Urban Modelling


'Pioneering technologies to manage and protect built heritage in urban settings'

The Urban Modelling Group (UMG) is based in the UCD School of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at University College Dublin. 
Professor Debra F Laefer heads this group and it formed in 2006 to bridge the efforts of the architectural heritage community and those of practising engineers by introducing, adapting, and generating new technologies to help safeguard built urban heritage.

In light of rapid increases in both urbanisation and subsurface construction, architectural heritage faces an unprecedented level of threat from tunnelling, adjacent excavation, blasting, dewatering, and vehicular vibration. To address these threats, Laefer’s group of 14 researchers (three postdocs, ten doctoral students, and one master’s student) comprise three teams: remote sensing, computational modelling, and technology development (currently focused on 3D printing).

The main thrust of the current work is the EU-funded ERC project RETURN: Rethinking Tunnelling in Urban Neighbourhoods. The goal of that project is to create a completely automated pipeline from aerial laser scanning to city-scale computational modelling.

Key components to this include:

  • Devising new flight paths to optimise vertical data capture; 
  • Inventing novel methods for post-registration of both discrete and full-wave form data;
  • Extending spatial database systems to support the querying and visualisation of 3D data without losing its semantic characteristics;
  • Robustly identifying the remote sensing data affiliated with individual structures;
  • Creating distinctive algorithms for 3D feature detection for elements such as windows;
  • Formulating untried methods to convert laser scanning points directly into a solid model for computation without intermediary software;
  • Developing untried computational approaches that exploit the nature of the remote sensing data; and
  • Conceiving unique mechanisms to overcome geometric and material based unknowns. 

Other group members are extending this work into the realm of 3D printing for new manufacturing options and microclimate modelling. The group is also sponsoring additional projects related to non-percussive blasting alternatives and dewatering. The group is currently funded at more than €2.1m by the EU ERC, Science Foundation Ireland, and the Irish Research Council.

Prof. Laefer was also recently awarded an ERC Proof of Concept grant focusing on the development an interface that will allow pointcloud data from both terrestrial and aerial laser scanners to be used directly as input for three-dimensional (3D) printers. The process will circumvent the costly and time-consuming manual steps currently required for surface generation in a computer-aided design (CAD) or CAD-compatible format.

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