City: ‘Smart’ street-level data will be valuable to wide range of departments and projects

This vehicle is currently driving around Kingston gathering data and images that will allow City Staff to create a 3-D virtual map of the Kingston area.
Submitted photo.

There is currently a car that is equipped with strange looking cameras driving around the streets of Kingston to gather images and data.

If what springs to mind when you read that is ‘so, it’s like Google Street View?’ think again.

The vehicle is gathering high-definition, three-dimensional images, but it is also gathering geographical and geospatial data that can be used for a wide variety of things, from figuring out which trees need trimming because they are impinging on hydro lines, to forecasting the effects of a proposed project (like how a new building might affect views or cast shadows).

It’s all part of a project the City contracted Brockwell IT Consulting for, which will provide the City with a 3-D database of Kingston, explained Jeff Bumstead, chief information officer for the City of Kingston.

“It is collecting a set of data that can be converted into images. The technology being used is very similar to what is used in self-driving cars,” Bumstead said, noting that the technology is more like radar than photography.

“It has the ability to create an image of what’s around it, and [track] the distance between the various objects that it’s taking the images of. That allows us to really construct a 3-D image, showing buildings, showing trees, showing a traffic light, et cetera.”

The vehicle, a white Ford Focus, is currently driving slowly around the city, and will do so for approximately the next month. Every five meters, it captures images with 32 separate beams, which also collect data about the distances between different objects. The measurements are accurate to within two centimeters, Bumstead said, and will allow City Staff to know the relative distance between two points anywhere in the city, all from their own desks.

“So we can very accurately track how close a tree is to hydro line, or how close a park bench is to a road if the road has changed or been redeveloped,” he explained.

“It’s really allowing us to begin the creation of a kind of a virtual view of the city so that we can track assets and count assets without necessarily having to drive around the streets all of the time.”

Once collected, this data can be used for things as simple as finding out exactly where a fire hydrant is, to things as complex as how a proposed building would affect streetscapes, sightlines, and cast shadows throughout the day, all in 3-D, high-definition images. The technology Brockwell IT employs is actually called ‘Brockwell’s Street Smart™ Plugin’ that can be used with AutoCAD and MicroStation software.

But it isn’t just planning and tracking assets that the data will be useful for, Bumstead explained how the $170,000 street-level survey will be of value to the City.

“It’s also a very powerful tool for situational awareness in the case of an emergency situation. Our emergency operations through fire and police services will be able to have the ability to have a 3-D view of what the situation is,” he said.

The project is helping to move the City in the direction that City Staff and City Council have desired for quite a while, Bumstead expressed. The state-of-the-art data will be incorporated into the City’s geospatial information system that already tracks all of the City’s maps, and then accessible to all members of City Staff. Staff will being the process of incorporating the new data into the system in the first half of 2019.

All license plates and faces will be blurred out of the images collected to protect resident privacy, and residents will also benefit from the collected data during public consultations. For example, if the City is looking into a development and seeking public feedback, the images pertaining to the area in question would be released to the public, Bumstead said.

“It’s a very intensive and large data set,” he said.

“This information, once we collect it, will be used by virtually every department in the City.”

The roof-rack mounted technology being used by the City and Brockwell IT to collect data and images at street level throughout Kingston during August and September of 2018.
Submitted photo.
The in-car mapping and tracking software being used by the City and Brockwell IT while they collect data and images at street level throughout Kingston during August and September of 2018.
Submitted photo.

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