Virtual 3-D project 'can help fight dengue, floods'

SINGAPORE - After completing a highly detailed 3-D virtual model of the National University of Singapore (NUS), a Swiss researcher is hoping to take his project forward and use it to combat pressing problems in Singapore like dengue and flooding.

Professor Armin Gruen, who piloted the high-resolution model of the campus, is now looking to work with government agencies such as PUB, the national water agency, and National Environment Agency.

This model is able to capture detailed images such as a flying tennis ball on the campus.

Prof Gruen believes such models, created using a combination of images snapped by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with data taken from ground-based laser scans, can help detect flood-prone areas and dengue breeding grounds.

Prof Gruen and his team from the Future Cities Laboratory at NUS had used the virtual model for a pilot project in May to identify potential breeding grounds for dengue mosquitoes here.

The project was carried out on building rooftops in NUS and may also be tested in forested areas soon, The Straits Times understands. Earlier last year, he had also told The Straits Times that the model could prove useful in flood prediction here.

PUB had announced plans last year to create a 3-D land-height map of the Marina catchment area to improve flood prediction. Prof Gruen said he would be keen to work with PUB if the opportunity arises.

As for the newly completed 3-D model of the NUS campus, data retrieved from it will come in handy for students and staff alike.

NUS civil engineering associate professor Vladan Babovic said the higher resolution offered by the model would help predict floods in the campus vicinity more accurately.

"With this, we can better pinpoint where flooding will happen, and how deep it will be."

First-year undergraduate Ronel Tan, 22, also finds it useful: "It can get hard to navigate (the campus) because the maps at bus stops are a bit old, so this will help."

But Prof Gruen also acknowledged that some issues still need to be addressed.

Man-made changes to the landscape, such as new buildings, mean the model must be constantly updated, while the use of UAVs in densely populated areas requires security clearance, he said.

But he also claimed that the model is superior to popular location-based app Google Maps.

"The data offered here is much more detailed and precise... It is for professional use," he said.

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