encouraged users to explore the data, and identify patterns at different scales.

Adding more interactivity, animation and sorting out some issues with the target image (multiple smaller images would have worked better than one very large image) would all be nice for version 2. I’ll do a more detailed tutorial on the workflow developed later on if this is of interest.