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From the Milky Way to Midtown, A New Way to See a City

The glare of city lights dims the stars for urban dwellers around the world, but a New York University program is borrowing an idea from astronomy to see its hometown in a new way. If the experiment lives up to its early promise, it will yield a tool that will help urban buildings everywhere be more sustainable.

At a first-of-its-kind “urban observatory” created by NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, a special high-tech camera captures aspects of building performance that are invisible to the naked eye, such as heat leaks, energy efficiency and insulation. Though the project is still in the demonstration phase, it is expected to yield insights about building performance and urban life that will benefit both the public and private sectors.

CUSP’s urban observatory uses an eight-megapixel camera perched on top of a building in downtown Brooklyn to capture a panoramic image of downtown and midtown Manhattan every 10 seconds. Unlike a satellite, the CUSP camera offers both an unchanging perspective and easy, low-cost operation, according to the project team.

The big data generated by the CUSP observatory could be mined for solutions to urban problems, a promising development as populations become increasingly concentrated in cities.

“For the first time in history, 50 percent of the world is urban,” Maureen McAvey, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, told CPE. Fully 85 percent of the population of the United States is concentrated in metropolitan areas. Meanwhile, urban populations are rapidly expanding in Asia, Africa and South America.

What’s the Big Deal With Big Data?

On Manhattan’s West Side, construction crews are erecting Hudson Yards, a massive $20 billion office, retail and residential complex that’s the biggest real estate development in New York City since Rockefeller Center in the 1930s. But the project is remarkable not just because of its five office towers and 5,000 residences, but because it’s the first large-scale city neighborhood in the world that’s being designed to collect Big Data—that is, enormous sets of information—and utilize it to tinker with the quality of everyday life.

When the complex is completed in a few years, a vast number of sensors embedded both indoors and outdoors continuously will collect data on everything from energy and water use and how much garbage and carbon dioxide residents generate, to the precise ebb and flow of pedestrian traffic and public transportation usage. All that data will flow into the Internet cloud, where the complex’s management will be able to monitor and analyze it in the search for cost savings and ways to make things operate more smoothly. But that’s not all. Eventually, residents may be offered a chance to “opt-in” and use their smart phones to provide even more data about themselves, in exchange for being able to use the cloud themselves for things such as guidance on where to hail a taxi.

OLD CITIES, NEW BIG DATA

Big datasets have been used by authorities and public bodies for centuries, whether in the form of the national census, maps, surveys or public records. What is new is the sheer volume, speed, diversity, scope and resolution afforded by ‘big data’, a term that describes the wealth of information now available thanks to a combination of ubiquitous computing and sophisticated data analytics. To optimists, this avalanche of information, if harnessed, provides valuable insights for everyone from company executives to consumers and from governments to citizens.

Urban planning and city services have always been a fundamental part of this story, with integrated data systems bringing a ‘second electrification’ to the world’s metropolises. As case studies of big data’s urban applications emerge around the world, what are we learning about the kinds of contexts which are proving most receptive to it? More specifically, how relevant is the age of a city in determining its interest in, and ability to use, big data? This briefing explores how both old and new cities have distinct advantages and disadvantages in their ability to use big data effectively, assessing how they deploy the tools, the lessons they can learn from each other, and their common challenges.

Claudio Silva receives IEEE’s 2014 Visualization Technical Achievement Award

Claudio Silva

On November 11, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) presented its 2014 Visualization and Technical Achievement Award to Claudio T. Silva, Head of Disciplines at CUSP and professor of Computer Science and Engineering at NYU’s Polytechnic School of Engineering.

The award, one of the highest honors given by the IEEE Computer Science Society’s Technical Committee on Visualization and Graphics (VGTC), recognizes Silva’s seminal advances to geometric computing for visualization and contributions to the development of the VisTrails data exploration system. The committee also cited Silva’s participation in various multidisciplinary projects.

VisTrails systematically maintains provenance for the data exploration process by capturing all the steps researchers follow in the course of an experiment—much like document-tracking applications in Microsoft Word and Google Docs track changes to a document. Tracking provenance is essential because that information allows a researcher to accurately reproduce his or her own results or the results of others, even if they involve hundreds of parameters and complex data sets.

“Consider that when a researcher is engaged in an exploratory process, working with simulations, data analysis, and visualization, for example, very little is repeated during the analysis process; change is the norm, and new workflows are constantly being generated,” Silva explained. “VisTrails manages these rapidly evolving workflows. To make a simple analogy, using it is like having someone in the lab watching over your shoulder and taking concise notes.”

“Clauio Silva has blazed a trail of innovation in visualization that has strongly influenced many researchers, including myself,” said Amitabh Varshney, director of the IEEE Visualization and Graphics Technical Committee and a professor of computer science and the director of the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies at the University of Maryland. “One of the reasons his work has had such a significant impact is because it combines elegant foundational research with real-world applications. This award is a well-deserved recognition of Claudio’s illustrious accomplishments and stunning impact.”

2014 AT&T Transit Tech Developer Day at CUSP

November 22, 2014 – November 22, 2014

2 MetroTech Center

View MapMap and Directions | Register

Description:

The 2014 AT&T Transit Tech Developer Day App is an opportunity to launch the development of your 2014 MTA App Quest entry. This day will allow you to:

  1. Hear from MTA experts about this year’s App Quest and the new datasets and API released for 2014.
  2. Work on the early stage of your concept with access to industry and data experts.
  3. Sign up for in-person or virtual mentoring sessions with experts from the MTA and its partners, including AT&T and New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP).
  4. Build your team or join a team through a Teammate Match session.

——————————————–
Event Program:

Time Activity Location
8:30 AM Doors Open for Check-In/Registration  
Breakfast Available Pantry
9:00 AM Announcements Lecture Hall
9:05 AM Event Kickoff and Welcome Lecture Hall
9:12 AM About 2014 MTA AT&T App Quest Lecture Hall
9:30 AM Highlight:  New Datasets and GTFS Lecture Hall
9:50 AM Highlight:  Accessibility Track Lecture Hall
10:10 AM Highlight:  Beacon Q&A Lecture Hall
10:20 AM Overview:  Prizes Lecture Hall
10:25 AM Teammate Match (note:  teams may also start work) Lecture Hall
11:00 AM All teams at work Town Hall East
& West
12:00 PM LUNCH & Presentation Schedule Signups Pantry
1:00 PM Office Hours Open

  • MTA Team (Room 820)
  • Prof. Kaan Ozbay, NYU (Room 810)
  • Alex Muro, Lead Developer, AVAIL (Albany Visualization And Informatics Lab, University of Albany, SUNY (Room 818, by Skype)
  • Richard Murby, Developer Evangelist, ChallengePost (Room 827)
Rooms 810, 818, 820, 827
TBA CONCEPT PITCHES Lecture Hall
5:15 PM Winners Announced Lecture Hall

Register

A Secret Urban Observatory Is Snapping 9,000 Images A Day Of New York City

Astronomers have long built observatories to capture the night sky and beyond. Now researchers at NYU are borrowing astronomy’s methods and turning their cameras towards Manhattan’s famous skyline.

NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress has been running what’s likely the world’s first “urban observatory” of its kind for about a year. From atop a tall building in downtown Brooklyn (NYU won’t say its address, due to security concerns), two cameras–one regular one and one that captures infrared wavelengths–take panoramic images of lower and midtown Manhattan. One photo is snapped every 10 seconds. That’s 8,640 images a day, or more than 3 million since the project began (or about 50 terabytes of data).

Taking photos of the skyline is nothing new; hordes of tourists do so everyday. And satellites and drones can already capture aerial vantage points. What’s unique about the observatory is the sheer, steady volume of imagery combined with an unchanging vista that offers a slice of the city, rather than only a bird’s-eye view.

NYU CUSP Unveils First-of-its-Kind ‘Urban Observatory’ in Downtown Brooklyn

New York University’s Center for Urban Science & Progress (CUSP) today unveiled its Urban Observatory, a project that will persistently observe and analyze New York City in an effort to better understand the “pulse of the city” in various states, such as mobility, energy use, communications and economics. The data gathered from the Urban Observatory will ultimately be used to improve various aspects of urban life, including energy efficiency, detecting releases of hazardous material, tracking pollution plumes, aiding in post-blackout restoration of electrical power, and more.

“This technology comes at an opportune time when about 80% of the U.S. population and 50% of the global population live in cities, said Dr. Steven Koonin, NYU CUSP’s founding director. “We’ll take these large data sets and turn them into solutions for city-wide problems, helping us to better understand our urban environment and improve the quality of life for citizens around the world.”

The CUSP Urban Observatory, which is still in its demonstration phase, uses an 8 megapixel camera situated atop a building in Downtown Brooklyn to quantify the dynamics of New York City by capturing one panoramic, long-distance image of Lower and Midtown Manhattan every 10 seconds. These observations differ from those of a satellite due to the fixed urban vantage point, which offer an unchanging perspective, with easy and low cost operations. Techniques adapted from astronomy are used to analyze the images.

Strict protocols have been observed to protect the privacy of those individuals in the field of view – no more than a few pixels cover the closest sources in the scene and images are significantly blurred to ensure that no personal detail is ever captured. Additionally, all analyses have been performed at the aggregate level and any human inspection has been done without the knowledge of the precise location of the source.

CUSP’s Urban Observatory seeks high impact science and applications to enhance public well-being, city operations, and future urban design and combines correlative data including administrative records, original measurements, and current topography. Although the technology is currently being used to solely observe New York City, CUSP hopes to share this with other major cities, such as London, Chicago, and Hong Kong, for similar use and application.

A team of CUSP scientists have been working on this technology for almost two years. Data will be made available for analysis by CUSP personnel and others by proposal.

The upper panel shows a single snapshot of Midtown and the Lower East Side of Manhattan at roughly 11:00AM.  Although difficult to see with the naked eye, the image contains two exhaust plumes generated by one of the buildings in the scene.  The processed image in the bottom panel removes the objects which are constant (like buildings) and keeps only objects which are moving (like the plumes).  With this technique, the Urban Observatory's data processing algorithms are able to extract the location of the faint emission plumes.
The upper panel shows a single snapshot of Midtown and the Lower East Side of Manhattan at roughly 11:00AM. Although difficult to see with the naked eye, the image contains two exhaust plumes generated by one of the buildings in the scene. The processed image in the bottom panel removes the objects which are constant (like buildings) and keeps only objects which are moving (like the plumes). With this technique, the Urban Observatory’s data processing algorithms are able to extract the location of the faint emission plumes.

 

About New York University’s Center for Urban Science & Progress

CUSP is an applied science research institute created by New York University with a consortium of world-class universities and the foremost international technology companies to address the needs of cities. At the heart of its academic program, CUSP will investigate and develop solutions to the challenges that face cities around the world.  This research will make CUSP the world’s leading authority in the emerging field of “urban informatics”.  For more news and information on CUSP, please visit http://cusp.nyu.edu/.

 

Contact
Kim Alfred, CUSP
917.392.0859
kim.alfred@nyu.edu

Megan Romano, The Marino Organization
212.889.0808
megan@themarino.org

 

Quantifying the Livable City

By the time Constantine Kontokosta got involved with New York City’s Hudson Yards development, it was already on track to be historically big and ambitious.

Over the course of the next decade, developers from New York’s Related Companies and Canada-based Oxford Properties Group are building the largest real-estate development in United States history: a 28-acre neighborhood on Manhattan’s far West Side over a Long Island Rail Road yard, with some 17 million square feet of new commercial, residential, and retail space.

Hudson Yards is also being planned as an innovative model of efficiency. Its waste management systems, for example, will utilize a vast vacuum-tube system to collect garbage from each building into a central terminal, meaning no loud garbage trucks traversing the streets by night. Onsite power generation will prevent blackouts like those during Hurricane Sandy, and buildings will be connected through a micro-grid that allows them to share power with each other.

They’re Tracking When You Turn Off the Lights

Four percent of Manhattanites go to bed before 7:30 p.m. on weeknights. Only 6% turn off the lights after midnight.

For more fine-grained data on what makes New York City tick, ask researcher Steven Koonin. Hidden on a Brooklyn rooftop, his wide-angle infrared camera peers at windows of thousands of buildings across the East River. The camera detects 800 gradations of light, a sensitivity that lets his software determine what time households turn in, what kind of light bulbs they use, and even what pollutants their buildings emit.

He has also mounted sound sensors in Brooklyn on streetlight poles and building facades to gauge the volume of house parties and car horns.

Mr. Koonin, a former undersecretary of science in the Obama administration who directs New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, is at the forefront of an academic movement to quantify urban life.

Tech companies have used the technologies and techniques collectively known as big data to make business decisions and shape their customers’ experience. Now researchers are bringing big data into the public sphere, aiming to improve quality of life, save money, and understand cities in ways that weren’t possible only a few years ago.

Meet the Man Who Turned NYC Into His Own Lab

In the mornings, Steven Koonin often dons a light blue shirt and khaki suit jacket, walks out of his apartment above Manhattan’s chic Washington Square park and heads for the subway. As he beelines down the sidewalk, the West Village buildings burp up black clouds of smoke as their boilers are fired on. At Sixth Avenue, an express bus screeches to the curb and blocks the pedestrian crosswalk. And as Koonin sits in the subway, he notices some of the signs are badly placed. “Can we fix this?” he wonders. He gets off at Brooklyn’s Jay Street-Metrotech station and rides an elevator to the 19th floor of a commanding building perched high above his native city. Then he gets to work.

Koonin is the director of New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), which is to say, he is the big data guru of New York City. He’s been given a lot of cash, millions of data points and a broad mandate by the city of New York: make it better. No big data project of this scale has been attempted before, and that’s because the tools never existed, until now. “There’s an enormous amount of data out there,” Koonin says with the vestiges of a Brooklyn accent. “If we can use the data to understand what’s going on in cities, we can improve them in a rational way.”