ViziCities dev diary #2: London Underground in 3D, Leap Motion, funding and more!

In this entry I talk about the progress made with ViziCities since the first dev diary. A lot has happened that we have been itching to tell you about!

For the past few months Pete Smart and I have been working on ViziCities, a 3D city and data visualisation platform — the project is about bringing cities to life using the power of open data and the Web (think Sim City but for real-life). You can find out more about why we're doing this and how in the first dev diary.

In the first month we had created the beginnings of a powerful platform and had a lot to show for it. Let's take a look at what's been going on since then; we're confident that it's been worth the wait!

Aside: We're currently looking for funding options to secure the future development of ViziCities. Interested? Get in touch via hello@vizicities.com!

Realising the potential

When we released the first dev diary back in March we didn't expect much of a response, after all this was just a personal project created by two people for fun. If only we knew back then what we know now — it went down a storm!

ViziCities plinth
ViziCities plinth

What has become clear to us is that this project is much more than a personal experiment. We're beginning to realise the huge potential of ViziCities, specifically around the power of visualising large quantities of data on a 3D, living city.

ViziCities SSAO demo
ViziCities SSAO demo

It's also clear to us that other people are extremely excited about the project and want to get involved and help us succeed. We totally didn't expect this and have been humbled by the response so far.

We've obviously hit on something important and we're keen to make sure it happens!

Exciting discussions with third parties

Since the last update we've been talking with a number of third parties who we'd like to work with to help make ViziCities better. These third parties range from important individuals, to Fortune 500 companies, to open source initiatives, all the way to large government organisations.

We've been blown away by the response when we show these guys our progress. It's also shown us is that there is clearly huge amount of interest for the project and its future potential as a data visualisation platform. In short, we're confident we're onto a winner.

I won't go into too much detail just yet, but here are a few examples of the kind of people we've been meeting with in the past few weeks:

Ordnance Survey

The national mapping agency for Great Britain. If you live in the UK then you've likely used an Ordnance Survey map or service.

Ordnance Survey HQ
Ordnance Survey HQ

Transport for London (TfL)

The guys who run the entire public transport network in London.

View from the TfL offices
View from the TfL offices


The curators of the UK's primary open data store.

And many more!

We've been talking to a lot of people since the last update, these have been just a few of them. We're keen to talk to more people so get in touch via hello@vizicities.com and we'd love to work something out.

Talking at events about our progress and experience

One of the most exciting non-development things that happened recently was the opportunity to talk about ViziCities at the Front-Trends conference in Poland. It was great fun and the community was superb!

Pete (right) and I (left) at Front-Trends
Pete (right) and I (left) at Front-Trends

During the talk we covered a little about the history of the project, as well as some of the development issues we encountered, and perhaps even a little secret demo at the end. You'll have to watch the video (below) and find out for yourself…

We've got a bunch more talks in the pipeline and can't wait to show more people what we've been up to. The project is changing week on week and so we always have something new and exciting to talk about.

Please get in touch via hello@vizicities.com if you think we'd fit in with your event, it's likely we'd love to come talk.

Awesome new features

We've been alluding to some very exciting features for a while now, and we're finally ready to show you some of them!

Secret ViziCities feature
Secret ViziCities feature

Leap Motion

Not long after the last update we soon realised that there was huge potential for us to utilise the Leap Motion as a new way of interacting with the 3D visualisation (think Minority Report). What we didn't expect was Leap Motion reaching out to us and sending a dev kit to experiment with!

Pete and I demoing the Leap Motion support at Front-Trends
Pete and I demoing the Leap Motion support at Front-Trends

It's early days and we haven't put too much time into integration yet, but check out this video for a cool demo of what we managed to cobble together in half an hour:

All in all, we're massively impressed with the Leap Motion (it's so accurate!) and reckon we can make some really intuitive interactions for people using the device.

Live data

Live data is something Pete and I are keen to explore in depth for ViziCities. One of the later experiments has been to visualise live tweets within the 3D city environment, which ended up looking really cool!

Aside: Twitter visualisations are something close to Pete and I, we love them.

We haven't finished this yet but we're aiming to make the tweets float out of the city similar to the way a balloon floats out of a child's hand and into the sky. Here's a little video of our current progress (the tweets are real):

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that there aren't many tweets appearing, considering London uses Twitter so much. There are 2 reasons for this; the first is that we recorded this video early on a Friday morning, the second is that we only have access to Twitter's 1% real-time stream so in reality there are many, many more tweets.

And now for the feature we've been the most excited about…

London Underground in 3D and real-time

Ever since we started the project we've wanted to visualise public transport in real-time and 3D. Why? Partly because it'll look amazing, but mostly because this is exactly the kind of thing that will help bring cities to life.

We decided that our first challenge was to build the London Underground network in 3D, with the aim to then place real-time trains along the 3D tracks. This was something we'd not seen before — anywhere — and definitely not something seen on the Web. Crazy? We thought so too, but it was worth a try.

Fortunately, we had a head-start thanks to Matthew Somerville's live (2D) tube map and the TfL APIs. However, the 3D aspect introduced a whole world of complexity to the challenge (eg. how deep are the stations?), but we were prepared to take it on!

We succeeded

We'll save the break-down of how we implemented it for another post (we learnt a lot) but it's safe to say that we got it working and it looks beautiful. Oh, and you see those icons above the tube lines? Those are trains. Real trains. Moving in real-time. In 3D…

Close-up of the London Underground
Close-up of the London Underground

What you can see here is the result of many hours of work from Pete and I, ranging from programming time, to nearly giving up trying to understand the algorithms involved, to hours spent manually wrestling with Excel spreadsheets containing the data we needed. Let's just say that the world would be a better place if data was offered in a variety of similar, usable formats.

The London Underground
The London Underground

The result, if we do say so ourselves, is amazing. We can't actually believe that we did it! The cherry on top is that the London Underground in 3D looks just as good as we'd hoped.

An overview of the London Underground network
An overview of the London Underground network

We still have a way to go but we certainly have the beginnings of a live public transport 3D visualisation platform, at least for London. From here we hope to move onto busses and other aspects of the network in London.

Adding UI interactions for live trains
Adding UI interactions for live trains

Static screenshots are so boring, so here's a video showing off our latest and greatest feature. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

Want to talk to us about this? Get in touch via hello@vizicities.com and we'll spill as many beans as we can.

And much more!

While the London Underground in 3D is clearly the most exciting feature to date, we've also been working on many others. Such as:

  • Ambient sound via the Web Audio API
  • Better AI (video below)
  • Implementing UI and interaction

Rest assured, there is much more left to do. We've only just touched the surface of what's possible with the platform!

Help fund the future of ViziCities

With that in mind, we need your help. To continue working on ViziCities and ensure it's future success we need to start working on it full time and really give it the attention it deserves. To do that we need to live, and to live we need to earn money.

I'll keep this brief, we're now actively looking to explore financing options to fund future development. Particularly in the early stages, we're keen to explore being sponsored by like-minded organisations who also want to see a platform like ViziCities happen and succeed.

Know anyone who would be interested to support the future of the project? Get in touch via hello@vizicities.com and we'll get right back!

We've been blown away by your response so far. We're making this happen and we'd love to have you as a part of it!

Finally, make sure you sign up to find out about the public beta. We'd hate for you to miss out.

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