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Israeli technology creates American virtual cities

Posted By David Brinn On December 19, 2004 @ 6:00 pm In | No Comments

The streets of Philadelphia – GeoSim’s detailed rendering of the city of Brotherly Love.The global village is one thing, but Israeli company GeoSim Systems has taken it to a whole new level with its 3D-city modeling which enables users to virtually visit a location and feel like they’re really there.

In addition to creating the first American virtual city model – for the city of Philadelphia – the Tel Aviv- based company has teamed up with a group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania to create a 3-D virtual model of Penn’s campus and University City that could revolutionize everything from the need for prospective students to visit campus to the way campus housing and buildings are planned.

“Any new applicant will receive – together with their application form – a CD of the virtual campus. They can then walk – or fly – through the campus and retrieve information based on various locations. It’s an attractive way to get familiar with the universities – instead of just looking at a color brochure,” said GeoSim CEO Victor Shenkar, who developed the company’s technology.

“In addition, it can be used for the hundreds of thousands of alumni – a virtual souvenir of their academic days. They can show their children and grandchildren where they used to live, revisit the campus,” he told ISRAEL21c.

Diane-Louise Wormley of Penn’s Cartographic Modeling Lab who is directing the project told the Daily Pennsylvanian that other scenarios include Penn Police using the technology to map out traffic control, and Facilities Services creating a projection of what a construction project would look like when completed.

Wormley also predicted using the technology for shopping, such as clicking on the local cinema and being able to view the seats available for the next showing. Alternatively, she told The Daily Pennsylvanian, students could eventually browse the virtual aisles of the Penn bookstore for their textbooks at the beginning of the semester.

The University City model will be the only existing program of its kind, according to Shenkar who established GeoSim in 1999. It’s a private company with majority shareholding owned by publicly traded Brainspark (AIM:BSP), a company focusing on investments in Information Technology (IT) primarily in Europe and Israel. Other shareholders are Formula Vision Technologies (TASE:FVT), a part of the largest publicly held IT group in Israel, the Formula Group, and the Company management.

“I come from a background in the Israeli Air Force where I worked in the areas of simulations and visualization so developing programs for training and simulation purposes is close to my heart,” he said.

In its initial stages, GeoSim worked on quite a few projects for the Israeli military and that, Shenkar said, is where they were able to develop their cutting edge technology.

“In the late 90s, we decided to branch out into more civilian commercial applications and the idea of modeling world cities seemed like an attractive one.

At that time, there had been one previous attempt – a UCLA project to model downtown Los Angeles. They did a nice job, but it took eight years, and if you counted the working hours and manpower – even though they used students – the project would have cost somewhere between $20-30million. Our goal was to increase the speed and lower costs drastically.”

After spending the first year introducing a large element of automation and computerization in the way the data was collected and processed, the company was chosen by the city of Philadelphia to build a virtual city model.

“Ironically, we were slated to start work on September 12, 2001, but obviously things got a little delayed. When we did begin, we shot photographs from the air and on the ground using special equipment mounted on a car – laser scanners, digital cameras, real precise navigational equipment.

Of course we were immediately stopped by the police – with the whole ‘hands up’ and everything. Once we clarified our purpose, from then on, we had a police escort for the rest of the photographing segment of the project,” said Shenkar.

Since then, the project has progressed despite financial difficulties of the city government, and the final model – which covers 400 city blocks — is expected to be completed in the coming months. According to Shenkar, Philadelphia will be able to utilize the model for a myriad of purposes.

“The main objective that the city of Philly had was to use the virtual city as a model for city planning, and to pinpoint and approve construction projects. Eventually they thought of the media to promote tourism, to develop hospitality packages for convention goers, and visitors,” said Shenkar.

“It’s also very useful for homeland security. You can take a city model and train and simulate first responders to a crisis situation – show them the quickest routes to take and help maneuver streets.”

The fact that GeoSim has been chosen for such prestigious American projects proves that their product and technology is good, but Shenkar says it’s really the only one of its kind.

GeoSim’s solution seamlessly integrates commercial off-the-shelf photogrammetry workstations and 3D-modeling workstations with GeoSim’s proprietary hardware and software tools into one unified multi-user environment.

“Today you have two solutions available – high quality precise modeling done by architects and builders – this is routinely used to create an impression of a new building implanted into an existing neighborhood. It can be done with standard CAD software, and it would take a skilled person about two or three days to model a complex building – something we can do in two hours.

On the other end, there are 20 or 30 companies that do large-scale production built on much lower level quality; it’s more simplistic, approximate geometries, synthetic looking textures – it’s simply not realistic looking.
So you have either good high quality on a limited scale or large scale with poor quality. We combine the high quality with the city wide scale,” Shenkar said.

Work on the Penn project began at the beginning of December, and the initial phase consists of collecting data from air and ground of every building and street in the area. Shenkar said the phase should take about four months, and that an additional four months will be required to actually build the model.

So before too long potential students unable to visit the Penn campus could stroll down a virtual Locust Walk, while proud students will be able send envious high school friends links to the virtual model.


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