April 23, 2021
The Urban Observatory: Better Cities Through Imaging
With millions of interacting people and hundreds of governing agencies, urban environments are the largest, most dynamic, and most complex macroscopic systems on Earth. The interaction between the three fundamental components of that system (human, natural, and built) can be studied much like any physical system, with observation and application of physical principles to the collection and analysis of that data. I will describe how persistent, synoptic imaging of an urban skyline can be used to better understand the urban system, in analogy to the way persistent, synoptic imaging of the sky can be used to better understand the heavens. At the “Urban Observatory”, a multi-city facility consisting of a network of observational platforms, we are combining techniques from the domains of astronomy, physics, computer vision, remote sensing, and machine learning to address a myriad of questions related to urban science and informatics. I will demonstrate the power of these techniques when data from the Urban Observatory is fused with publicly available records and in situ sensing data to provide new insights into cities as living organisms that consume energy, have environmental impact, and display characteristic patterns of life, and how that new understanding can be used to improve city functioning and quality of life for its inhabitants.
Dr. Dobler is an Assistant Professor at the Biden School of Public Policy and Administration, the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and the Data Science Institute at the University of Delaware. He is an urban data scientist whose research focuses on the study of dynamical interactions in complex urban systems. As the Director of the multi-institutional Urban Observatory (UO) facility, he applies data analysis techniques from astronomy, computer vision, and machine learning to images of city skylines to study air quality, energy consumption, lighting technology, and sustainability. He also leads data analysis projects on the equitable distribution of greenspaces, surrogate measures for traffic safety, and infectious disease spread. He was the recipient of a 2015 James S. McDonnell Complex Systems Scholar award and his work has been further supported by both the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.