AUM 2014

Alistair Ford has just returned from the fourth annual Applied Urban Modelling symposium (link) in Cambridge where cutting-edge research in spatial simulation of cities, including land-use transport interaction models, agent-based modelling, and big data analysis, was presented and discussed. The conference started four years ago as a reunion of the spatial interaction community of the 1970s to examine progress over the intervening decades, but has grown to include other types of dynamic urban simulation, visualisation, and data analytics.

Michael Wegener (formerly Professor of Spatial Planning at the University of Dortmund) gave a fascinating opening address looking at predictions made by models and modellers 20 years ago and how accurate they had been, This included a discussion of Aldous Huxley’s 1931 book ‘Brave New World’ and whether current advances in data-gathering technologies are taking us in the direction of the future described in that novel! Other presentations on the first day included an attempt to map Lima’s slums using UAVs (ReMap Lima), modelling of all 654 Chinese cities using a parcel-based vector cellular automata model, and a new analysis of Singapore using community detection from transport network flows using analysis of smartcard data (link).  Light relief was provided by a presentation of the Imaginary Lines project, a cross between an art project and an infrastructure model!  To end the first day Paul Waddell from Berkley presented the latest developments from the UrbanSim stable including GeoCanvas, (now available to download for Beta testing) which allows fast 3D visualisation of large urban datasets, and the developments of  UrbanSim to include an IPython interface and PostGIS support.

Mike Batty from CASA at UCL started the second day with a review of progress on urban modelling and the big issues facing the community today (including a loss of faith in predictive ability, loss of parsimony, the need for money and information flows as well as people and goods flows, inclusion of data about transport trips for non-work purposes (which are only ~25% of journeys in cities now), the challenge of growing city regions and globalisation, and the rapid change in cities today). Paul Buchanan from Volterra gave a critique of transport economics, showing how wrong a lot of assumptions (i.e. Value of Time measures) are, before Coen Tuellings from Cambridge University presented his model of land economics and transport in The Netherlands. Pascal Perez from SMART in Australia showed his work on TransMob, an agent-based model of urban travel and residences. The day finished with a fascinating session on the redevelopment of the King’s Cross area of London, giving a real insight into the planning and development process and showing us all just how difficult it is to model the ways that decisions are made in cities!

The final day included sessions on standards and benchmarking (including ISO standards for urban data) and urban dynamics (with some network analysis of city street networks and their evolution). The day, and conference, concluded with a 2-hour round-table discussion about emerging issues, where it was agreed that urban modelling needs to focus on new applications, particularly the challenges posed by climate change  and the need for sustainability. Challenges that we in the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences are well-placed to meet!


Urban Integration 2014

Researchers from the Geospatial Engineering group (Alistair Ford, Daniel Caparos-Midwood, Shaun Brown) recently attended the Urban Integration conference in Sheffield which marked the end of the EU Cost Action on Integrated Assessment of Climate Change (link). This cost action was led by Prof Richard Dawson, also of the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, and aimed at bringing together practicioners from across Europe who are looking at the problems facing cities in an integrated way.

A number of topics were addressed across a broad range of fields, but papers of particular interest to geospatial engineers included Jonathan Kohler (Fraunhofer Institute) on why we need urban models and what characteristics they possess (e.g. simplifying reality, explicitly stating theories and assumptions, simulating future scenarios), Christoph Reinhart from the MIT Sustainable Design Lab on the combination of Building Performance Simulation with other urban models in the Urban Modelling Interface ( and Reinhard Koning from ETH Zurich (check!) who presented his simulation integration platform which allows the combination of model outputs to form an urban planning support system using big data to understand the urban system and find high suitability areas for sustainable development.

Jonathan Kohler at UI.
Jonathan Kohler at UI.

Other interesting research projects included the iGuess project (link) from the Henri Tudor Institute in Luxembourg, presented by Ulrich Leopold, which is an open-source platform in a database-driven web-based modular framework for performing urban simulations and Vincent Viguie from CIRED in Paris who showed his model of urban growth, NEDUM, linked to the Town Energy Balance (TEB) urban climate model (link) to assess heatwaves and associated health effects (and that even demolishing 10% of Paris’ buildings to create parks will have little effect on urban temperatures!

The conference was a great success and a fitting end to the COST Action.

EuroSDR EduServ E-Learning 2014

Monday 3rd till Tuesday 4th March saw the introductory lectures held for the 12th EuroSDR EduServ e-learning course at the University of Trento, Italy. Located just south of the Alps, the city sits in the Adige Valley so is surrounded by snow-caped mountains to give a picturesque view. The lectures were attended by a small delegation, mainly from national mapping agencies and universities from across mainland Europe. The four courses of the EduServ programme were introduced and presented by the various course leaders over the two days.

Trento University

View from Bruno Kessler Foundation, Trento University

On the first day Professor Norbert Haala, of Stuttgart University, started proceedings and presented material for his course on high density imaging matching. He presented some of the results of DSM creation from different software packages as part of his EuroSDR benchmark on image matching, whilst giving an overview of the Semi-Global Matching (SGM) algorithm, which I am using as part of my PhD, It was shown how a dense point cloud can be created from UAV and aerial photography by using the SGM approach. Hopefully this workshop will give greater insight and help overcome issues that have been experienced with ‘noisy’ photogrammetric point cloud.

Afterwards Dr Petri Ronnholm, of Aalto University in Finland, presented his course on the integrated use of airborne laser scanning and aerial photogrammetry. This was again based around a EuroSDR benchmark which tested different methods for the integration of the two dataset, some of which will be used in the course. The lecture was concluded with an interactive session to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of integrating the two dataset and what future applications this could be used for. One point that arose and was discussed was whether there was a need to integrate the two datasets due to high density point clouds being created from imagery, by the principles outline previously by Professor Haala. It was concluded that although lidar is still essential for forestry application, research may prove that photogrammetric point clouds are just as suitable as lidar for other applications.

A meal was held after the first day’s lectures at a local restaurant in Trento, with exquisite pasta and other traditional Italian food enjoyed over four courses and wash down with a glass (or two) of local wine. This offered a great ice breaker and a way to get to know other delegates as well as the course leaders.

Dr Clement Mallet, of IGN France, started the second day by presenting material for his course on change detection in high-resolution land-use/land-cover geodatabases and presented work from his EuroSDR benchmark regarding change detection methods. The need for land cover and land use was introduced followed by many different approaches presented, which mainly used satellite imagery.

Dr Daniella Poli, of Terra Messflug GmbH, closed proceedings with the last of the four courses on mapping using high-resolution satellite imagery. An insightful overview was given of low resolution film-based satellites to new high resolution digital-based sensors as well as the processing that is required for processing the data. This carried on from some of the principles covered by Dr Mallet, giving more details on the processing that may be required in order to use satellite imagery including radiometric corrections and Rational Polynomial Coefficients.

Thanks to Fabio Remondino of Trento University for hosting an excellent introductory workshop. With the first course starting today (10th March) and the final course finishing on the on the 13th June it is hope many new skills will be learnt over the next four months.


Andrew McClune

PhD Student in Photogrammetry

Strewth, these guys are SMART!

The inaugural International Symposium for Next Generation Infrastructure was held between 1st and 4th October 2013, at the SMART Infrastructure Research Facility at the University of Wollongong, Australia, and one lucky Geospatial Engineering researcher from Newcastle was able to attend. David Alderson gave a 20 minute presentation entitled A National-Scale Infrastructure Database and Modelling Environment for the UK following a successful submission of a conference paper to the conference committee, under the same title. The work contained within the paper and the presentation represented an amalgamation of work conducted by David and other researchers from the Geospatial Engineering group at Newcastle and other research institutes and universities involved in the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (UK ITRC) programme. The focus of the paper and presentation was to give readers and delegates alike a glimpse of some of the work undertaken in the process of constructing a database of infrastructure-related data relevant to the UK. This included not only an overview of some of the datasets that may be found within the database, but also a preview of some of the visualisation tools that are being developed on top of the data. An overview of these visualisation tools can be found within other posts in this blog site here.

A copy of the slides can also be found here and here. Unfortunately the presentation has had to be split into two parts, so please download from both links to get the full presentation.

Other representatives from the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University, UK could also be found delivering presentations at the event including:

Miss Sarah Dunn, PhD Student – Modelling infrastructure systems for resilience and sustainability (part one, part two)

Mr Shaun Brown, PhD Student – Resilience of resource movements to disruptive events

Mr Matthew Holmes, STREAM PhD Student – How do we ensure the assessment of infrastructure resilience is proportionate to the risk?

Further to this fantastic opportunity, a further round of meetings looking to develop collaborations between researchers at SMART, including former Newcastle-based PhD student and post-doctoral researcher Dr Tomas Holderness, and the Geospatial Engineering group at Newcastle, is being held at the SMART infrastructure facility between October 8th and 11th 2013. These meetings will look to focus on potential collaborative opportunities regarding network interdependencies between infrastructure networks, and also web-based data dashboards for visualisation and dissemination purposes.

Watch this space for more information…

FOSS4G13 – 3 days of peace love and maps

From the 18th to 21st September Phil James and I attended FOSS4G 2013 (Free and Open Source Software 4 Geospatial) in Nottingham. The conference kick started on the Wednesday evening with an Ice-breaker event featuring a pub-quiz following by a light-hearted talk given by Mike Parker, the author of Map Addict. The talk was very enjoyable but the quiz proved somewhat challenging and my sole contribution to my team’s effort being that I knew which animal Friar Tuck is in the Disney Robin Hood. He’s a badger.


P9180726 by barryandjo, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  barryandjo  – Mike Parker’s Talk


The conference then truly came to life over the next two days with some great keynote talks. Particular highlights being Chris Tucker from, Tim Sutton from QGIS and Paul Ramsey from POSTGIS who’s sermon on being an open source citizen was one of the best talks I’ve ever been to. These were interspersed with a great selection of talks (some of which are available here ) showing the uses of software as well as outlining releases of new software such as the OpenLayers 3 which looks very exciting.

P9210739 by barryandjo, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  barryandjo  Paul Ramsey’s Keynote


The conference was also complimented brilliantly with some great evening events featuring comedy, music and drinks. I would like to thank Steven Feldman and all of the FOSS4G heroes for putting on what was a thoroughly enjoyable event


FOSS4G13 Geohack.

From the 17th-18th of September I attended the Geohack event at FOSS4G conference in Nottingham.  The event was sponsored by the MetOffice in partnerships with many other of organizations within Environmental Science to Services Partnership. A number of challenges were presented for hackers to work on, these are listed here . As part of the LTURF project I have found myself working with a number of APIs trying to extract any information for around Newcastle. This lead me to picking the outdoor event challenge as it was making use of several APIs .

FOSS4G - Challengers presenting - Met Of by aburt, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  aburt– The challenges being presented


This aim of this challenge was to estimate the effect that weather has on outdoor events in the UK.  The first task was to retrieve information about any outdoor events happening in a given location. This was achieved by using the, an events listing website, and their API.  Which allows you to search for events planned using a point and a buffer.  Once we had the events the next goal was to gain an estimate of the number of people attending each event.  This task was assigned to me, and for this I used both the Facebook and the twitter APIs. With Facebook returning the numbers of attending and maybe responses to the event, and twitter returning a popularity score.   The final step was to use Met Office DataPoint API to get the weather forecast of the event.  These were then all integrated into a very simple web portal. This is live here , we had little over 24 hours to complete this task so the portal is very much substance over style.

FOSS4G - Hacking teams working away - We by aburt, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  aburt – Us Hard at work


At 1pm on the second day everybody had to stop developing and then present they work for it to be judged. It was very interesting to see what the other groups had achieved , with some of the achievements being very impressive given the amount of development time. Phonegap, which is a free and open source framework that allows you to create mobile apps using standardized web APIs across many platforms, was used by a number of groups. And is clearly a very powerful tool with some groups having a completed app developed in just 24 hours. Unfortunately my group didn’t finish in the top 3 which I’m certain is only because the complexity of our app was hidden, in short we lost because it was too good.

The event was brilliantly run with plenty of food, drink and electricity to go round and I would like to thank the members of the Met office and the foss4g volunteers for organizing the event.  And Also Steven Citron-Pousty who setup the OpenShift server for our app.

ITRC Assembly, June 10th-12th 2013, Chilworth Manor Hotel, Southampton

During the early summer of 2013, the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) underwent a mid-term review, approximately two and half years after the inception of the research programme, which coincided with the annual ITRC Assembly. The assembly and review gave all of those working within the consortium, and also invited guests and delegates, the opportunity to hear about the work accomplished during the initial half of the research programme. The 5 year research consortium is funded through an EPSRC Programme Grant, with the mid-term review offering the chance to discuss the future of the flexible funding available for the final two and half years of the programme.

The three day meeting was held at Chilworth Manor Hotel in Southampton, and was facilitated by a facilitation group, Dialogue Matters to help coordinate and focus a delegation of researchers, academics, stakeholders and partners. Monday offered the chance for the Expert Advisory Group (EAG) to review the documentation and work completed under the five different work streams. Whilst part of this review took place behind closed doors alongside the program’s principal and co-investigators, subsequently the EAG gave direct feedback to all of those attending the three day meeting. This session was then followed by an open floor discussion and questioning by researchers, PhD students and investigators from the program of the EAG panel. The utility of the EAG in particular was felt by the program during these discussions, and also via their continued guidance on the cycle 2 and 3 assessments due for release in January 2014 and in the autumn of 2015 respectively. Further to the feedback delivered, the post-lunch slot was dedicated to researchers and investigators funded through the program the chance to present some more specifics about the tasks undertaken during the first half of the program. This was particularly effective in getting everyone up to speed with what others within the consortium had been working on, and helped certainly to set the scene for discussions about future directions assigned to day two and three. Finally, a group of ITRC-affiliated PhD students presented some scoping research they had carried out to try to pull together a set of data on projects, research centres and institutes at the global scale who are also working on similar research as that conducted under the ITRC banner. Not only was the presentation interesting in the manner in which it was delivered, the data and information collected offered a great starting point for further development of the ever-growing research community, acting as a focal point for information about the community at large.

Day two began to offer the affiliated researchers and investigated across the many universities represented within the program, the opportunity to address some of the following questions:

  • Where have we got to?
  • What is happening in this field, in other projects and around the world?
  • What externalities may adjust the way this research is conducted, or will influence the likely impact the research has e.g. changes in policy, education, funding, society, environment, markets etc)

Whilst discussions of these questions began immediately in the morning session to broaden the horizon of future possible directions, a selection of “seed” ideas or possible projects that were a priori selected as being potential key research directions were also considered. The opportunities to think more broadly about possible research directions for the final two and half years of the project and also consideration of ideas already identified as of interest, gave everyone the chance to give their opinion on what could or could not feasibly be achieved given the available remaining time and resource. From a personal perspective, I think this gave everyone a real sense of ownership of the future direction of the research and certainly helped to gauge the relative importance of the different tasks identified by researchers from wholly different backgrounds. Subsequently this session allowed researchers to consider new ideas and areas based on the knowledge gained during the first half of the program. The breadth of ideas was enormous, ranging from the need for autonomous analytics for infrastructure planning, provision, monitoring and recovery to the need for new systems to manage the proposed integration of unmanned aerial vehicles within commercially used airspace in the United States, currently being considered by FAA.

Whilst the majority of the second day was spent considering the future direction of program, the afternoon session gave an opportunity for those involved to take stock of the success of the mechanisms employed for internal communication within the consortium. As the consortium is spread over many research centres and universities, effective communication between them and within the consortium is critical to ensuring objectives are achieved. The qualitative review considered the utility of using social media to facilitate communication both internally and externally, such as the use of Twitter and Skype for external dissemination and internal discussions, whilst also appraising the use of the ITRC intranet for collaborative working, and assessing the state of the external facing ITRC website.

With Tuesday giving plenty of opportunity to widen the research agenda and look at possible future research directions that the consortium could move in to, as well as assessing what tasks are to be achieved within the remaining two and half years of the project, Wednesday’s agenda focussed on narrowing this scope. A series of research themes had been identified from Tuesday’s discussions, and researchers were invited to select a theme upon which to discuss what the key areas of interest within that theme might be. However, not only were ideas generated, but challenges to achieving success in these areas were also highlighted, to give an impression of the relative difficulty of each theme. The results of many of the discussions held on day two and three have certainly helped the principal and co-investigators of the program to coordinate what tasks and objectives are to be achieved within the final years of the program.

Overall the assembly and mid-term Review offered everyone involved in the program to take stock of the achievements to date, whilst recognising the significant challenges that lay ahead when trying to deliver on a program which is trying to understand the complex nature of infrastructure, how it is operated, and it’s likely resilience to impending changes in demography, economy and climate.

The following table offers a summary of those people who were involved in the three day meeting:

Role Name Affiliation
ITRC Expert Advisory Group (EAG)


Colin Harris Independent
ITRC Expert Advisory Group (EAG)


Rosemary Albinson BP
  Theresa Brown Sandia National Laboratories
  Jeremy Cooper Laing O’Rourke
  Yacov Haimes University of Virginia
  Geoffrey Hewings University of Illinois
  David Penhallurick HM Treasury
  Margot Weijnen TU Delft
EPSRC Representatives Christopher White EPSRC
  Iain Larmour EPSRC
ITRC Principal Investigator Professor Jim Hall University of Oxford
ITRC Program Manager Miriam Mendes University of Oxford
ITRC Investigators Dr Nick Eyre University of Oxford
  Professor John Preston University of Southampton
  Professor Chris Kilsby Newcastle University
  Professor William Powrie University of Southampton
  Professor Cliff Jones Newcastle University
  Dr Stuart Barr Newcastle University
  Dr Stephen Hallet Cranfield University
  Professor Pete Tyler University of Cambridge
  Professor Mark Birkin University of Leeds
  Dr Jim Watson University of Sussex
ITRC Researchers Simon Abele University of Oxford
  David Alderson Newcastle University
  Pranab Baruah University of Oxford
  Simon Blainey University of Southampton
  Modassar Chaudry Cardiff University
  Adrian Hickford University of Southampton
  Scott Kelly University of Cambridge
  Alexander Otto University of Oxford
  Raghav Pant University of Oxford
  Meysam Qadrdan Cardiff University
  Chris Thoung Cambridge Econometrics
  Rachel Beaven Cambridge Econometrics
  Martino Tran University of Oxford
  Chengchao Zuo University of Leeds
ITRC-affiliated PhD students Edward Byers Newcastle University
  Robert Carlsson University of Oxford
  Razgar Ebrahimy Newcastle University
  Timothy Farewell? Cranfield University?
  Ed Oughton University of Cambridge
  Oliver Pritchard Cranfield University
  Scott Thacker University of Oxford
  Katherine Young University of Oxford

ITRC WS1 Visualisation Workshop: Visualisation of multi-dimension data, 22/05/2013, St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford

As the ITRC programme progresses and approaches the mid-term review stage, in June and July of 2013, the of the work stream 1 (WS1) infrastructure capacity and demand modelling teams are beginning to produce outputs from their next round of modelling. Furthermore, the parallel development of spatial infrastructure networks as part of work stream 2 (WS2), is beginning to raise some significant challenges in terms of appropriate and effective data dissemination, communication and interpretation. The underlying high-dimensionality nature of the data being produced as part of WS1 for example, coupled with the complexity of the networks generated as part of WS2 means the consortium as a whole needs to begin to think about appropriate mechanisms to visualise these data.  For example, some initial prototypes of possible visualisation tools are beginning to be developed, (see here), but rather than build and design tools from the perspective of one researcher, it was considered more appropriate to consult with, other similar projects who are visualising similar data, or will require the ability to visualise similar data in similar ways to that required of ITRC, and also a host of visualisation and design experts from around the UK to gain better perspectives.

An initial workshop, organised by ITRC members, Dr Alex Otto (ITRC WS1 investigator), Dr Greg McInerny (Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford), Mr David Alderson (Researcher in GeoInformatics, Newcastle University), Dr Stuart Barr (Senior Lecturer in Geographic Information Science, Newcastle University) and Miriam Mendes (ITRC Programme Manager, University of Oxford), sought to bring together relevant researchers from the plethora of Adaptation and Resilience in a Changing Climate (ARCC) network projects and leading researchers and experts in the field of data visualisation and design. Prior to the workshop, a questionnaire was distributed to both the invited ARCC project representatives and the visualisation experts in an attempt to give the organising team a better centralised perspective of what the respective groups would want to hope to gain by attending the workshop. The responses were then studied to tease out any overlaps between visualisation challenges faced across the ARCC projects, to attempt to collate a set of discussion points upon which to focus discussions in the afternoon of the workshop. Prior to these more focussed discussion sessions, the workshop initially allowed the ARCC project representatives to briefly (in 5 minutes or less) explain the nature of the project in which they are working, but also describe and explain some of the visualisation challenges being faced within that project. The aim of this early session was to allow the visualisation experts time to understand the background of the projects themselves, and also the nature of some of the data being produced, such that the more focussed discussions taking place in the afternoon had a little context.

From the responses to the questionnaire, and also following the morning’s ARCC project overview session, a series of 5 discussion topics were devised, that attempted to encapsulate the common visualisation challenges across all the projects, and are listed below.

  • Visualising multiple dimensions and scenarios;
    • Chair: Martino Tran (ITRC – University of Oxford)
    • Rapporteur: Craig Mills (Visualisation – UN)
  • The spatial dynamics of infrastructure networks;
    • Chair: Scott Thacker (ITRC – University of Oxford)
    • Rapporteur: Martin Austwick (Visualisation – UCL)
  • Temporal visualisation of infrastructure behaviour and response;
    • Chair: Sean Wilkinson (RESNET – Newcastle University)
    • Rapporteur: Min Chen (Visualisation – University of Oxford)
  • Simplifying and communicating effectively complex model outputs;
    • Chair: Jason Dykes (Visualisation – City University, London)
    • Rapporteur: Scott Kelly (ITRC – Cambridge University)
  • Multi-disciplinary co-production for infrastructure visualisation.
    • Chair: Simon Blainey (ITRC – University of Southampton)
    • Rapporteur: Jane Lewis (Reading e-Science Centre, University of Reading)

A chair and rapporteur, selected from the list of workshop attendees was devised such that each topic had a representative from the ARCC network, and from the visualisation community. Each topic was then discussed by attendees for about 10 minutes, with the chairs and rapporteurs capturing the salient points discussed around that particular topic. After 10 minutes of discussion the attendees subsequently moved on to the next discussion topic and a different table. Overall as a format for delivering break out sessions, this quick-fire, round-robin approach seemed to work well, allowing all attendees to discuss all the common discussion topics about visualisation, whilst at the same time having the discussions steered and reported by representation from both sides. The approach also seemed to help stimulate discussions between project representatives and visualisation experts, which was one of the objectives or organising and delivering the workshop. However further work is currently being undertaken to transform some of the excellent discussions in to a positioning paper with respect to visualising high dimensionality data for infrastructure planning and provision purposes. It is hoped that representatives from the projects, particularly those organising the workshop and on the ITRC side will be looking to further engage and collaborate with the visualisation community.  Watch this space…

Links to presentations split by those relevant to different communities are listed below:

Full Attendee List

ARCC Project-affiliated attendees (* speaker on visualisation challenges)

ARCC Project Representative Affiliation
ITRC Alex Otto* University of Oxford
ITRC Stuart Barr* Newcastle University
ITRC David Alderson Newcastle University
ITRC Raghav Pant University of Oxford
ITRC Scott Thacker University of Oxford
ITRC Jim Hall* University of Oxford (Principal Investigator – ITRC)
ITRC Miriam Mendes University of Oxford (Programme Manager – ITRC)
ITRC Simon Abele University of Oxford
ITRC Alex Leathard Newcastle University
ITRC Meysam Qadrdan Cardiff University
ITRC Modassar Chaudry Cardiff University
ITRC Simon Blainey University of Southampton
ITRC Kate Young University of Oxford
Transport Utilities’ Conversion Points (TUCP) Liz Varga* Cranfield University
All-in-One Tomasz Janus De Montfort University, Leicester
Undermining Infrastructure Jonathan Busch* University of Leeds
Land of the MUSCos Christof Knoeri* University of Leeds
Step-change Miles Tight* University of Birmingham
RESNET Sean Wilkinson* Newcastle University


Visualisation / Design Experts (presentations and speakers listed below):

Greg McInerny University of Oxford, Microsoft Research
Min Chen University of Oxford
Craig Mills United Nation Environmental Program World Conservation Monitoring Centre
Jason Dykes City University, London
Jane Lewis Reading e-Science Centre, University of Reading


Other invited attendees:

Vicky Hayman UK Climate Impact Projections, University of Oxford
Chris Cooper IBM, London
David Miller IBM, London
Mathew Carlos University of Oxford
Zoe Austin University of York
Martin Austwick UCL
Craig Robson Newcastle University
Glenn Hart Ordnance Survey
Paula Engelbrecht Ordnance Survey
Andrew Munslow Met Office


UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (UK ITRC) University of Oxford Newcastle University

From Rotterdam to Hannover via Köln then home

The last two weeks saw the World Geospatial Forum, Rotterdam and the ISPRS Hannover Workshop where the latest research and commercial activities in photogrammetry and remote sensing were presented.

Only attending the final day of the World Geospatial Forum meant a chance to attend the Technology Forums. These consisted of presentations from commercial vendors such as Leica Geosystems, RIEGL and Optech showing their latest hardware and software developments as well as universities and research institutes presenting their work. The final session of the day, entitled ‘3D – the next challenge for national mapping agencies’, presented how methods developed in research were being utilised by the Dutch national mapping agency for the reconstruction of buildings at the Level of Detail 2, in accordance with the CityGML standard. Although a very commercial conference some resources were sourced for the research into automated 3d building reconstruction.

After a nice weekend trip to Köln enjoying the sights and the sunshine, the ISPRS Hannover Workshop about High-Resolution Earth Imaging for Geospatial Information began. Talks included data collected from space all the way down to the bottom of the ocean for various applications. Across the four days keynote presentations were given by Rainer Sandau of DLR in Berlin who spoke about how space collected data can be used for disaster management and the integration of data, Lorenzo Bruzzone from Trento university spoke about the challenges and trends of multitemportal imagery and Charles Toth, the current ISPRS Commission 1 president, spoke about the different platforms available for data collection. The final keynote was Michael McCullagh from Nottingham University who spoke, a little off topic, about crowd source data. Several interesting examples were given, some closely related to the Twitter work undertaken by Newcastle whilst presenting a website ( for a non-profit company promoting open-sourced data.

Research institutes and universities presented their current research which led to many discussions being carried on in the coffee breaks. Newcastle’s Abdulhamed Gneeniss presented his PhD work on the integration of photogrammetric and lidar data for aerial triangulation and camera calibration alongside several other young researchers, presenting in both oral and poster formats. Two poster sessions portrayed varying amounts of research including UAVs, GPS solutions and building detection from differing sourced data.

The conference’s main sponsors, Hexagon, gave a master class in the new hardware and software they have developed. After a brief overview of the company’s history, the company’s new large-format and medium format cameras were presented as well as their new oblique camera systems. The software included their photogrammetric software developed by tridicon, which included semi-global matching algorithms for point cloud generation from aerial imagery as well as automated 3D building reconstruction.

Social activities included an ice-breaker evening on the rooftop of the Leibniz Hannover university’s Institute of Photogrammetry and Geoinformation and the conference dinner at the Wilhelm Busch Museum where extravagant buffets were laid with some nice local beer to taste. These gave a great opportunity to discuss in further detail the research presented in the day and way to get to know people.

Thank you to Christian Heipke and the team at Leibniz Hannover University for organising such a captivating conference.

Modelling change and adaptation in infrastructure systems: state-of-the-art modelling and simulation approaches @ TU Delft, Netherlands, 14th May 2013

As part of the geospatial engineering team’s on-going involvement in the ITRC project, researcher David Alderson was accompanied by newly-recruited Computing Science PhD student Mr Razgar Ebrahimy to attend a workshop kindly organised by Margot Weijnen, at TU Delft entitled “Modelling change and adaptation in infrastructure systems: state-of-the-art modelling and simulation approaches”. The workshop aimed to bring together researchers and academics from the Next Generation Infrastructures (NGI) team at TU Delft, representatives from across work streams 1 and 2 from ITRC (), and also welcomed the visit of Research Director of the SMART Infrastructure Facility at the University of Wollongong, Australia, Professor Pascal Perez, with the aim of sharing experiences, projects and outputs of each research team to help further build and maintain the research links and community developing between these three groups.

The morning session of the workshop consisted of a series of short presentations, each delivered by a representative of one of the afore-mentioned groups, with a view to then discussing some of the topics and concepts raised during the post-presentation discussion session. Initially we heard from Professor Paulien Herder about how research in to the current and possible future states of infrastructure systems should be considered as a combination of understanding both the traditional physical, technical components thought of when infrastructure comes to mind e.g. power stations, roads, water treatment works, but also the social actors that operate, maintain, build and ultimately consume services offered by infrastructure. Many studies of infrastructure systems tend to focus on the technical aspects of the systems, which are clearly of paramount importance to being able to deliver the levels of service society has become to expect when interfacing with infrastructure, but perhaps do not consider enough the impacts that “people” have on the performance and evolution of infrastructure over time.

The audience subsequently heard from Pascal Perez about the great work being undertaken at the University of Wollongong, Australia as part of the SMART Infrastructure Research Facility. A key aspect of the outcomes from Pascal’s presentation, was again the need to think about how the social actors play a role in the infrastructure “complex” system. This was of particular focus when thinking about the economic benefits of infrastructure service provision, and the conundrum as to whether it is society that drives the economic growth/decline in the first instance leading to either increased/decreased demand for infrastructure services, or whether economic growth/decline leads to changes in societal make-up and thus acts as the stimulus or suppressant for infrastructure demand and supply. The “chicken-and-egg” discussion point of whether it is the economy driving society or vice versa was of particular interest to Professor Peter Tyler (ITRC), Ed Oughton (ITRC) and Robert Carlsson (ITRC) who are interested in understanding the interactions between infrastructure and the economy, whether at a national, or regional level.

From a more technical perspective, the audience learnt about the excellent work being undertaken at SMART with respect to their development of a regional, SMART Infrastructure Dashboard, helping to enable infrastructure decision makers gain access to a plethora of infrastructure-related information via a tablet/mobile-compatible interface. The technical components, but also the design process through which this dashboard has been developed is of particular interest to work stream 1, 2 and 4, as it is the intention that something equivalent be prototyped and developed to potentially enable UK-based policy makers and planners, as well as scientists and researchers, to ability to access outputs from the various capacity and demand modelling activities from work stream 1, as well as looking at the possible infrastructure failures as part of work stream 2.

A mixture of further presentations by Pieter Bots, Igor Mayer and Igor Nikolic focussed more on the ways in which infrastructure systems and complex systems can be modelled and evaluated. In particular Pieter, thankfully, raised the point of ensuring that modelling, and the subsequent dissemination of results of those models, be tailored to suit the problem or challenge to be solved, but also tailored to the audience to which the results are being presented. A “one-size-fits-all” approach to dissemination is not an appropriate solution as the types of questions to be asked of complex systems by different audiences, may require different tools, techniques and visualisations suited to each audience. This ideal fits well with the approaches being thought about within ITRC, where tools developed will need to be adjusted to suit the needs of those using them. For example a three tier approach could be conceived to determine the functionality of any interface to infrastructure modelling data, whereby the highest tier offers access to information to a wider audience but allows decreasing levels of functionality and therefore reduces the complexity of questions that can be asked, against the lowest tier offering potentially more analytical capabilities but to, for example, only researchers within the relevant fields.

However, Dr Mayer’s presentation and discussion focussed on the potential application of gaming, or correctly termed, “serious gaming” to help evaluate the interactions between the social and technical aspects of the complex infrastructure system. For further information on some of the evaluation work, and other projects undertaken by Dr Mayer and his team, can be found here. It was particularly interesting to here how this approach allows the individual stakeholder to actually be immersed in the model or environment itself, and how their interaction or reaction to particular events or shocks can be evaluated as examples of how user’s interact with complex infrastructure systems outside the test environment. Dr Mayer raised a point heard previously when considering the use of games to evaluate socio-technical systems and that is to ensure that the appropriate level of abstraction from reality is applied such that a user does not become too disconnected from reality and as such does not interact in a manner as close to mimicking interaction with the “real” system as possible. This abstraction is important at both the functional level in terms of what functions any model is representing, but also in terms of the physical representation of real world features in a computer environment, whether that is in terms of selecting appropriate temporal and spatial scales across which to model a system. One drawback however, highlighted as part of the discussion sessions during the course of the day, was that the use of serious gaming to evaluate interaction can really only be performed a handful of times due to the restrictions of having to utilise people heavily in the evaluation process, and so this can make it difficult, to repeat evaluation activities.

Dr Nikolic helped to conceptualise the problem of complex adaptive system modelling, giving a great overview of what is really happening when a modeller models something. Dr Nikolic stated that any model, or any system is effectively a three-step abstraction from reality, with the level of complexity found within each of the following steps, increasing from left to right:

Computer Model <- Modeller’s Conceptualisation <- Stakeholder Understanding <- Reality

This was an interesting point to raise, and highlighted the necessity to include as many relevant stakeholders in the modelling design process to help capture as much of reality from different perspectives as possible. However, the audience agreed that stakeholder interaction and engagement, especially when thinking about the multiple actors involved in modelling complex infrastructure systems, can be one of the most challenging aspects of the modelling process.

Further during the post-lunch session of the workshop we heard about some great research efforts being undertaken in TU Delft to help develop tools and methods that can help in the modelling of complex systems. For example, Dr Gerard Dijkema, delivered a fantastic presentation on behalf of PhD student Chris Davis and others on the Enipedia database developed at TU Delft. The database contains relevant information on power generation facilities worldwide, gleaned by marrying together different linked open data sources available across the web. Clearly something of this nature is not only interesting in terms of a pure inventory of information, but is also of interest as a repository of information for energy-sector modelling purposes. The Wikipedia-style nature of the database, allows online users to edit information, as well as review different visualisations, plots, charts, maps, graphs of energy-sector information. These types of tools are now being used within TU Delft to help in further research work, and underlines the importance of trying to use consistent data sources for these areas of modelling activity.

Overall the workshop was a fantastic opportunity to see some of the research being undertaken within the Next Generation Infrastructure group at TU Delft, and subsequently further enhance potential collaboration opportunities between that group, UK ITRC and SMART, Australia. Many thanks to Margot Weijnen and her team for the invitation! It is likely that a similar workshop will be organised and hosted within the UK, for some time in 2014 to help continue building the links between the NGI, ITRC and SMART infrastructure research teams.


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