URA explores creating 3D digital models of city area using drones

URA explores creating 3D digital models of city area using drones

URA and local drone start-up Avetics have already worked on a trial to create a 3D digital model of the NUS Baba House at Neil Road, while more trials are planned for the Pearl's Hill district and Chinatown area.

Gardens By The Bay

SINGAPORE: Digital models of the Republic's heritage sites and city areas created using aerial images by drones could be here to stay, if trials conducted by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) are successful.

The URA said the technique is called photogrammetry, which is the science of making measurements from photographs. It had already partnered with local drone set-up Avetics to create a 3D digital model of the NUS Baba House at Neil Road, the agency said in a press release on Thursday (May 21).

NUS baba house

A drone can also be used to capture the details of motifs along the NUS Baba House's air well. (Photo: URA)

"Creating fine-grained 3D digital models of our built heritage potentially offers a new dimension to document our conserved buildings in more intricate and accurate detail," URA said. "Planners can use these digital models to plan and carry out research, guide restoration, as well as monitor and manage the state of our built heritage in a more effective way."

The drone will fly for 15 to 30 minutes and take more than 300 photographs during that time. Each image taken is tagged with location coordinates.

"With the drone, you can make use of airspace around the building and fly all around it; take photographs from all angles, and put it back into a 3D building. The advantage is really time savings, colour and accuracy," said Avetics CEO Zhang Wei Liang. The planning process and public viewing, took the drone operators just two days.

For instance, conservation planners need not physically scale a building to see the rooftops and other aspects such as architectural motifs of conserved buildings, it said.


There are also plans in the coming months to collaborate with industry players to create 3D digital models of the Pearl’s Hill district and Chinatown area, the agency added.

If successful, planners can potentially use the models to facilitate faster and more accurate 3D analysis for various urban planning and design scenarios, URA said.

"3D information will let us plan in a way that is closer to how our citizens will experience the city. For example, do we understand the terrain of an area, where the trees are, what are the views etc? And where the buildings are located, so that we can better plan that wind is harnessed for greater comfort at a street level," said Mr Kelvin Ang, director for Conservation Management at URA.


A playground in Singapore through the lens of an aerial drone. (Photo: Avetics & Stefen Chow)

URA CEO Ng Lang said: “The current rapid advancement in disruptive technology offers exciting opportunities to explore new ways to plan, develop, and manage the city.

“Drone technology is one example. It allows us to conveniently capture and generate high-quality, precise 3D digital models of buildings that we used to take weeks to do, and at a lower cost.”


URA also launched its exhibition, Drones: Changing The Way We See The World, on Thursday, which showcases the advancement of Unmanned Vehicle (UV) technology, its applications as well as potential uses and future possibilities.

The exhibition will focus on three aspects of drone application – aerial imaging, 3D digital modelling and environmental and infrastructure monitoring, it said.

Jurong Lake District

The URA has been using aerial images to simulate future developments in the planning of Jurong Lake District. (Photo: URA)

In particular, URA has been using drones to capture aerial images and videos for areas such as Jurong Lake District and Marina Bay. The images are used to map and document changes in Singapore’s urban landscape.

At the launch of the exhibition, URA chairman Peter Ho also pointed out that Shell uses drones to inspect their flare stacks in Jurong Island, helping them to save both time and manpower, while reducing safety risks.

"Within our neighbourhoods, you can fit drones with thermal sensors to help detect mosquito breeding grounds," he added.

Drones have also been used in emergency operations - the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) recently announced the use of aerial drones and other UVs for safer and more efficient fire-fighting.

The exhibition will run from May 21 to Jun 25 at the Urban Lab, URA Centre Atrium, and admission is free.

Source: CNA/ct