Project Title: SimSages – visualising the urban

Project Title:
SimSages – predicting & visualising the urban-rural interface
Supervisor: Dr Jim Bown, SIMBIOS Centre, University of Abertay
Other funding: [Total >£1M] Funding for predicting the consequences of regional-scale gene flow
(BBSRC/ NERC £450K), artificially intelligent searches to link model parameters to emergent
behaviour (EPSRC £40K), modelling the effect of arable land management on farmland food webs
(DEFRA, £160K) and developing an interactive visual training tool for police firearms officers
Supervisor: Dr Ruth Falconer, SIMBIOS Centre, University of Abertay
Other funding: [Total > £60K] Funding for developing an interactive visual tool for sustainability of
urban developments (£50K), an investigation into fungal-inspired network protocols (6K). Several
Carnegie and SIET travel awards (5K).
Supervisor: Prof Mark Rounsevell, Centre for the study of Environmental Change and Sustainability
(CECS), School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh
Other funding: [Total >£800K] European Commission research projects on foresight analysis, land
use modelling and ecosystem services (750K). Tyndall project (NERC) on urban land use change
modelling (30K)
Supervisor: Dr. Heather Lovell, Centre for the study of Environmental Change and Sustainability
(CECS), School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh
Project outline:
SimSages is an inter-disciplinary project that will integrate computer games-based 3D
visualisation with predictive models of land use based on environmental and socio-economic
factors. The visualisation will act as an interactive interface to these models. A novel artificially
intelligent query system will combine with the model prediction and visualisation to provide a
unique platform for interactive investigation, discussion and decision-making support for land
management in Scotland. As our first case study we will explore the impact of climate change on
sustainable land management. For different regions, and under given climate change scenarios,
we will enable stakeholders to explore the impact of a range of land management options on the
socio-economic and environmental sustainability of that region over space and time.
SimSages will provide an interactive visualisation platform for decision support in rural-urban
landscape management. The visualisation platform will enable evaluation and exploration by
landscape management stakeholders of predicted future scenarios of the rural-urban environment in
Scotland. Visualisations will be interactive to ensure stakeholder engagement and in three dimensions
to allow a realistic depiction of the landscape. Predictions will be based on existing and developed
agent-based models of landscape use and its impact on social, economic and environmental factors.
Visualisation of model predictions will allow stakeholders to identify the impact of policies, climate
change and other decisions on landscape management. Crucially, SimSages will enable an interactive
and exploratory mechanism for determining this impact. A novel optimisation engine will allow a
stakeholder group to set a specific goal in terms of socio-economic development and constraints on
landscape options. The engine will then, where possible, identify the set of alternative strategies
required to meet that goal or indicate those constraints that must be relaxed to reach that goal.
SimSages will deliver:
A generic framework to visualise dynamically and interactively spatio-temporal data from agentbased model predictions of changes in land management, value and environmental metrics using
stakeholder-defined parameters;
An optimisation engine able to accept as input stakeholder-defined target end states and identify
through artificially intelligent search the range of possible input parameters consistent with
achieving that target;
Conformance guidelines for other models and data to link into the framework, so providing a
common platform for integration and visualisation of different facets of landscape management.
To deliver this we will integrate and extend a suite of existing technologies. First, Rounsevell has a
range of agent-based models to predict the evolution of land use based on management decisions
made by individual agents. Those decisions have economic, societal and environmental impacts that
feed forward into subsequent decision making processes. Second, Falconer has utilised computer
game technology to develop an interactive
visualisation tool for sustainable urban
planning. The tool allows stakeholders to
design urban areas in a virtual space (Figure
1), visualise that design in an interactive
three-dimensional space allowing the user to
travel around the area (Figure 2), and overlay
onto the visualisation additional information
such as energy use by different categories of
building over time (Figure 3), noise pollution
etc. The overlays are a result of an
underlying sustainability model
determines the sustainability of an element
(or elements) of the urban development i.e.
building, road or green space in terms of its
environmental, social and economic factors
using stakeholder-defined parameters.
Fig 1: Interface that allows flexible design of an any
environment: an urban development is shown.
Fig 2: 3D virtual environment is immersive as the user
can navigate through the 3D world in first person.
Fig 3: The visualization tool is coupled with an
underlying sustainability model that allows
predictions of how sustainable elements of the
development are. Here, Carbon usage is being
modelled and red reflects high Carbon usage and
hence unsustainability.
Finally, Bown has developed a sophisticated and
generic optimisation engine. This engine is able to
search the (input) parameter space of one or more
computational models for parameter combinations
that lead to a particular system-scale behaviour (output). This framework allows users to ask not only
“what if …” questions, i.e. for a prescribed input what is the predicted output, but also the reverse
query “if … what”, i.e. for a target end state (output) what is the required parameter set (input).
Details of facilities etc.:
The student will be based at Abertay within the SIMBIOS Centre and will be provided with a high
specification PC for simulation and visualisation. This project will also be linked in with WhiteSpace,
Abertay’s interdisciplinary research group comprising social scientists, computer artists and
psychologists. WhiteSpace has a dedicated HIVE (Human Immersive Virtual Environment) ideal for
the stakeholder engagement events described in the project outline and the student will have access to
this. The HIVE is a 10m by 10m room with two large screens, each powered by workstation PCs, able
to display three-dimensional images in stereo with rear projection to enable discussion of images at
the screen.
Summary of project (40 words for advertising):
SimSages will provide an interactive visualisation platform for decision support in the management of
urban-rural landscapes using agent-based models of landscape change. The visualisation platform will
enable evaluation and exploration by landscape management stakeholders of future scenarios of the
rural-urban environment.
Importance of the project to SAGES and the Knowledge Transfer programme
SimSAGES will be of great importance to the SAGES society theme and Themes 1-3. The proposed
modelling and visualisation tools will provide an interface between a wide range of SAGES research
activities and the stakeholders in Scotland with a role in landscape management and policy.
SimSAGES is not just relevant to this research proposal because with appropriate development it has
the potential to provide a lead in stakeholder interaction across many SAGES projects. The proposal
is, therefore, of considerable strategic importance to knowledge transfer in SAGES. In addition to its
role in knowledge transfer, the proposed research will also contribute to better understanding of the
human and social processes that underpin landscape change. This will be achieved through the
development and testing of the proposed modelling technology and use of the model to conduct
virtual experiments that engage stakeholders. In this way, stakeholders and the societies they
represent become an integral part of the analytical framework.
Added Value
The PR opportunities (an important KT activity in itself) are significant with access to the 3D
immersive facility and the sophisticated visualisation algorithms. The HIVE has a large seating area
together with a control and observation room for configuring the display, and is an excellent area for
any PR SAGES events where externals can literally immerse themselves in the model and manipulate
the inputs real time. The model will be developed initially for the Scottish environment, but due to its
generic foundation, be applicable for any environment, at any scale.