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2007-11-30

Arc to Second Life: Geographic Data Direct to Second Life

As part of our research project funded by the National Centre for E-Social Science we are working on Second Nature Island (part of the NATURE group) on importing geographic data into Second Life.

We have just made a bit of a break through by importing data direct from a Geographic Information System (GIS) into our section of the world. As the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis the majority of our data is held in ArcMap, a GIS package made by ESRI.


The two images (each clickable for larger versions) illustrate the 32 London Boroughs extruded according to their embedded data. Each Borough can be queried and more importantly can now be visualised in Second Life.

It is still early days but an exporter from ArcMap to Second Life would be a unique step in the aim to share geographic data in collaborative environments.

Thanks go to Joel at CASA for writing the scripts.

2007-11-29

Edushi.com - Possibly the Best City Maps in the World?


Every now and then someone sends you a link that has the whole office gathered around your workstation. Edushi.com (short for ECity in Chinese) is such a link, a company that has mapped the 21 major cities in China and the majority of the provincial areas.

The maps are a visual feast of pixel art down to the finest detail and covering vast swathes of urban China. The interface is similar to Google Maps with the ability to pan, zoom as well as run searches for local businesses and transport links.


Edushi.com is part of the Aladdin Information and Technology corporation with the company stating that EDUSHI will be the next Internet revolution. They are currently looking to expand out of China and are looking for cities to partner with.

View Shanghai direct from here

The full list of cities (in chinese) from here - it is worth simply clicking and browsing the maps if you are not fluent in Chinese.

English language information on Aladdin and Edushi.

We are not sure it will be the next Internet revolution (unless perhaps in full 3D) but even in 2D is represent some of the best geographical visualisation of the city that we have seen for a while.

Thanks go to Nelson for sending us the link.

Importing Geographic Terrains into Second Life


Importing physical terrain data into Second Life is one of our goals as it allows 'table top' models of the earths physical geography to be viewed and discussed within a collaborative environment. It turns out the process is relatively easy with our first tests of a real terrain in Thailand and a made up terrain out of Terragen working well.


The image above (click for a larger version) is a 512x512 metre section reduced down for easy viewing, close up views can be obtained using the 'zoom' tool.

It is still work in progress but if anyone is interested we can put up a work flow once its refined.

Posts...

A quick message just to apologise for the lack of posts so far this week. We have been working on a paper for a book chapter entitled 'Iconic Simulations: Mirrors into a Recursive World'. Its almost there and then we can get back to the blog posts...

Up and coming is news on importing DEM's into Second Life and switching Virtual London for Virtual Thailand in Second Life, we have permission to use the data (see Virtual London: Removed from Second Life at Request of Ordnance Survey) which is ironic is some ways.

2007-11-25

Build a Virtual City - Shelter Buy a House Rebuild A Life





Shelter, the United Kingdom's national charity campaigning on housing and homelessness, has set up a virtual plot of land with the aim of building a city to help the homeless.


Shelter's vision is that everyone should have a home - somewhere decent, safe, affordable and permanent
.
Shelter helps more than 170,000 people a year fight for their rights, get back on their feet, and find and keep a home.

Running in Flash the city is made out of iconic pixelart with plots available to buy at varying prices according your choice of bulding. Green space is available from as little as £5 with houses starting at £10, the money goes direct to the charity.

Being able to help the homeless by purchasing a house in a virtual world is a unique and clever concept, the image below illustrates the interface and our house (far left) in the city:



  • A £10 terraced house could pay for a ten minute call to Shelter’s free national helpline.

  • A £20 Victorian house could pay for a 'starting at school' pack to help a child who has been homeless settle into a new school.

  • A £100 Georgian house could help provide a detailed consultation with a trained housing adviser.

  • A £500 department store could help run a monthly housing advice surgery in a local community centre.
Come and be our neighbour in Shelters Virtual City, your be in good company, Steve Fry lives in the windmill over the road...

You can go direct to our plot from here.

For more information see http://www.buildacity.org.uk/

2007-11-24

Mirror Worlds: Real World Virtual Cities, Twinty?


The term Mirror Worlds comes from David Gelernter's seminal book 'Mirror Worlds or: The Day Software puts the Universe in a Shoebox'. Essentially it is about software that mimics reality - the social, informational and visual space that is our environment.

Google Earth is an early example of a mirror world but it lacks the social space that give these representations of reality life and the all important street level, human environment. As such Twinty is worth keeping an eye on.

In their pre-release teaser the Twinty site states:
Imagine a virtual world that brings the dream of “virtual reality” back to life – a place bursting with real people and real experiences. Twinity is not an exercise in digital escapism. Instead, think of it as the virtual extension of your life. Even your avatar will look pretty familiar…
In the coming weeks a group of beta testers will begin exploring Twinity for the very first time. If you’d like to be one of them, fill out the form on the Twinty site and join the Beta.

Twinty is of note on two levels:
  1. It is based on the real world and apparently real cities;
  2. It will be possible to import objects via the Collada and thus from 3DMax, Blender etc
This opens up the possibility of importing city models into the city - a recursive city or a world within a world, we will be running a feature on Twinty as soon as its released.

Metaversed got a hands on with a earlier build , see Can Twinity Foster Creativity and Economy in Virtual Cities?

2007-11-23

Augmented Reality for Communicating Architecture

Augmented Reality (AR)is an interesting and underused concept in communicating the cityscape. Embedded below is an example of using AR in a exhibition environment illustrating the Master Plan for the Almada Waterfront by Richard Rogers:



Any 3D architectural model can be used in a AR context with a simple location marker, a webcam and freely available software. The unique concept of the movie above is integrating the marker onto a glove - it seems to work well.

See our previous Tutorial on Quick and Easy AR for full details on creating your own AR visualisation.

Automatic City Builder - Gamr7

The latest issue of EDGE (183) features an excellent article on Automatic City Building for games. Focused on Gamr7, it details their middleware aimed at enabling artists to quickly design and create detailed urban environments.

The cities are grown based on the meaning of buildings according to activity. Cities are of course complex and this procedural approach is interesting, a movie detailing the system to date is embedded below:



Note the above movie is only indicative of earlier work, a new demo is coming soon but for now due to NDA's this is all the info we have.

We look forward to seeing the latest version...

Gamr7 aim to have a working release by mid 2008.

2007-11-22

Back to the MetaVerse: The Roadmap

Its not often we say this, but 'The Metaverse Roadmap: Pathways to the 3D Web' is one of the best reports we have read for a long time. Written by a cross industry group of authors it provides a balanced, informed and educational overview of virtual worlds, digital earths and the concept of the MetaVerse.

The introduction to the report provides a good summary of its contents:

Taking its name from the immersive virtual world imagined by Neal Stephenson in his visionary novel, Snow Crash, the Metaverse Roadmap (MVR) is the first public ten-year forecast and visioning survey of 3D Web technologies, applications, markets, and potential social impacts.

Areas of exploration include the convergence of Web applications with networked computer games and virtual worlds, the use of 3D creation and animation tools in virtual environments, digital mapping, artificial life, and the underlying trends in hardware, software, connectivity, business innovation and social adoption that will drive the transformation of the World Wide Web in the coming decade.

The MVR explores multiple pathways to the 3D enhanced web, not a single path to a "3D-only" web. An array of 3D web enhancements are emerging, visual extensions to the participatory web technologies.

You can download the 23 page document direct from http://metaverseroadmap.org/

Worlds Worst Urban Spaces: Katowice, Poland

This one made us smile, the majority of the images in the book we are assuming will focus on architecture and the urban scene in general but this image with the human element just sums up that sinking feeling of a terrible town.

Submitted to our Flickr Pool by Craig Nunn, Craig provides the background to the image:
Whilst working as English teachers in Poland, Tomek and I would often ask our students where the worst place in Poland was. The unanimous answer was Katowice.

We decided to make a journey around Poland by train and made a point of stopping off in Katowice. The weather was suitably ominous, and we were greeted with a crumbling mass of dirty grey concrete. Katowice was truly breathtakingly dull and average, and we spent about ten minutes loitering around the station taking it all in, took this photo as a memento, and left on the next train.

It turns out Katowice was all we hoped it would be, because for the rest of the journey we were in awe of the beauty Poland has to offer elsewhere.

To take part you can simply upload your photography to our Flickr Pool, Worlds Worst Urban Spaces and Place including a description of between 100 and 250 words.

The image and text will then be used in a post and included in the forthcoming book written in the spirit of Web 2.0 by readers of this blog.

See the Worlds Worst Urban Spaces and Places blog for the latest posts and full details (note this will take shape over the coming weeks as content is sent in via Flickr)

The Flood: London Digital Effects


Climate change and its effects on cities is an increasingly hot topic, as such its not surprising that it is a topic being tapped into by movie makers. While climate change may not be a good thing we do like the movies about cities and the digital effects that come with them. The Flood, a movie directed by Tony Mitchell and based on the novel by Richard Doyle, develops a scenario whereby London is submerged under 20ft of flood-water.

The trailer below provides a glimpse of London that any digital effects creator would be proud of:



In order to reassure the public in light of the film The Environment Agency, perhaps surprisingly, issued a statement. The agency reassure that the possibility of London’s defence structures succumbing to a major flood is currently estimated at having a 1:2000 or 0.05 per cent chance of occurring.

The last major flood was a 1:300 event in 1953 and it was this event that led to the construction of the Barrier. Tony Mitchell however states that the film was 'scientifically accurate'.

The movie was released in August and is now available on DVD, while the reviews were mixed its a good watch even if only for the city effects....

2007-11-21

Worlds Worst Urban Spaces: Nihonbashi -Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway

The latest submission to the forthcoming book is from Martinpfirrmann via our Flickr Pool.

This is an interesting one, in Martins' words - Imagine building an elevated highway over Pont Neuf, Pulteney Bridge or Ponte di Rialto? Well, Tokyo did this to its “Bridge of Japan”.

Nihonbashi was first built in the center of Edo in 1603. The area around Nihonbashi was the major business and financial district until the 20th century. The bridge is the origin of measuring distances for all places in Japan. Since then, it was rebuilt about 20 times; today’s renaissance-style stone bridge was constructed in 1911. Only in 1999, it was designated as a cultural asset.

Though being a significant element in Japanese history, shortly before the Olympics in 1964, the elevated Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway was constructed over the bridge.

Plans to remove the highway are without progress. The historic monument, located close to the exclusive Ginza Shopping Area rests in the shadows of the highway. The official Tokyo sightseeing guidebook does not even mention it, and if you pass over the bridge today, you would hardly notice it at all.

If you would like to contribute it is easy, simply go out into your local urban environment and photograph anything that you think is an example of poor architecture, urban design or use of space. It could be a photograph of a run down phonebox or a disused building, perhaps a concrete monstrosity from the 1970's or anything that you think fits.

Once you have your photograph you can simply upload it to our newly created group on Flickr, Worlds Worst Urban Spaces and Place including a description of between 100 and 250 words.

Its as simple as that, see our previous post for full details on the book.

See the Worlds Worst Urban Spaces and Places blog for the latest posts (note this will take shape over the coming weeks as content is sent in via Flickr)

Imagining the Recursive City: Explorations in Urban Simulacra


While sorting out our About and Publications pages we noted that Working Paper 98, Imagining the Recursive City: Explorations in Urban Simulacra was not on the blog.

Written in 2005 the paper explores 3D Printing, Virtual Worlds and the Digital City. Its interesting to look back as the Virtual World section focused on our work in Adobe Atmosphere which was sadly dropped by Adobe.

It would be interesting to a take a new look at the paper in terms of Second Life which is what we are currently doing for a forth coming book chapter on
Iconic Simulations: Entries to a Recursive World in, Foth, M. (Ed.), Urban Informatics: Community Integration and Implementation. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference, IGI Global, Forthcoming. As is traditional the chapter should be out as a working paper on the blog shortly.

In 'Imagining the Recursive City: Explorations in Urban Simulacra' we view that cities are microcosms of societies, worlds within worlds, which repeat themselves at different spatial scales and over different time horizons.


In the paper, we argue that such recursion is taken to an entirely new level in the digital age where we can represent cities numerically, embed them within computers, scale and distort their representations so that we can embed them within one another, even believing them to be ‘computers’ in their own right. We begin with the conundrum of recursion, showing how its occurrence in cities through spatial similarity at different scales, leads to worlds within worlds.

We illustrate these ideas with a large-scale digital representation of the core of a world city, London, showing how we can generate different realizations of the city for different purposes. We embed these representations within one another, building virtual worlds, moving from the material to the digital and back again, using the digital model to represent the material world in different ways, and finally printing – fabricating the model.

Our message is that digital representation opens a cornucopia of possibilities in representation and communication through a variety of devices which in turn can be embedded in the city, Escher-like, and which indeed are rapidly becoming the city.

Download the full paper (1047KB .pdf)

Demo Reels - CAD Studio Architectual Visualisation

In the second of our new series of posts on Demo Reels we feature CAD Studio.

The Architecture 3D animation showreel dates from 2006 with the visualisaton produced using Maya sofware:

Cad Studios' literature state that the company offers a high level of service to the building industry, covering areas such as architectural design and drafting through to creating 3D animations and static images or artist impressions, for marketing material, mainly used by property developers, architects and real estate companies in New Zealand and Australia.

Although this service is mainly used by large scale developers, they also offer expertise to the individual who may require this level of examination to either renovate or simply preview the potential result, for a new dwelling or business.

See the CAD Studio site for more details.

Worlds Worst Urban Spaces: Blackburn in Lancashire

Frannk has uploaded a great image to our Fickr Pool for the reader created Digital Urban Book 'The Worlds Worst Urban Places and Spaces.

In Frannk's words: This image was taken as part of a mass observation project of the town of Blackburn in Lancashire, North West, England. Over the last few years I've started to document the changes taking place in the town under their banner of 'Urban Regeneration' .

Blackburn had at one time come under Lancashire County Council but a few years ago opted out of their control and now looks after it's own finances. The result being, more money for the town and more investment rather than it being spent in 'places like Preston.

By 'opting out', Lancashire County Council no longer sees Blackburn as a Town situated in Lancashire and refuses to acknowledge the town even though Blackburn is bang in the center of Lancashire.... work that one out!!

If you would like to contribute it is easy, simply go out into your local urban environment and photograph anything that you think is an example of poor architecture, urban design or use of space. It could be a photograph of a run down phonebox or a disused building, perhaps a concrete monstrosity from the 1970's or anything that you think fits.


Once you have your photograph you can simply upload it to our newly created group on Flickr, Worlds Worst Urban Spaces and Place including a description of between 100 and 250 words.

Its as simple as that, see our previous post for full details on the book.

See the Worlds Worst Urban Spaces and Places blog for the latest posts (note this will take shape over the coming weeks as content is sent in via Flickr)

2007-11-20

Virtual London: Removed from Second Life at Request of Ordnance Survey


Our Virtual London model in Second Life has been removed from the collaborative environment at the request of the Ordnance Survey.

The research is currently 'pending license clearance' as the Ordnance Survey are 'uncomfortable' with the use of the data.

Details on the work currently unavailable are in the post below, we are reserving comment at request on this one, but i guess you know our views...

Three Dimensional Collaborative Geographic Information Systems (3DC/GIS) are in their infancy, Google Earth opened up the concept of three dimensions to the mainstream but issues with data copyright, the inability to effectively tag data to buildings and the asynchronous nature of the platform have limited developments.

Second Life however provides a synchronous platform with the ability to tie information, actions and rules to objects opening the possibility of a true multi-user geographical information system. It has been notoriously difficult to import 3D data into the Second Life but at CASA we have managed to import our Virtual London model of 3 million plus buildings into a scrolling map. The map is built from prims that 'res' our of a central point to build accurate models based on Ordnance Survey MasterMap with height data supplied by InfoTerra.

The movie embedded below illustrates a section of Canary Wharf, London building in real-time, note the movie represents work in progress:



For past details see the Ordnance Survey/Google and Virtual London thread.

2007-11-19

The Book - Worlds Worst Urban Places and Spaces Update 1

A quick update just to let you know that we have our first contribution - as featured in the earlier post - and it is already inserted into the book template.

Overall design and layout are to be decided but what we need now is your content and your contribution.

See 'Become an Author: Digital Urban's Worlds Worst Urban Places and Spaces Book' for full info, we look forward to your posts....

Google Earth PhotoOverlay with Hotspots

Stefan Geens of the Ogle Earth Blog has put up an interesting post which in part uses our labs Google Earth PhotoOverlay Creator to good effect for archaeological dig visualisation.

It is well worth taking a look at Stefans' post as he has integrated other photographs into the panorama, creating an interesting use of photooverlay and Google Earth. Indeed in this instance Google Earth becomes more of a general visualisation platform, something that you may of seen in VRML or such like a few years ago.

View Stefans Post - of note is the panorama created using his Nokia (we assume N95?)

Download PhotoOverlay Creator and view the Tutorial.

How to Stitch a Panorama with the Nokia N95

First Book Contribution - Exhibition Road Pedestrian Subway, London

Frankie Roberto has become the first contributor to the forthcoming book Digital Urban Book - The Worlds Worst Urban Places and Spaces authored completely by readers of the blog.

In Frankies' words the image captures the pedestrian subway that runs under Exhibition Road from South Kensington tube station to the three major museums of the area. In school holidays it echoes with the sound of excitable children, at other times it's just a souless, never ending tunnel of despair with little daylight, and no connection with the outside environment. Worse, the subway is prone to leaking when it rains, sometimes to the extent that the subway has to be closed, ironically at the time when it's most useful.

If you would like to contribute it is easy, simply go out into your local urban environment and photograph anything that you think is an example of poor architecture, urban design or use of space. It could be a photograph of a run down phonebox or a disused building, perhaps a concrete monstrosity from the 1970's or anything that you think fits.

Once you have your photograph you can simply upload it to our newly created group on Flickr, Worlds Worst Urban Spaces and Place including a description of between 100 and 250 words.

Its as simple as that, see our previous post for full details on the book.

See the Worlds Worst Urban Spaces and Places blog for the latest posts (note this will take shape over the coming weeks as content is sent in via Flickr)

2007-11-16

Become an Author: Digital Urban's Worlds Worst Urban Places and Spaces Book

We are looking for authors to contribute to a new book on the Worlds Worst Urban Places and Spaces. The book embraces the concept of Web 2.0 by being based around Flickr and self publishing, in essence it is a nod to the changing world of publishing, you the readers and the ability to print on demand.

Whats it About?

The book is aimed to be a tour around the worlds worst examples of architecture, urban design and urban space as photographed by the readers of this blog. Using photographs and short pieces of text uploaded via Flickr we are proposing 100 + pages with a foreword by ourselves at Digital Urban.

How Can i Take Part?

Simply go out into your local urban environment and photograph anything that you think is an example of poor architecture, urban design or use of space. It could be a photograph of a run down phonebox or a disused building, perhaps a concrete monstrosity from the 1970's or anything that you think fits.

Once you have your photograph you can simply upload it to our newly created group on Flickr, Worlds Worst Urban Spaces and Place including a description of between 100 and 250 words. Its as simple as that.

Can i Vew Progress?

We have created a new blog page 'Worlds Worst Urban Places and Spaces' where each new submission will be posted, we will put in some light editing before posting so don't worry about your writing skills per se. This will also allow you to see what text will be included in the book.

When will the Book be Published?

The book will be published when we have enough content so that is down to you, it could be out next week, next month or in the next year. The beauty about Web 2.0 and self publishing is that we can send it to print as soon as the content is there and update it on a regular basis.

How Much Will it Cost?

For a book of 100 pages we are looking at approximately $25 although final details are subject to change, we will probably be using Blurb as our publisher due to their reputation for high quality colour reproduction.

Will you make a Profit From the Book?

The book will be sold at cost and is a collective community effort in the spirit of web 2.0 and the blog in general, as such it will be non-profit.

So welcome to the start of a book completely based on the readers of this blog, we hope it takes off and a book is out of the door in the next few months, a collective book where you are the author.

See the Worlds Worst Urban Spaces and Places blog page for the latest posts (note this will take shape over the coming weeks as content is sent in via Flickr)

2007-11-15

3D Collaborative Geographic Information Systems - Virtual London in Second Life

Three Dimensional Collaborative Geographic Information Systems (3DC/GIS) are in their infancy, Google Earth opened up the concept of three dimensions to the mainstream but issues with data copyright, the inability to effectively tag data to buildings and the asynchronous nature of the platform have limited developments.

Second Life however provides a synchronous platform with the ability to tie information, actions and rules to objects opening the possibility of a true multi-user geographical information system. It has been notoriously difficult to import 3D data into the Second Life but at CASA we have managed to import our Virtual London model of 3 million plus buildings into a scrolling map. The map is built from prims that 'res' our of a central point to build accurate models based on Ordnance Survey MasterMap with height data supplied by InfoTerra.

The movie embedded below illustrates a section of Canary Wharf, London building in real-time, note the movie represents work in progress:



Music by The Tartan Rascals

Each object can be tagged with data, coloured or replaced at will within the collaborative environment that is Second Life. In additional to this rule sets can be assigned to sub-objects allowing agent based models to be integrated into the system.

Our next step is to import a live GPS feed of a tagged member of CASA onto a scaled avatar on the map, the 3D buildings will in theory scroll and build as the person walks around London in real life.

We are also working on tagging information and textures to the facades, allowing perhaps for the first time a public 3DC/GIS to be feasible.

If you have Second Life installed you can visit us by clicking here - you will get a red arrow pointing skywards, simply fly up to our section of Second Nature island in association with the Nature Network.

You can download Second Life from here.

Thanks go to Joel at CASA for writing the code.

3D Printing at Home: Fab@Home

In our previous article on 3D Architectural Printing we looked at the use of commercial 3D printing for the creation of physical city models thanks to those nice people at Sweet Onions Creations. We would argue that we are at the start of a revolution in home based manufacture using these machines, within the next 10 years design files will be shared as much as music files are today to print out new objects in the home.

Central to this is the Fab@Home project, 3D Printers or Fabbers as they are known are a relatively new form of manufacturing that builds 3D objects by carefully depositing materials drop by drop, layer by layer.

Slowly but surely, with the right set of materials and a geometric blueprint, you can fabricate complex objects that would normally take special resources, tools and skills if produced using conventional manufacturing techniques.

A fabber can allow you to explore new designs, email physical objects to other fabber owners, and most importantly - set your ideas free. Just as MP3s, iPods and the Internet have freed musical talent, we hope that blueprints and fabbers will democratize innovation.

While several commercial systems are available, their price range - tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands of dollars - is typically well beyond what an average home user can afford. Furthermore, commercial systems do not usually allow or encourage experimentation with new materials and processes. But more importantly, most - if not all - commercial system are geared towards making passive parts out of a single material.

The goal of the Fab@Home project is to explore the potential of universal fabrication: Machines that can use multiple materials to fabricate complete, active systems.

New Scientist have uploaded onto YouTube a 5 minute long interview with Evan Malone a co-founder of the Fab@Home project. The clip is well worth a look at it provides examples of the home based 3D printer to date as well as an insight into the future when these become part of everyday life:



The AT&T Tech channel also have a short film on the Fabber.

The system is starting to get into the hands of other research labs and individuals, a Google MyMaps project has been set up to map the spread of the Fabber with the locations so far embedded below:


View Larger Map


If you want to make your own, costs are currently coming in at $2300 with full details and parts via the Fab@Home website.

Finally, keep an eye on the Fab@School Blog as they have just received parts and will be blogging their progress with the machine.

2007-11-14

Vectorising Banksy - Camden Town

The panorama was captured in front of the Chambermaid stencil by the artist Banksy, in May 2006 on the wall of the Roundhouse in Camden. According to the Camden New Journal Article the maid is a portrait of Leita who worked in a Hotel in Los Angeles.

Using the online tool Vector Magic - see our earlier post - it is possible to quickly and easily create high quality vector output from images and Banksy's Chambermaid is a case in point.

You can compare the photograph and the vectorised version side by side from here.

View the Quicktime panorama of Banksy's Stencil at the Roundhouse, Camden, London (2.9Mb).

You can also simply view a larger version of the original image (290K).

CyberCity in Liquidation (?)

CyberCity AG the software company behind some of the best Google Earth models and specializing in the creation and visualization of reality-based virtual 3D cities seems to of gone into liquidation.

MoneyHouse is reporting the companies status and their website cybercity.tv has been taken offine.

While we cannot speculate on the demise of CyberCity, the market is increasingly crowded and with Web 2.0 based consumer level tools becoming available the creation of whole 3d cities is still seen as too costly for many clients.

CyberCitys' coporate video from 2006 illustrating high quality output is embedded below:



It is sad to see CyberCity removed from the market and we hope to see it re-emerge soon.

3D Urban Modelling Direct from Video



At the moment in the research world there is a lot of activity around ground based LiDAR data capture with a number of companies mounting rigs onto vans and driving around cities. We are not convinced by LiDAR per se, the data output is overwhelming and it is limited to high end hardware.

The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and University of KentuckyUrban have been working on techniques to develop 3D Models direct from video, thus negating the need for a LiDAR rig. Although it is early days, indeed we are at the dawn of this automatic modelling technology, the results are encouraging.

Embedded below is a model created of the Capel Campus using the technique:



In the words of Jan-Micael Fraham, Research Assistant Professor on the project, the research aims at developing a system for automatic, geo-registered, real-time 3D reconstruction from video of urban scenes.

From 2005-2007 the team developed a system that collects video streams, as well as GPS and inertia measurements in order to place the reconstructed models in geo-registered coordinates.

It is designed using current state of the art real-time modules for all processing steps employing commodity graphics hardware and standard CPU's to achieve real-time performance.

The second video embedded below provides an overview of the process:



The system extends existing algorithms to meet the robustness and variability necessary to operate out of the lab. To account for the large dynamic range of outdoor videos the processing pipeline estimates global camera gain changes in the feature tracking stage and efficiently compensates for these in stereo estimation without impacting the real-time performance.

The required accuracy for many applications is achieved with a two-step stereo reconstruction process exploiting the redundancy across frames.

Will we eventually see 3D modelling via consumer digital cameras with integrated machine vision? We think this could well happen within the next ten years...

See the UrbanScape website for more details.

Santiago Calatrava in SketchUp - Tutorial in Issue 99 3D World

Wikikpedia states that the HSB Turning Torso, a skyscraper in Malmö, Sweden is located on the Swedish side of the Öresund strait.

It was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and officially opened on 27 August2005. The tower reaches a height of 190 metresfeet) with 54 stories. Upon completion, it was the tallest building in Scandinavia, and Europe's second highest apartment building, after the 264-metre-high Triumph-Palace in Moscow.

The design is based on a sculpture by Santiago Calatrava called Twisting Torso. It uses nine five-story cubes that twist as it rises; the top-most segment is twisted ninety degrees clockwise with respect to the ground floor.

Each floor basically consists of a rectangular section surrounding the central core, along with a triangular section, which is partially supported by an exterior steel scaffold. The two bottom cubes are intended as office space. Cubes three to nine house 149 luxury apartments.

It is the sort of building that is ripe for the Google SketchUp treatment and indeed Tim Danaher of the VizArch Blog has done exactly that, complete with a movie shared via YouTube and embedded below:



Tim has written a tutorial on how to make the model, the tutorial is published in the forthcoming issue of 3D World Magazine, issue 99, we look forward to it.

While sketchup is criticised from some areas of the industry the model undoubtedly shows how it is possible to rapidly model intricate architecture. Final rendering can be significantly improved with HDR lighting, take a look at VizArch for some examples.

Vector Magic - Convert Maps and Images to Vector Format Online

We are seeing an increasing number of services existing in The Cloud, indeed to such an extent that some of these are starting to replace their desktop counterparts. One such service is from Stanford University - Vector Magic.

Vector Magic is the result of a Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Laboratory research project by James Diebel and Jacob Norda. They have strived to make the site as easy to use as possible, with a distinct and clear user-interface, while imposing a minimum of fuss.

All that is required is a reasonably modern browser, Flash Player and an image you'd like to vectorise. The service is impressive, being both quick and accurate it defiantly outperforms many other vectorisation solutions.


Vectorisation (aka tracing) is the process of converting a raster image to a vector image. Raster images are pixel-based, whereas vector images are represented by geometric shapes such as lines, circles and curves. As such it is particularly suitable for raster to vector map conversion, logo's and stark colour photography.

Using the site is as simple as uploading an image from your local drive, the software will then run a colour analysis and start the vectorising process. The map of London from 1832 pictured above took approximately 5 minutes to process, once complete the image can be downloaded in either .eps, .svg or .png formats.

You can compare our photograph of the office block side by side in photo and vector format from here.

Full details can be found at the main Vector Magic site.

2007-11-13

3D Architectural Printing

3D printing is the logical next step on from rendered movies for many developers and architects. Prices have fallen in recent years making owning a 3D printer or using an outside service provider a viable option even with small scale developments.

While we focus mainly on digital rendering and distribution in the blog we do have to admit there is something about a physical model of a development.

Explaining the concept of 3D printing and the quality of output is always tricky without actually seeing the product, luckily Lee and Jake at Sweet Onions Creations have placed a complete overview of the process on YouTube:



The latest 3D printers from Z Corporation are well worth a look as are the print services direct from Sweet Onion Creations.

Royksopp - "Remind Me" Data and City Visualisation

"Remind Me"/"So Easy" was the first single from the Norwegian duo Röyksopp's debut album Melody A.M. The song features a visually stunning animated video, directed by the French motion graphics studio H5.

It features a day in the life of a woman working in the London's Square Mile solely through infographics; this includes labelled close-ups of everyday objects, product lifecycles, schematic diagrams, charts, and is generally illustrated in a simple isometric visual style.

Of note is the city based visualisation interweaved with general geographic and data landscapes:



More information on Royksopp can be found at http://www.royksopp.com/

Geographic Email: Flight Sim + Email = 3DMail



Merging Flight Simulation and Email DNA, 3D Mailbox is a mail system where each of your emails arrives via a jumbo jet from the relevant country into LAX airport. The concept while slightly bizarre is also interesting as it links an emails origins geographically according the countries national carrier.

The trailer embedded below is well worth a view:



The application is available in both light (free) and full versions for download from the 3DMailbox home page.

Picked up via http://infosthetics.com/

Google's Android - Mobile Maps, Panoramas and Google Earth?

Android the uniquely named new open source operating system for mobile phones is intriguing. We like the open source nature and the tie in with Google allows easy use of their maps application along with the ability to view linked apps such as 'Street View'.

In the video below Sergey Brin and Steve Horowitz discuss the availability of the SDK and provide a walk through of some sample applications. Of note is the 'World Time' using a spinning earth via a touch screen interface - with the link to OpenGL could this be the first glimpse of a mobile Google Earth?



The SDK and more information can be found at http://code.google.com/android/

For an interesting take on Android take a look at Robert Scoble's Google's Android Wants Developers but...

2007-11-12

Collaborative Virtual Architecture - Wikitecture


Wikitecture is a concept very much of the moment, after many years the technology is finally in place for Ryan Schultz and Jon Brouchoud to pose the question:

Can mass collaboration and collective intelligence improve the quality of architecture and urban planning?


Ryan and Jon are both architects exploring the potential of systems such as Second Life for collaborative design. In their own words, Wikitecture's central aim is to explore that question by applying an open-source paradigm to the design and production of architecture and urban planning.

In much the same way Wikipedia enables a loose, self-organizing network of contributors to collaborate on content creation, they have been experimenting with ways to bring together a diverse and geographically disperse community of individuals to create an architecturally noteworthy design that, in the end, is more than the sum of its parts. One of the single problems of collaborative design in virtual environments is often the interface itself. The key to mass participation is an easy to use menu system allowing designs to be submitted, edited and viewed.

Wikitecture uses a unique 'tree' display system linked to a central column, pictured below:


The best way to understand the interface is to sit back and watch the introductory movie, it all becomes clear when the leaves start appearing on the tree, inspiring work:



Studio Wikitecture assumes the principles of good design are universal enough that they can be learned in one discipline and applied in some fashion to another. Through Studio Wikitecture, Brouchoud and Schultz are trying to provide a channel where these individuals can apply their skills to the design of a building.

This does not negate the fact that a certain foundational knowledge is still necessary to design a building that will actually function and stand up, but SW feels that this knowledge can be acquired through a number of channels and should not be restricted to just architects and their particular educational path.

Take a look at The Arch and StudioWikitecture.com for full details and information on how to take part.

2007-11-10

Google Earth is the Novelty Wearing Off? The Occupied Virtual Earth

Google Earth changed the communication of geographical information forever. It ushered in the era of global datasets, rich three dimensional landscapes and virtual cities, we still remember the day a beta version of KeyHole was installed on our machine, in short it was a once in a decade software moment.

Google Earth and the up and coming Virtual Earth from
Microsoft are phenomenal, they provide a platform to share and visualise information that would of previously been limited to the desktop and high end packages from the likes of ESRI or MapInfo. Yet as we type we haven’t opened Google Earth for over 3 weeks, the blog hasn’t featured any new movies and the constant tide of new layers of information has started to wash over us. Why is this?

When showing Google Earth to a new user they will nine times out of ten ask to take a look at their own house, this is the natural reaction of wanting to check out your own familiar environment from a new point of view. After the local neighbourhood tour there is often a quick look at the Pyramids of Egypt, a fly around the Matterhorn before skipping across the globe to the Grand Canyon. Fifteen minutes later the wonders of the world have been seen and peoples attention start to wane.

The general user may well be aware of the ability to add in their own information or even should they wish that they can create a 3D version of their own house using SketchUp but outside of the geographical world we would question the long term nature of systems such as Google Earth. So where does it go from here to attract new users or get those users who have downloaded it to reopen and explore new features?

The problem as we see it is a lack of soul - the earth is there to drag, zoom and query at will but it is also somehow abandoned and desolate, it is devoid of population and it is this population that it needs.

This comes back to why we haven’t opened Google Earth for some time, we have been busy in Second Life finding out new ways to communicate geographic information and view digital cities within an environment that brings with it human communication and contact.

We are not comparing Second Life and Google Earth as they are very different products, but they are products that we feel are set to merge, at least in concept. We foresee that either the pyramidal tiling technology that allows us to zoom from the view of the earth to a 25 centimetre resolution image of our own rented flat just north of Camden Town will be integrated into a virtual world system or the ability to chat, build and view avatars will be integrated into Google Earth.

Integrating virtual worlds into Google earth would be more problematic, after all where would you build? Would the green areas of the globe become sprawling areas of Second Life type construction as the real world cities will of already been built. Instead we see Google Earth type datasets and technology being integrated within virtual worlds.

This is not to say that Google Earth has fallen out of favour with us, indeed this would be far from the truth. It is just that with today’s rapidly moving technology and with it the high expectations of users we would like something a little more. We would like an earth that is populated, Second Earth if you want to put a name to it.

2007-11-09

Digital Urban and CASA in Second Life - A New Look

Our section on Second Nature Island, part of the Nature Group, in Second Life is undergoing a bit of a revamp. The last few months have been focused on research into how to import data and geographic based information into the system and now we are almost ready to open our doors.

Featuring global datasets, step inside urban bubbles, real time weather bar charts and our experimental import of Virtual London the world is taking shape.

Things should be in place early next week, but its always nice to have a sneak look at work in progress while objects are being put into place...

If you have Second Life installed you can visit us by clicking here - you will get a red arrow pointing skywards, simply fly up to our section of Second Nature island.

You can download Second Life from here.

Digital City Installation - The Circus by Collectif

An art/archtiecture/city based installation by a group of swiss contemporary artists C.Piguet, A.Schneider and S.Thommen who go under the name of collectif caught our eye this morning.

The piece known as 'Circus' deals in a very unusual way the construction of space. The video work is based on digital photos of a busy square in Geneva that the artistsdissembled into layers and subjected to digital animation.

In the words of collectif - the installation shows a constantly moving view of the city that seems to be disintegrating. Set pieces of urban architecture, logos and passers-by float incalculably and vertiginously towards the viewers.

On the basis of the photographic document of a real city, the artists create a three dimensionality that refers indirectly to the virtual 3D worlds of computer games, while at the same time deconstructing the unambiguity and coherence of their spatial order and hyperrealistic graphics.

In addition, the work refers to the way in which we appropriate urban structures. The accelerated movement and navigation in the public space, results in the non-linear perception of our environment, the associative scanning of distinctive points of reference and landmarks and striking details.

The movie below is particularly interesting with regards its composition and use of layers:



Accordingly, the customary conception of the city as a homogeneous, clearly structured unified whole, the basis of two-dimensional postcard vistas and the cartographic urban model, gives way to a fragmentary, fleeting, dynamic picture of urban space.

For more details and other installations see the collectif website.

Architectural Visualisation - TSI3D Demo Reel

Demo Reels are a visual calling card, they provide a showcase for either the company or you as an individual. In general they should be short and punchy, showing both your 3D work and your video editing skills to the best effect.

In a new feature on demo reels we firstly feature a prime example - the 2006 reel from tsi3d.com:



TSI is an animation studio specializing in 3d animation and visualization. With offices in New York City and Sao Paulo they focus on the latest technology with a local service. Of note is their recent award of two lions in Cannes 2007.

See tsi3d.com for more details.

TSI combines high-end technology

2007-11-08

Virtual London in Second Life - Rezzing a City of 3.3 Million Buildings


As part of our GeoVue project at CASA we have the first working example of porting areas of Virtual London into Second Life.

Created around a simple North/South /East/West interface the city has been split up into sections with data loaded as and when required - in theory the whole of London could be loaded in over time.



Second Life has many restrictions on importing objects, our method ports a KML from an extruded building footprint with height attributed via LiDAR data.

The work so far is proof of concept rather than a polished model, as the movie below demonstrates:




Music by Denny Schneidemesser

Loading of sections is currently slow, this being worked upon, the next phase is to read in real-time GPS data of a pedestrian and to get the city to build around him/her while they walk...

Thanks go to Joel for writing the code.

The Bottom Line – Its all about Data

Data is everything, it is the key to knowledge and understanding, spatial laboratories such as ours at CASA where digital urban is currently based cannot survive without it. We consume data at an ever increasing rate, process it, analysis, manipulate and merge it to visualise and ultimately aid our understanding of the city.

Data is a valuable asset and without it spatial analysis would simply not exist. Google has been the analysts’ friend of late with its acquisition of high resolution aerial photography providing a base for other datasets and that all important sense of location. As such aerial imagery is one dataset that no longer have to worry about, unless of course it is needed for visualisation outside of a Google product.

The use of Google’s license for aerial imagery is however just one dataset, research labs generally obtain data from linking up with other partners or providers and piggy backing on other license agreements and it is here where the danger lies. The need to consume and apply data often brings with it complications on copyright, intellectual property rights and licensing. We spend a lot of our hours negotiating rights to use various datasets online, as is the wired nature of our lab, and it is here that the waters muddy.

Some providers are happy to help, seeing the chance for PR by linking with an independent centre and others get tied up in legal discussions and the problems of vector vs raster. The rise of KML as a standard has been particularly problematic with the web 2.0 world being based on the sharing and reusing of information, this is something many data providers have a problem with as it cuts into their bottom line.

Our now well documented example of Virtual London, Google and The Ordnance Survey is a case in point. Vector data on the Internet is a difficult proposition, it does effectively give away the dataset - free to be opened by users in software such as SketchUp and then ultimately re-imported into more high-end Geographical Information Systems such as ESRI’s ArcScene, unless it is locked behind a Google server.

We understand these issues, data collection costs can be high and companies need to make a return on their investment, but the online world is changing, it is becoming a social world with economies of scale far beyond those of even the largest companies.

Open StreetMap is a prime example of an organisation that has embraced the concept of mass participation – known as wikinomics. OpenStreet map has had its critics, mainly from the large data providers putting to question both its accuracy and completeness. We are all for the underdog and it is of note that when Dair Grant made a comprehensive and detailed comparison of the OpenStreet Map for Haywards Heath, Sussex with that of the TeleAtlas derived Google Map he found 89 apparent differences and inaccuracies.

Open StreetMap and such like are the future of data, mass collected, verified by the community at large and open source for all to use regardless of application. In a few years time we will look back at the men in suits and smile as the Web 2.0 world changes the data landscape.

As we write our lab has just managed to import 3.3 million buildings from Virtual London into Second Life via KML - see the latest post Virtual London in Second Life - Rezzing a City of 3.3 Million Buildings for full info and a demonstration movie.This raises more data issues than we care to mention, we have a feeling it could eat up most of our week….