‘Google Earth on steroids’ gives a boost to urban development

"Google Earth on steroids" gives impetus to urban development

Uzuverse and its many data available on the platform. Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

The new approach uses aerial photography to generate 3D models of cities and regions with advanced accuracy, allowing urban planners to incorporate complete designs of all types of architectural and urban structures.

Two months ago, EPFL spin-off Uzufly moved to The Garage, a business incubator at the EPFL Innovation Park where startups can grow and expand. A young firm has created virtual reality technology that allows urban planners to map and communicate their development plans.

The Uzufly system uses drones to capture aerial images, creating thousands of images that are transformed into 3D models by creating digital twins or digital replicas of real-world objects. These objects can be, for example, buildings that are georeferenced down to a centimeter. The company’s 3D models include a wide range of urban planning data and can accommodate any type of full-scale architectural design.

Théo Benazzi, co-founder and CTO of Uzufly, is leading the effort to produce these high-precision digital twins. “Basically, we’re using the same technology as Google Earth—that is, aerial photography,” he says. “But while Google uses airplanes to take huge amounts of images at high altitudes, we use drones that have smaller cameras and take images much closer to the ground. That’s why we can generate 3D models at the level of a neighborhood or an entire city.” “

Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

Virtual desktop

Uzufla’s digital twins can be enhanced with any georeferenced data: land, land areas, urban development structures and even underground infrastructure such as pipes. For example, data from the Swiss Federal Office of Topography can be added so that information about the solar energy production capacity of individual roofs is displayed directly in the 3D modeling environment.

With all this data, the Uzufly system is nothing less than a virtual workbench for urban planning. An architectural firm could install the system as part of its business software, download the area it was commissioned to design the building in, and begin the design process – without having to send out surveyors to get a site plan.

“City officials used our system to determine how far they could expand an existing building before hitting zoning limits,” says Romain Kirchhoff, co-founder and CEO of Uzufly. “It also helped city planners figure out how a new building would fit into a given neighborhood. Our system gives designers a good feel for spaces—much better than they could by putting stakes in the ground. It makes urban planning easier and improves decision-making.”

"Google Earth on steroids" gives impetus to urban development

Avalanche map. Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

Anne Bosshard, head of urban planning and environment for Anières, a city in the canton of Geneva, was looking for an effective way to explain the school’s expansion plans to local residents during a public consultation process. She also felt the plans could be difficult to understand and wanted a more tangible method. Uzufly’s realistic 3D images fit the bill.

“With Uzufly’s model, people understood our project better,” says Bosshard. “This was true for us as well because it helped us make important decisions. For example, we could zoom out to see the whole area and how an extension, a new building or a renovation project would affect the existing urban landscape. See how it affects the space and whether the view of the Alps or the countryside would not be restricted.’

Video game developers have also become interested in Uzufly’s technology. “What currently takes up a lot of time in video game development is modeling existing environments,” says Kirchhoff. “With our system, developers could create a version of Assassin’s Creed set right here in Lausanne, for example.”

Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

Joint research and development with EPFL

Because Uzufly is located so close to EPFL’s main campus, the company has been able to create joint R&D projects with several of the school’s laboratories. For example, he works with architecture students to improve 3D models of buildings and with the Geodetic Engineering Laboratory (TOPO) to map avalanches by creating a 3D model of a mountainside based on thousands of photographs.

Uzufly also has a new project in the works with EPFL’s Laboratory of the Arts of Science (LAPIS) and the Swiss National Science Foundation. It will include the creation of a model of an Egyptian temple by autumn 2023 for use in archeology and architectural research. Eventually, it could include augmented reality to help decipher the meaning of the hieroglyphs.

Provided by the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

Citation: ‘Google Earth on steroids’ boosts urban development (2022, December 13) Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://techxplore.com/news/2022-12-google-earth-steroids-boost-urban.html

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