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VWN News: Changing the Streets through Virtual Reality
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 Changing the Streets through Virtual Reality

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Date posted: 13/06/2005

Before this month, the most helpful data computational models of traffic flow could produce, consisted of a two dimensional view of the roads with little green and red dots indicating vehicles in motion under different conditions. Very computational, and very accurate, but this sort of output is not very easy for the layperson to understand.

That began to change in 2003 when said Charles Hixon, founder and administrator of Bergmann Associates Visualisation in Rochester contacted the Centre for Computational Research ? a department within the University at Buffalo.

"CCR is my secret weapon," Hixon said.

He contracted with CCR to have its Urban Simulation and Visualisation Team work with him to develop three-dimensional simulations of traffic complete with accurate local landmarks, such as bridges, street signs, businesses and homes that spectators can view from a driver's perspective.

Now, two years from the initial co-operation the first product has emerged. StreetScenes, the brainchild of CCR computational scientist Henrique Bucher, Ph.D, allows audiences made up of the general public, legal representatives, police, and any others the ability to accurately visualise how proposed projects will affect traffic on their street and in their neighbourhoods.


A step up from dots (images courtesy of CCR)



So far, StreetScenes has been used to simulate traffic at the Peace Bridge, an important international crossing point between the U.S. and Canada; at a major league soccer stadium in Rochester, N.Y., and for a major roadway improvement project for the Florida Department of Transportation in Miami.

The program is intelligent enough to allow easy entry of different conditions to make the planner?s job both simpler and faster, as the results can be shown to management almost immediately, rather than having to be extrapolated and written up. Examples of the options it presents include:

Realistic traffic speeds and volumes for the time of day requested, so that rush hour traffic management can be accurately checked.

Weather patterns showing how the road scheme handles under heavy rain, varying levels of snow, streaming bright sunlight, and a variety of other hazards.

It will even take into account whether there is a game of football occurring nearby, or other event which crowds would be gathering at.

As an added bonus, any scenario can be output to mpeg or avi video formats, so it can be demonstrated anywhere.


A clear view of traffic patterns



Following on from this work, the CCR have already taken this program one step further by utilising the same base program to recreate road traffic accidents (RTAs) as they occurred, again so the lay-person can quickly see what happened.

Tom Furlani, Ph.D., associate director of CCR and leader of the Urban Simulation and Visualisation Team stated "With StreetScenes, you can look at any intersection and find out, for example, 'What's traffic going to be like in front of my restaurant during and after the game?' or, 'How long will it take me to get to work once this new building is constructed?'"

"The StreetScenes interface is very intuitive," he said. "You can simply tag a vehicle and 'drive' it around."


Local businesses and landmarks lend character



Still in its beta release, StreetScenes already has generated interest from the Federal Highway Administration and the transportation departments of Florida, Minnesota, New York and Rhode Island.

Bergmann Associates Visualisation group is negotiating with a major engineering firm to utilise StreetScenes to simulate traffic at Xanadu, the massive sports, retail, entertainment and shopping complex planned adjacent to New Jersey's Meadowlands Sports Complex.

"StreetScenes has opened up so many doors for me, it's been an incredible business development tool," said Hixon.

See the full Story via external site: www.newswise.com



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