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The following news articles are geared toward students and other professionals.
New Technology
Particles – 3dsMax and Lumion/Unity Print E-mail
Monday, 01 September 2014 04:43

Particle Flow is a versatile, powerful particle system for Autodesk’s 3ds Max. It employs an event-driven model, using a special dialog called Particle View, allowing you to combine individual operators that describe particle properties such as shape, speed, direction, and rotation over a period of time into groups called events. Each operator provides a set of parameters, many of which you can animate to change particle behaviour during the event. As the event transpires, Particle Flow continually evaluates each operator in the list and updates the particle system accordingly.

pFlow 3ds Max

pFlow 3ds Max

To achieve more substantial changes in particle properties and behaviour, you can create a flow. The flow sends particles from event to event using tests, which let you wire events together in series. A test can check, for example, whether a particle has passed a certain age, how fast it’s moving, or whether it has collided with a deflector. Particles that pass the test move on to the next event, while those that don’t meet the test criteria remain in the current event, possibly to undergo other tests. The simple example pictured above details a pFlow dialogue determining the birth of particles linked to a target geometry. The particles can subsequently be baked (using pFlow Baker) into an animation timeline for simple output via .fbx, allowing import into external systems such as Unity or Lumion.

The clip above illustrates the pFlow system imported into Lumion with the addition of a scene created in CityEngine.

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Particles – 3dsMax and Lumion/Unity Print E-mail
Monday, 01 September 2014 04:43

Particle Flow is a versatile, powerful particle system for Autodesk’s 3ds Max. It employs an event-driven model, using a special dialog called Particle View, allowing you to combine individual operators that describe particle properties such as shape, speed, direction, and rotation over a period of time into groups called events. Each operator provides a set of parameters, many of which you can animate to change particle behaviour during the event. As the event transpires, Particle Flow continually evaluates each operator in the list and updates the particle system accordingly.

pFlow 3ds Max

pFlow 3ds Max

To achieve more substantial changes in particle properties and behaviour, you can create a flow. The flow sends particles from event to event using tests, which let you wire events together in series. A test can check, for example, whether a particle has passed a certain age, how fast it’s moving, or whether it has collided with a deflector. Particles that pass the test move on to the next event, while those that don’t meet the test criteria remain in the current event, possibly to undergo other tests. The simple example pictured above details a pFlow dialogue determining the birth of particles linked to a target geometry. The particles can subsequently be baked (using pFlow Baker) into an animation timeline for simple output via .fbx, allowing import into external systems such as Unity or Lumion.

The clip above illustrates the pFlow system imported into Lumion with the addition of a scene created in CityEngine.

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The Making of the CASA Oculus Rift Urban Roller Coaster Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 August 2014 08:48

Earlier this year CASA was invited to create a virtual reality exhibit for the Walking on Water exhibition, partnered with Grand Designs Live at London’s ExCeL. While CASA has a tendency to spend a lot of time thinking seriously about cities and data it was quickly decided that a fun and novel way to engage the 100,000 or so expected visitors would be an urban roller coaster ride using the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset. Oliver Dawkins, a student on our MRes in Advanced Spatial Analysis is a leading light in urban visualisation and the Oculus Rift, as such he kindly offered to lead the development. In the following guest post, Oliver (of http://virtualarchitectures.wordpress.com/) talks us through the development process….

CASA Urban Roller Coaster from Virtual Architectures on Vimeo.
The first tool chosen for this project was the Unity game engine because it provides a very simple means of integrating the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset into a real-time 3D experience. Initial tests were made in Unity with a pre-made roller coaster model downloaded from the Unity Asset Store. However, rather than simply place that roller coaster in an urban setting I wanted to create a track that would be unique to this experience and feel like it might have been part of the urban infrastructure. Due to time constraints it was not possible to model the urban scene from scratch. Instead I decided to generate it procedurally in Autodesk 3ds MAX using a great free script called ghostTown Lite.

Although I like to use SketchUp for 3D modelling wherever possible 3ds MAX was much better suited to this project as it allowed me to quickly generate the city scene, model the roller coaster track, and animate the path of the ride, all in the one software package. After generating the urban scene I used the car from the Asset Store roller coaster as a guide for modelling my track in the correct proportions.

making_of_casa_roller_coaster_02

The path of the ride through the city was modeled using Bezier splines, first in the Top view to get the rough layout and then in the Front and Left views to ensure the path would clear the buildings in my scene. The experience needed to be comfortable to users who may not have experienced virtual reality before so it was agreed to exclude loop-the-loops on this occasion. It was also important to avoid bends that would be too sharp for roller coaster to realistically follow. Once I was happy with the path I welded all the vertices in my splines so that the path could be used to animate the movement of the roller coaster car along the track later.

making_of_casa_roller_coaster_03

Next sections of track were added to the path I’d created using the 3ds MAX PathDeform (WSM) modifier. As the name suggests this modifier deforms selected geometry to follow a chosen path. Using this modifier massively simplified the process by allowing my pre-made sections of track to be offset along the length of the path and then stretched, rotated and twisted to fit together as seamlessly as possible. This was the most intricate and time consuming part of the project.

making_of_casa_roller_coaster_04

In order to minimise the the potential for motion sickness with the Oculus Rift I was careful to keep the rotation of the track as close to the horizontal plane as possible. Supporting struts were then arrayed along the path of the track and positioned in order to anchor it to the rest of the scene. When I was satisfied a ‘Snapshot’ was made of the geometry in 3ds MAX to create a single mesh ready for export to Unity. At this point the path deformed sections of track could be deleted as Unity does not recognise the modifier.

making_of_casa_roller_coaster_05

To create the movement of the roller coaster car along the track a 3ds MAX dummy helper was constrained to the path I’d created earlier. This generated starting and ending key frames on the animation timeline. The roller coaster car model was then placed on the track and linked to the dummy helper. It is possible in 3ds Max to have the velocity and banking of the dummy calculated automatically, but I found that this did not give a realistic feel. Instead I controlled both by editing the animation key frames using a camera linked to the dummy for reference. This was time intensive but gave a better result. The city scene, roller coaster and animation were exported as a single FBX which is the preferred import format for 3D geometry in Unity.

making_of_casa_roller_coaster_06

Having completed the track and animated the car it was time to assemble the final scene in Unity. First I generated a terrain using a great plugin called World Composer. This enables you to import satellite imagery and terrain heights from Bing maps to give your backdrops a high degree of realism.

making_of_casa_roller_coaster_07

The urban scene and roller coaster were then imported and a skybox and directional light were added. The scene was completed with various assets from the Unity Asset Store including skyscrapers, roof objects, vehicles, idling characters and a flock of birds.

making_of_casa_roller_coaster_09

To prepare the Oculus Rift integration the OVR camera controller asset from Oculus was placed inside and parented to the roller coaster car. In my initial tests with the Asset Store roller coaster I’d found that OVR camera would drift from the forward facing position. This would disorientate the user and contribute to motion sickness. To prevent it with a quick fix I parented a cube to the front of the roller coaster car, turned off rendering of the cube so it would be invisible, and set the camera controller to follow the cube.

making_of_casa_roller_coaster_10

In order to ensure the best possible virtual experience it is really important to keep the rendered frames per second as high as possible. As the Oculus Rift renders two cameras simultaneously, one for each eye, you need to aim to render 60 fps in Unity so as to ensure the user can expect to experience a frame rate of 30 fps.

In order to achieve this I took advantage of occlusion culling in Unity Pro which prevents objects being rendered when they are outside the camera’s field of view or obscured by other objects.

making_of_casa_roller_coaster_11

I also baked the shadows for all static objects in the scene to save them as textures which saves the processor calculating them dynamically. The only objects casting dynamic shadows are the roller coaster car and animated characters.

Finally two simple java scripts were added. The first would start the roller coaster and uclprovost3play a roller coaster sound file upon pressing the ‘S’ key. The second closed the roller coaster application upon pressing the ‘Esc’ key.

The reception of the CASA Urban Roller Coaster ride at Grand Designs Live was fantastic and I’m really pleased to have participated. It was a great project to work on and an excellent opportunity to learn new techniques in 3ds MAX and Unity. Having my first VR roller coaster under my belt I’m looking forward to building another truly terrifying one when I get the time, hopefully for the Oculus Rift DK2 which has just arrived at CASA.

On a last note I’d like to thank Tom Hoffman of Lake Earie Digital whose excellent YouTube tutorials on creating roller coasters in 3ds MAX provided a great guide through the most difficult part of this challenging project.

You can follow Oliver’s latest work at  http://virtualarchitectures.wordpress.com/…..

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Linking a 1940′s Radio to the Internet of Things Print E-mail
Sunday, 02 March 2014 14:58

In the corner of our apartment we have an old 1940′s radio, picked up a few years ago the original valves had already been removed, leaving it modified with a then transistor radio. As such it made the perfect project to remodify and bring up to date via a mix of an embedded blue tooth speaker (in our case a Bose SoundLink) and a Philips Hue for the internal lighting.

Radio linked to Philips Hue

Radio linked to Philips Hue

Using our current favourite Internet of Things service – If This Then That – the front light in the radio can be linked to any number of data feeds (see out post on IFTTT, Netatmo & Philips Hue: Linking Data to Lighting), at the moment it changes colour according to the outside temperature. The movie below shows the link to the Philips Hue and the iPhone BBC Radio App (ignore the cat, it decided to take part in every example i filmed):

While in nature quite a basic modification, it does give an old radio case a new lease of life. The link to the Philips Hue for the internal lighting opens up a number of possibilities, along with the options to link the audio output to any number of rules via IFTTT.

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Introducing the MSc and MRes Smart Cities at the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis Print E-mail
Wednesday, 05 February 2014 05:11

Learn the New Science of Cities at University College London with the MSc in Smart Cities at The Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis from September 2014.

APPLY NOW FOR SEPTEMBER ENTRY 

MSc Smart Cities

As Course Director, i am pleased to announce the new MSc and MRes in Smart Cities, here at the The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. Both the MSc and MRes offer an innovative and exciting opportunity to study at UCL – with key training for a new career in the emerging Smart Cities market. Smart cities are focused on how computers, data, and analytics which consist of models and predictions, are being embedded into cities. Cities  currently are being extensively wired, thus generating new kinds of control and new kinds of services, which are producing massive data streams – ‘big data’.  To this end, we need powerful analytics to make sense of this new world with a new skill set to understanding and lead this new field.

CASA

The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) is one of the leading forces in the science of cities, generating new knowledge and insights for use in city planning, policy and design and drawing on the latest geospatial methods and ideas in computer-based visualisation and modelling.

CASA’s focus is to be at the forefront of what is one of the grand challenges of 21st Century science: to build a science of cities from a multidisciplinary base, drawing on cutting edge methods, and ideas in modeling, complexity, visualisation and computation. Our current mix of architects, geographers, mathematicians, physicists, urban planners and computer scientists make CASA a unique department within UCL.

Our vision is to be central to this new science, the science of smart cities, and relate it to city planning, policy and architecture in its widest sense.

London - A Living Lab

London – A Living Lab

EDUCATIONAL AIMS OF THE PROGRAMME

The MSc Smart Cities and Urban Analytics comprises 180 credits which can be taken full-time over 12 months or on a flexible modular basis of up to 5 years duration (full details of the MRes structure can be found here.  If taken full time over one year, the following structure is followed:

TERM ONE

Smart Systems Theory
The module provides a comprehensive introduction to a theory and science of cities. Many different perspectives developed by urban researchers, systems theorists, complexity theorists, urban planners, geographers and transport engineers will be considered, such as spatial interactions and transport models, urban economic theories, scaling laws and the central place theory for systems of cities, growth, migration, etc., to name a few. The course will also focus on physical planning and urban policy analysis as has been developed in western countries during the last 100 years.

The class runs during term one, for two hours per week
Assessment is by coursework (2,500 – 3,000 words)

Quantitative Methods
This module will empower you with essential mathematical techniques to be able to describe quantitatively many aspects of a city. You will learn various methodologies, from traditional statistical techniques, to more novel approaches, such as complex networks. These techniques will focus on different scales and hierarchies, from the micro-level, e.g. individual interactions, to the macro-level, e.g. regional properties, taking into account both discrete and continuous variables, and using probabilistic and deterministic approaches. All these tools will be developed within the context of real world applications.

The class runs during term one, for two hours per week
Assessment is by a mix of presentations and coursework
Geographic Information Systems and Science
GI Systems and Science aims to equip students with an understanding of the principles underlying the conception, representation/measurement and analysis of spatial phenomena. It presents an overview of the core organising concepts and techniques of Geographic Information Systems, and the software and analysis systems that are integral to their effective deployment in advanced spatial analysis.The practical sessions in the course will introduce students to both traditional and emerging technologies in geographical information science through the use of desktop GIS software like Arc GIS and Quantum GIS, and the powerful statistical software environment, R. In developing technical expertise in these software tools, students will be introduced to real-world geographical analysis problems and, by the end of the course, will be able to identify, evaluate and process geographic data from a variety of different sources, analyse these data and present the results of the analysis using different cartographic techniques.

The class runs during term one, for three hours per week (one hour lecture followed by two a hour practical)

Assessment is by coursework (2,500 – 3,000 words) and via an exam

There is also an optional module selected from any other relevant 15 credit M-level module from UCL
Urban Data and Simulation

Urban Data and Simulation

TERM TWO
Smart Cities: Context, Policy and Governance
This module provides  a perspective of smart cities from the viewpoint of technology. It will provide a context for the development of smart cities through a history of computing, networks and communications, of applications of smart technologies, ranging from science parks and technopoles to transport based on ICT. The course will cover a wide range of approaches, from concepts of The Universal Machine, to Wired Cities and sensing techniques, spatio-temporal real time data applications, smart energy, virtual reality and social media in the smart city, to name a few.

This class runs during term two, for one and a half hours per week
Assessment is by coursework (2,500 – 3,000 words)

Spatial Data Theory, Storage and Analysis

This module introduces you to the tools needed to manipulate large datasets derived from Smart Cities data, from sensing, through storage and approaches to analysis. You will be able to capture and build data structures, perform SQL and basic queries in order to extract key metrics. In addition, you will learn how to use external software tools, such as R, Python, etc., in order to visualise and analyse the data. These database statistic tools will be complemented by artificial intelligence and pattern detection techniques, in addition to new technologies for big data.

The class runs during term two, for two hours per week
Assessment is by project output (5,000 – 6,000 words)

Urban Simulation
The module provides the key skills required  to construct and apply models in order to simulate urban systems. These are key in the development of smart cities technologies. You will learn different approaches, such as land-use transport interaction models, cellular automata, agent-based modelling, etc., and realise how these are fashioned into tools that are applicable in planning support systems, and how they are linked to big data and integrated data systems.  These models will be considered at different time scales, such as short-term modelling, e.g. diurnal patterns in cities, and long term models for exploring change through strategic planning.

The module runs during term two, for two hours per week
Assessment is by coursework (2,500 – 3,000 words)

The Hidden Data City

The Hidden Data City

TERM THREE

Dissertation
This dissertation marks the culmination of your studies and gives you the opportunity to produce an original piece of research making use of the knowledge gathered in the lectures. You will be guided throughout this challenge by your supervisor and with the support of the Course Director, and together you will decide the subject of research. This enterprise will enable you to create a unique, individual piece of work with an emphasis on data collection; analysis and visualisation linked to policy and social science oriented applications.

Assessment is by 10,000-12,000 words dissertation.

STAFF
The teaching staff are worlds leaders in the field from Professor Mike Batty MBE, through to Sir Alan Wilson – you can found out full details and staff profiles at our sub-site http://mscsmartcities.org/

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
Ideally, you will already have a Bachelor’s degree in an appropriate subject such as Geography, GIS, Urban Planning, Architecture, Computer Science, Civil Engineering, Economics or a field related to the Built Environment though other subjects will be considered especially if you can demonstrate a keen interest in your personal statement to convince us you should be given a place. You’ll need to have obtained a 2.2 (or international equivalent) to join the MSc.

If you do not have a Bachelor’s degree, we can still consider you if you have a professional qualification and at least three years relevant experience, so don’t be put off applying if you fall into this category because the greater the mix of students we have on each course, the more interesting seminars and discussions are going to be.

HOW TO APPLY

You can apply for this course online or find out more at http://www.mscsmartcities.org  -  If you have any questions, you can contact our Teaching and Learning Administrator,  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The course brochure can be download in pdf format (5Mb).

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Copyright © 2014. Robert Hewitt | Clemson University professor of Landscape Architecture.
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