When you gear up to handle half a million international travellers over 17 days, there will be security challenges.

With the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, however, help is at hand. In particular, spatial information consultancy Asia Air Survey Co. has created a 3D model for the city’s Olympic site and developed a security analysis tool for organisations involved in the event. Using an application known as ContextCapture from infrastructure design, construction, and operations software provider Bentley Systems, images collected through photographic surveys were collated into a model that has facilitated safety planning of everything from of VIP seating to securing public roads during marathons.

Tokyo is not alone in using reality modelling software to advance planning in cities and towns.

The city of Helsinki, Finland created a 3D model of the capital from a collation involving approximately 500,000 photographic images and 11 terabytes of data. This will form the basis on which further applications will be built. An energy and climate atlas built using information from the model, for example, provides information about energy performance attributes of individual buildings across the city. This includes heating systems, previous renovations, and energy certificates. Among other things, this technology enables users to examine the potential for each building to use solar energy. To maximise use of this, the city is sharing its model with companies and citizens in an open, connected data environment.

In Australia, an NSW Government spatial services team is building a 3D model of the entire state. This will facilitate urban renewal and planning for matters such as coastal erosion, bushfire mapping, and dam levels. As well, the team is using aerial photography taken over the past seven decades to produce historical models that show how the city and state used to look during various time periods. Residents will be able to access these 3D models via a portal using a time slider to view the changes over the decades.

All this highlights the potential for technologies such as reality modelling to revolutionise city and urban planning. To explore this, Sourceable spoke with Anna Murray, Regional Sales Manager – Product Sales at Bentley Systems.

Reality modelling involves the creation of a 3D digital representation of a physical object or objects. This could be a building, a building site, or part of a building site. Alternatively, it could be a neighbourhood, suburb, or entire city.

Two steps are involved. First, images are taken of the site or area being modelled. This is done via photography, laser scanning, or both. Next, this information is fed into reality modelling software such as Bentley’s ContextCapture, which uses algorithms to match pixels together and create a georeferenced and accurate 3D model.

Once created, the model provides an accurate visual representation of the physical area. Accuracy and resolution will always depend on the capture methods and the data produced. This can be used for site inspections or condition assessment. The model also provides a reality mesh that can be referenced into design software to facilitate design and planning decisions.

Murray says the models can be used in several ways. When undertaking urban renewal, photos or drone imagery of the proposed site could be captured and referenced into civil or infrastructure design software to provide a 3D context from which engineers and others can generate multiple design options. These could then be used to determine matters such as the placement of roundabouts or the suitability of a proposed height for an embankment and other design options.

In urban design, reality meshes of neighborhoods can be used to assess issues such as the likely shadowing effect of a proposed high-rise on nearby parks. During public consultations, 3D reality meshes can provide an immersive experience and a realistic sense of a new precinct under consideration.

Additionally, reality modelling can help drive greater value on infrastructure projects. As more data is captured through smart phones, sensors, meters and pumps connected through the Internet of Things, Murray says the ability to visualise this information in context through a digital representation of phenomena, such as traffic and pedestrian flows, will help to drive more intuitive analysis of the data and better decisions. Greater uptake of reality modelling could also make traffic modelling more intuitive. This will help to avoid traps that cause traffic bottlenecks and/or heat sinks.

Reality modelling can also help to prevent problems on infrastructure design and construction. When London’s Crossrail was being built, reality modelling was used to avoid clashes when planning movement of heavy equipment. Back home, a terrain model has been created for the Coffs Harbour Bypass project on the Pacific Highway through which various options have been analysed. This has facilitated decisions such as the location of cutaways or the positioning of the carriageway’s edge. It has also enabled more accurate estimates of cut and fill requirements as well as more accurate cost estimates.

By contrast, Murray points to the Sydney Light Rail Project, where redesign led to significant cost blowouts and delays. It’s possible that if a real-time reality mesh was available, planning and cost estimation would have been easier, she said.

Using reality modelling software known as ContextCapture from Bentley Systems, the City of Helsinki has compiled building energy related data into a 3D ‘Climate Atlas’.

Going forward, Murray says Bentley and others are looking at technology that will enable people to manage and visualise data more effectively. She says the challenge is to make 3D models more widely accessible and to enable people to add their own information so as to make decisions on the information available.

The ultimate aim, Murray says, is to use information from reality modelling to make decisions about assets like city infrastructure. This could allow us to determine, for example, optimal use of power and identifying poorly performing assets. Such decisions will save money and – where transport is concerned – make commuting faster.

“We all agree that reality modelling is great,” Murray said.

“People now have more drone technology, there are great digital cameras and sensors and laser scanning is coming down in price. Getting that data is becoming easier. We need to find a way to manage it, stream it, and give access to the people who need to see it.”