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Fast 3D City Model Creation
Regine Debatty, 9 May 05

berkeleymodel.jpgEngineers at Berkeley have found a way to map a city very quickly, recording every window and doorway of the urban battlefield in an accurate 3D model.

The "virtualised reality" technique is similar to building a virtual reality model, but the process is automated and much faster.

Virtualised reality scans the urban landscape using lasers and digital cameras mounted on a truck or plane. A laser measures distances to objects such as lamp posts and building facades, while the camera takes 2D photos. Another laser calculates the movement of the truck and checks its position against data collected from the aerial laser.

A computer combines these data to create the 3D model of the area. The researchers recently created a model of downtown Berkeley in just 4œ hours - 26 minutes of driving plus 4 hours of data processing.

The first user will probably be the US army, but in the future car-hire companies or cellphone providers could use it to transmit up-to-date 3D maps to their customers to help them navigate through unfamiliar cities. Emergency workers could use the models to figure out the best way to respond to disasters. Urban planners could look at a series of models collected over time to see how the layout of their city has evolved.

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Wow. This is something to look forward to - it sounds like it would be quite cheap to map out cities, getting lasers to eat up the information of countryside, and mirror the lay of the land in 1s and 0s would perhaps require different techniques, but surely could be achieved.

Britain could be terra-mapped in the very near future if the project was well-funded. I could roll out of bed, two lethargic steps, sit on seat facing keyboard and monitor, have my own terra-mapped glasgow load up, starting position: 7 feet away from myself right outside of my bedroom window. I could float hither and thither 'round the local shops, then up,up,up above.

Okay, so maybe its not the most practical application but I do like the idea of zipping round the city unfettered by physical restraints like... not being able to fly, and very quickly you could get a better feel for the geography of a city they have recently moved to.

For holidays it would be excellent aswell. If you have a laptop out in a seaside cottage, you could, within five minutes, cyber-trek round nearby villages, paths and hills that you might choose to cycle to.

Posted by: Joe on 11 May 05

I hope they donated their map to the city of Berkeley! I could see an immediate use in urban planning. I recently showed my father, who had been on the Planning Commision of a small city, how to use satellite maps such as, and he said it would have been very helpful to have had live access to such maps as ideas came up during their meetings. A 3D model would be even better. Right now, only developers have the kind of visual presentation firepower needed to convince authorities of their plans. Imagine if ordinary citizens could download the existing city model and add to it, demonstrating various ideas. It could be a wonderful counterforce to developer-driven urban planning and sprawl.

Posted by: Jeff Rusch on 12 May 05

I have seen similar tool sets before focusing on cities. Urban data Solutions was founded during the dot com boom and wa quite successful. But they relied on a lot of "manual" work to get their city data. I think they are now part of earthdata or some similar satellite business.

Screampoint comes at it with mathmatecial models, has anj amazing wow factor, and is quite cool.

Posted by: Ritesh Patel on 16 May 05



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