The objective of the Urban Simulation Team at UCLA is to explore the diverse applications for real-time visual simulation in design, urban planning, emergency response, and education.

View a series of side-by-side street level snapshots of downtown Los Angeles comparing 3D content produced by the Urban Simulation Team and that of Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D.

Download a four-page PDF: Urban Simulation Team description with project case studies.

Download a two-page PDF for 11-2-00 NTHP session.

Download a single-page pdf with directions to UST office: UCLA campus/UST office.

Team History

UCLA has long been a leader in three-dimensional computer modeling, beginning with the work of Peter Kamnitzer and his early work using the NASA moon landing simulator for real-time city navigation in the late 1960s. In the early 1980s, Bill Jepson began applying computer modeling to large scale urban environments. Working with architect Charles Moore, students under Jepson's direction created a simulation of Moore's design for the Oceanside Civic Center and the San Antonio Art Museum. Subsequent projects explored the impacts of changes to the urban environment including a 1993 project that studied the effects over time of landscaping regulations tied to property sales. In 1994, UCLA was honored with the Computerworld/Smithsonian award for developing a 3D virtual world system that responds to the unique collaborative and problem solving requirements of cities and communities. This system was the springboard for the creation of the Urban Simulation Team under the direction of Bill Jepson, one of the principal researchers on the proposal.

The Team's primary focus is on the creation of a real-time virtual model of the entire Los Angeles basin. This model is being constructed by combining aerial photographs with street level imagery and three dimensional geometry to create realistic 3D visual simulations of the extremely dense Los Angeles urban environment. The model is accurate enough for the graffiti on the walls and signs in the windows to be legible. The efficient methodologies developed by the Urban Simulation Team, from both the standpoint of the amount of time and labor required to construct a model and the amount of computing time required to interactively render in real time such large models, combined with a visual simulation system specifically tailored for urban simulation, has resulted in an extremely efficient system devoted to high quality community and city visual simulation. This system is being extended to support a client server capability which will allow the seamless interactive navigation of the entire Virtual Los Angeles Model, (a model which is projected to reach terabyte size over the next several years) while simultaneously supporting hundreds of remote interactive users.

The Virtual Los Angeles model provides the environment for the Team's continued explorations into diverse applications for real-time virtual reality models of urban environments including emergency response and community governance. Additional projects have provided opportunities to apply the Team's unique computer simulation system and methodologies to education and cultural tourism.

Technology Overview

The Urban Simulation Team at UCLA has drawn from technologies developed for military flight simulation and virtual reality to implement a system for efficiently modeling and simulating urban environments. This system combines relatively simple 3-dimensional models with aerial photographs and street level video to create a realistic model of an urban neighborhood which can then be used for interactive fly, drive and walk-through demonstrations. A separate mode of interaction allows three-dimensional selection of objects in the scene. Once selected, an object can be removed from the scene (simulating, for example, the removal of a building from a lot), or used as a reference to information via a Universal Resource Locator (URL) or World Wide Web address. This approach allows the association of a rich (and virtually infinite) assemblage of information with the 3-dimensional graphic entities located within the visual database.

The Team's urban simulation system has proven to be an extremely useful tool for exploring potential design solutions. It is possible to evaluate alternatives rapidly and in more detail than through more traditional analysis. Results of the planning/design process are illustrated visually, allowing the client or community to view a proposed environment in a realistic fashion and become informed participants in the decision-making process. The strength of the simulation system is the elimination of complex blueprints, charts, and other hard-to-understand traditional representational methods. Instead, viewers can easily 'place' themselves within a digitally accurate perspective representation of a proposed development and better assess the project's impact. To model an urban area, plan view aerial photographs are used as the base image. Streets and blocks are quickly identified, outlined, and inserted into the database. Video images from a street-level survey of the study area are then fed directly into the computer, perspective- and color-corrected. Once all of the image data has been collected, Presagis Creator and MultiGen 2 are used to create the appropriate built-form geometry and apply the textures. The interface and simulation software run on Linux PC workstations with high-end graphics hardware allowing extensive real-time texture mapping.

  • 2001, The American Institute of Architects, California Council. Research and Technology Award.
  • 1999, American Planning Association, Los Angeles Section, California Chapter. Award for the most "Innovative Use of Technology."
  • 1994, Computerworld/Smithsonian award in the education and academia category. This award, considered as the industries most prestigious, recognizes information technology that best serves the needs of society.
  • Urban Simulation Team director Bill Jepson was recently named by Silicon Graphics as one of the founding members of their "Vanguards of Visual Computing Program." This program is a pan-industry forum of scientific and creative leaders dedicated to advancing their respective industries through visual computing.

The Lab

The Urban Simulation Team lab, located in the Capital Programs building adjacent to Westwood Village, is a multi-million dollar distributed computing facility which comprises over twenty distributed workstations (housed in both individual offices and in two laboratories) and several high performance supergraphics workstations (including two Onyx/2 Infinite Reality workstations) and computers. The systems are connected both internally and externally via two high speed computing networks and to the rest of the UCLA computing community via fiber optics.