Monday, 23 July 2007

Vibrating GPS navigation

Here's an interesting new concept, and one that can be easily seen applied to a number of mobile 3D navigation applications too; vibrating GPS rings.

This new idea consits of two vibrating rings which can guide the wearer around a city via global positioning satellite (GPS) have been unveiled by a British designer at the Royal College of Art. The rings are the invention of Gail Knight, who developed them as a way of helping women feel safe in areas they are unfamiliar with.

According to the creator of the proof-of-concept device: "I admit that, as it is rings, they're obviously more attractive to women - and I'd been looking at women and their position in the public sphere, and how safe they feel in a public environment," she told BBC World Service's Culture Shock programme. "I wanted to avoid the route of attack alarms, which nobody really uses, and just find a way of making people feel confident. I integrated that with walking and London, both of which I like, and came up with this device that was very feminine - but at the same time a piece of consumer electronics."

The system works in the following way: not all of the necessary electronics could be put into the rings, so the device controller is worn either around the neck or clipped on to clothing. The controller has a display of eight digits, which allows for a postcode to be entered. It also houses an electronic compass and GPS system, which is what powers the device's navigation. The signal is then transmitted to the two rings, inside of which are a small vibrating motor and antenna. The rings buzz for left and right, and have different vibrations for forwards and backwards. Both buzz when going in the wrong direction.

While the most obvious shortcoming of this is the fact that it is fairly gender-specific it remains a very interesting concept that could be potentially extended to more enhanced GPS navigation for the end user...

More information about this novel system on the following BBC News link,

Final Fantasy's Advent Children Midgar virtual city

Keeping in with the '3D-urban-models-in-games' theme, one to definitely check out is the fictitious City Of Midgar in 2005's Final Fantasy: Advent Children CGI animated movie. The movie was based on the well known Square role-playing game series for consoles and PC, which has been out since 1987 with over 25 related titles released. (There was also another Final Fantasy movie before that, a few years back, but the less said about that one the better, despite the nifty animation the storyline was so dilluted and poor it wasn't worth bothering!)

As far as photorealistic 3D cities with a definite Blade-Runner similarity go, this one is easily the best I have seen so far, incredibly stylised and detailed as can be seen from the pic above. There was obviously no expense spared regarding rendering costs and time, which is always the case with CGI movies but nonetheless the result is striking enough to leave an impression even to people working with a much smaller polygon count. A fan related Midgar movie showcasing the 3D virtual city even more extensively can be found at the following YouTube link (here).

Monday, 16 July 2007

PSP's Gangs Of London: London's 3D urban model on a mobile device

Another game, in the same Getaway / Grand Theft Auto genre, which features a photorealistic, geographically accurate (partial of course) model of UK's capital is Gangs Of London. However, unlike the Getaway series the novelty of Gangs Of London is the fact that it runs exclusively on a mobile device, Sony's PSP...

While I have to say the game itself is nothing to write home about (I had a go at it and it felt, gameplay-wise at least, like a poor GTA clone), it has to be said that the 3D urban model itself is a great example, if not the best, of what can be achieved regarding mobile 3D virtual cities, well worth a look if you are a PSP owner as the screengrabs above can testify!

Windows Live Mobile Search Version 2.0

An interesting, very handy and with a lot of potential application for Pocket PC users is Microsoft's Windows Live Mobile Search. It provides the ability to find locations and view standard and also aerial map views on a mobile device plus also the ability to search for addresses, restaurants, cinemas and many other local points of interest.

The recently launched version 2.0 also includes other additional features such as movie showtimes, more local data (on restaurants, and other leisure establishments plus user ratings for each), maps (mobile Microsoft Virtual Earth maps, for improved performance, pop in your storage card to enable the large cache option) and directions (get found with better support for GPS integration and improved turn-by-turn navigation, even has auto-reroute if you get lost!) .

However the most important feature of Windows Live Mobile Search is... the fact that it is completely free! In fact, it's the only application of its kind paving the way towards a completely free comprehensive LBS product for Pocket PCs.

More information on it at, the application can also be downloaded from this location...

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Microsoft Mobile Development Handbook

For those of us developing for mobile devices here's at long last a new book that is up to date with Visual Studio 2005 and NET Compact Framework v2.0. There also some coverage on v3.5 and Visual Studio 2008 (referred to as “Orcas” in the book). Amongst important areas such as networking, security programming, threading, exchanging data with back end servers, custom controls and interoperating with the platform the book also notably delves into (the extremely neglected!) area of mobile graphics programming and Direct3D mobile.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to all with an interest in mobile developing like myself, its up-to-date nature (the only book to date with Visual Studio 2005 coverage!) makes it worthy of purchase alone but the content is very commendable anyway.

It can be ordered, amongst other places, from

Friday, 13 July 2007

Microsoft's Virtual Earth and Brighton

Google Earth's main competitor today, Microsoft's Virtual Earth is a platform that serves as an integrated set of services that combines a unique bird's eye (seen in the pic below for the city in question), aerial, and 3D imagery with mapping, location and search functionality. You will be able to find more details about Virtual Earth's functionality and also other issues such as coverage etc. at

Speaking of coverage, it is, at the moment at least, definitely not as good as Google's application (for example only a handful of 3D UK cities are available at the moment). However, Virtual Earth seems to be somewhat more better-suited to 3D virtual city models because of the automatic modelling approach Microsoft seems to favour. Seeing that Microsoft's product is also newer it will be very interesting to see in the next year or so which application will be prevalent over the other.

Meanwhile I will continue to feature updates on Virtual Earth (of interest to 3D urban modelling mostly) but till then here is a YouTube flythrough vid of the 3D model of the city I live in (and one of the first two cities uploaded for it a couple of months ago), the seaside-located Brighton (the seaside adjective is definitely a bit ill-suited considering the awful weather we've had this summer but anyway!)...

Google Earth article in IEEE Computer Graphics & Applications Journal

I've only just recently read an article in the much respected IEEE Computer Graphics And Applications journal which I think will be of interest to many people in the urban modelling & virtual cities field. In this article, Michael Jones (Chief Technologist of Google Earth) describes some of the philosophy behind the Google geospatial team's mission to "geospatially organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". Much of the article focuses around the concepts of how Google is helping people find geospatial information (with Google Earth and Maps) by giving many examples of information that goes far beyond just a simple location (e.g. address, city, or country). Included in the article are examples of how Google Earth has been used for disaster relief, to help demonstrate environmental issues, or even monitoring viruses thus pointing out why people so joyfully embrace not only the ability to see the places in their lives but also why its important to be able to share the information.

The article itself can be found (despite the fact that the journal is subscription-only they have added a free download of this) at I think it is an excellent read which above all highlights how Google Earth and in extension 3D urban models & virtual cities on it (or indeed even not on it!) can be of great use in so many fields and areas today...

Project Gotham Racing 4 & St. Petersburg 3D model

One of the best 3D urban models of a real world city I have seen in a game to date seems to be this one found at the YouTube link here, it is a model of St. Petersburg as it will be seen on the upcoming Project Gotham Racing game for the XBox 360.

The Project Gotham Racing series from Bizarre Creations (now at version 4) has always been at the forefront of 3D urban modelling in games (I remember spending a lot of time admiring the models in PGR 2 which was out on the first version of the Microsoft console) and from the looks of that vid it will continue to be! Moreover, this might just be a good enough incentive for many of us (including myself) to finally shell out for the 360! Till then I will leave you to marvel at the detail of the 3D model of St Petersburg on the YouTube link above...

Location Applications and Positioning Technologies seminar

Yesterday, (Thursday 12th July), I attended an extremely interesting one-day seminar organised by the Location and Timing KTN Network (along with Mobile Data Association), titled Location Applications and Positioning Technologies at the National Physics Library (NPL). The topics of the seminar addressed the new and emerging applications of location based positioning and all technologies that can be incorporated with Global Navigation Satellite Systems to provide a truly robust positioning in all environments, and for all applications. Some of the questions emerging (and tackled by all of the presentations) were on the revenue generation of applications for these services today, business applications, the consumer-driven adoption of the technologies and many others...

Below I have included some links about some of the talks which I singled out (although I have to say that I found all of them very topical and stimulating, especially when it comes to research ideas on state-of-the-art technological issues), hopefully I will attend another event like this sometime in the not-too-distant future.

(a complete GPS based search and rescue system for fishermen developed by AWS in collaboration with Microsoft, and using the Virtual Earth platform)

(homepage of the Scientific Research Unit, part of the RNIB Access and Innovation Group, that develops and disseminates RNIB's expertise on the accessibility of information, technology, environment and culture with a strong focus on mobile devices and disabilities)

(tracking solution helping potential clients to address a number of commercial challenges using the latest RFID and Wi-Fi technology, provide real time accurate information about the location of key assets and people)

(an indoor pedestrian navigation prototype system using inertial sensors and motion detection for tracking, as can be found on many current mobile devices)

(a solution -and the research and reasoning behind it- to providing services on mobile devices such as mobile tickets, mobile coupons, mobile loyalty, bulk text, SMS to email, email to SMS and multimedia messaging services)

(a very thorough overview of the UK's leading national mapping data agency roadmap for the future, with some soon-to-be-implemented solutions including full digitisation & farming of road networks, 3D virtual urban models and attemps to promote "greener" urban mapping by promoting pedestrian passings etc.)

Monday, 9 July 2007

Cyber City Modeller application

For today's post, a brief insight into one of the main commercial automatic/semi-automatic urban modelling packages today (with a variety of clients and projects, some listed below), the Cyber City Modeller application. The work for this application is based on research generated for a spin-off company of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), with the company itself founded in 2000.

Regarding its architecture; Cyber City Modeller is a C-based program which works for photogrammetric captured point clouds (x, y, z) based on semi-automatic extraction of objects from stereo-pairs of aerial (/satellite) images. For building creation the operator (or user) measures the essential points of the roof in a photogrammetric stereo model using an analytical plotter or a digital photogrammetric station (for example CC-VisualStar, SocketSet etc.). The software takes care of the automatic generation of planar roof faces with boundary polygons of the roof intersected with the DTM to get the facades (or alternatively cadastrial data can be projected back to the roof to obtain overhanging roofs). Realistic image textures for the roofs and the DTM are derived automatically from the aerial images and mapped onto the individual faces.

The method proposed is very flexible with respect to the required degree of detail in the generation, modelling and representation of the data. The number of objects that can be generated per time unit depends on the level of detail and the experience of each operator/user. The data is saved in the internal data management format, the V3D format (a text format), and can be exported to the formats of known CAD systems (e.g. DXF etc.) and also to real-time visualisation formats (e.g. FLT, VRML etc.). Finally, Cyber City Modeller consists of separate stand-alone modules for the generation (CC-Modeller) and editing (CC-Edit) of virtual 3D city models. Additionally, software for the texturing of facades with terrestrial images and for the automatic texturing of facades and roofs from aerial images is available (CC-Texture). To conclude, CC-VisualStar is also offered, a digital photogrammetric workstation with standard functions and additional specific functions for the capturing and updating of 3D city models.

Some resulting models from the system are shown earlier on in this post and other models include visualisations of Hamburg, the Zurich airport, the Los Angeles International airport, Bonn, Las Vegas, Vienna landmarks, Munich and many others. More information on Cyber City Modeller, its components, architecture, clients and also a list of the numerous major academic conference and journal publications generated from the work can be found at and are all well worth exploring...

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Virtual Tokyo & Second Life

A lot of researchers recently have been focusing on exploring the incredible potential urban modelling and Second Life, Linden's internet based virtual world, have to offer when combined. While the debate on whether serious research can be conducted with something such as Second Life rages on, it is already evident with the following piece of news the impact it can have on future work in the area of urban modelling...

According to the gaming site 1UP and a piece of news recently published there (linked here), Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Japanese entertainment chief creative officer and creator of music games Rez & Lumines plus Japanese advertising firm Dentsu will be working on a collaboration project creating a Virtual Tokyo for the open-ended simulation PC game Second Life.

However, what I really find interesting in this is that, as Mizuguchi puts it: "The Tokyo we are trying to create is based on the image of city. How do people in Tokyo perceive the city? How about foreigners? That's what we want to express". In other words the model produced will not be an exact replica but something far more creative...

Mizuguchi also adds: "I hope to make Virtual Tokyo like a museum of Japanese pop culture. My friends abroad have told me often that there's so much material and it's never preserved. This might be the perfect place for it". It goes without saying that it will be interesting to witness the final outcome (and its eventual visualisation) of this project...

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Windows Mobile 5 vs Windows Mobile 6

The recent release of Microsoft's new version of their operating system for Pocket PCs, Windows Mobile 6.0 has seen (as is usual in these cases) a debate on whether version 5.0 has indeed been improved upon or not.

Being a PDA user of a device still equipped with the old version myself, I found the topic very interesting, and best explained in a chart found at Jason Langgridge's excellent Mr Mobile blog, found at This chart can be downloaded in .pdf format from here and could appeal both to casual and more development-orientated Windows Mobile users. Well worth a look if you, like me, are pondering on whether to soon trade in your old PDA device or not!

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Vulcan FlipStart Ultra Mobile PC

The recent developments in the world of ultra mobile PCs are very interesting to a number of people, especially developers fed up with all the Windows Mobile operating system limitations and restrictions... A few days ago I presented in this blog a Sony device that fitted the aforementioned bill (a fully functional Vista powered system of tiny dimensions) and now here is another PDA-sized PC that falls in the same category.

Vulcan's FlipStart measures 15cm wide, 11.4cm deep and 4.1cm high, has a 1,024 by 600 native resolution, weighs a mere 771g and is equipped with a 1.1GHz Intel Pentium M Ultra Low Voltage CPU, 512MBytes of RAM and a 30GB hard drive. Again the operating system is Windows Vista. More information on it on Vulcan's site at

While it looks less stylish and considerably "blockier" than the Sony Vaio device presented at a previous entry, it is no doubt another excellent alternative to PDA devices. Time can only tell whether the Sony Vaio UX or Vulcan's FlipStart could be used in mobile commercial applications such as navigation but it is undeniable that their potential in conducting research in similar fields can be immense.

HTC Touch

While the mobile world is (somewhat understandably so) in the midst of an iPhone madness at the moment, it is interesting to examine some other contenders... One other device which could potentially give the iPhone a run for its money (and was released very recently) is the HTC Touch. While the HTC appears to be a standard PDA in specifications, and is Windows Mobile-based (at least as far as the core of the operating system is concerned) the real innovation of the device is the novel 3D user interface it suggests.

Regarding this, this is what had to say in its review of the device: "So what of HTC's add-on user interface, TouchFLO? You get a nice customised Home screen, with a big digital clock, and icons leading to Weather and Lancher applets. The bottom half of the screen lists your upcoming appointments. You sweep your finger up the screen to open what HTC calls the Touch Cube, the first side of which shows a 3x3 grid of your main contacts, with icons beneath for initiating a call, viewing your call history, opening Contacts and deleting a favourite contact. Slide your finger from right to left and the second Touch Cube screen shows large icons for opening email, SMS/EMS, Internet Explorer, Tasks, Comm Manager and Calendar applications. Another right-to-left gesture brings up even bigger icons for accessing your music, photos and videos. You rotate the cube the other way with a left-to right sweep of the finger, while a top-to-bottom sweep takes you back to where you were when you launched the Touch Cube."

You can test yourself the way the interface of the HTC Touch works via interactive Flash vids on