Epic MegaGrant to VirtualCity@Chalmers

In May, the team behind the project VirtualCity@Chalmers got positive news: they had received $80 000 in an Epic MegaGrant to develop their work with Epic Games’ 3D creation tool Unreal Engine.

​Vasilis Naserentin is the Lead Developer at the Digital Twin Cities Centre at Chalmers and a Senior Research Engineer at the Division of Applied Mathematics:

– When we started, more than two years ago, our effort to get into the 3D digital twins of cities field, we had to choose a visualization platform. Unreal Engine (UE) seemed to be the most mature of the possible candidates, and we could see it showed already back then a momentum towards gaining popularity in the domain of Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC).

Expand the use beyond gaming industry

Epic Games, UE’s developer, wants to expand the use of their platform beyond the gaming industry and show that the engine is a powerful tool in many areas and AEC is a major part of the equation. Mega Grants is a move from Epic to support projects built on UE and mainly innovative ideas that enhance the open-source 3D graphics ecosystem.

The Epic Mega Grants project consists of four work packages and the main idea is to create a scientific visualisation toolbox. A typical use example would be to import data of the digital twin city in the engine and enrich it with metadata, for example input coming from sensors or simulations. The information could be about noise levels, pollution, air quality, flooding etc. There are many technical challenges in doing so, for instance how to best bundle, store and import the datasets; which formats and models to use, how to best visualise the information for different user groups or how to perform fast transformations on the data to be able to interact in real time with them. The project addresses the whole pipeline starting from how to connect data to the game engine up to how to provide an adequate user experience.

See live data as the events happen

Another part of the project is in close collaboration with a multinational architectural firm based in New York, KPF (Kohn Pedersen Fox). The joint work package will assist in creating a prototype in streamlining KPF’s workflow into UE and create a complete toolset to build digital city twins for urban analysis. The team will be providing most of the engineering aspects of the development and Epic is really interested in this, since it is a great example of how academia and industry can work together. Moreover, everything is open source and all code can and will be shared. Lastly, one work package is dedicated to the internet of Things. This buzz word has become a synonym for smart cities and digital twins, and the project strives to include live data various sources, for instance the City of Gothenburg. This will help to prove the generality of the methods and workflows since “offline” simulation data and “online” digital twins can be created where you can combine the latest of the applied mathematics field in solving multi-physics problems and connect to live data as well.

– We have started our work after the summer, but most of the funds will probably be spent next year. Currently we are a group of five or six people working in this, but only part-time, so we do not have enough development power per se. We are looking into hiring some new talent, perhaps even students who are familiar C++, Javascript, Python or even Unreal Engine. We feel that the grant is like a seal of approval that we can use the engine in a good way, and hopefully it will help us to attract more developers soon!

Text: Setta Aspström

Page manager Published: Thu 22 Oct 2020.