Satellite technology takes urban planning to new level using 3D tech

Daresbury Laboratory
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A pioneering North West start-up is using satellite technology at Daresbury Laboratory to transform the use and application of 3D urban models for towns and cities, making the urban planning process more accessible, efficient and collaborative.

Towns and cities are constantly changing and developing and local authorities rely on huge amounts of data to plan and manage urban areas and regeneration projects.

Local authorities have an ongoing need to engage with the public and their stakeholders as part of their planning process, but navigating and managing all of this data is a challenge. From predicting energy requirements, to sustainability and the management of utilities, traffic and waste, 3D digital modelling technology is a highly valuable, but under-utilised, part of making sense of this data and building it into the planning process.

Start-up company Digital Urban is taking 3D digital modelling capabilities to a new level with the help of satellite technology.

It is the latest company to join the ESA Business Incubation Centre UK (ESA BIC UK) at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Daresbury Laboratory to take advantage of the support available in space and satellite technologies to further its commercial development.

It is using data and optical imagery generated by ESA’s Sentinel earth observation satellite to develop a cloud-based platform that provides a more accessible way of developing and managing interactive 3D urban models.

Once developed, the 3D digital model and all its data becomes openly accessible and freely available for all to utilise – from planning stakeholders, to architects, developers, and so on.

For major planning and regeneration projects, this facilitates a more dynamic and collaborative urban design process, enabling more speed and efficiency in decision making, and, therefore, potential benefits in cost management.

The ESA BIC UK is part of the world’s largest business incubation programme for space tech start-ups, and in the UK is located across four national science and innovation campuses.

Managed and partly funded by STFC, in collaboration with ESA Space Solutions, the UK Space Agency and the University of Leicester, it has helped nearly 100 businesses in their mission to develop game-changing products and services for an increasingly competitive, global market place.

Simon Mabey, founder of Digital Urban, said: “Being part of the ESA BIC UK enables us to work with local authorities and their stakeholders on the 3D digital urban models of their towns and cities. By consolidating large amounts of information into one place, we are providing an accessible platform, which is having a valuable impact on the project teams and stakeholders we work with. As one of our well informed clients commented, ‘it’s a great practical step towards establishing a digital twin’.”

Digital Urban’s location at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory at Sci-Tech Daresbury in Cheshire, puts it at the heart of the recently-launched North West Space Cluster.

Funded by the UK Space Agency and led by STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory, this major multi-partner project was set up to enable North West businesses to play a more significant role in the rapidly-expanding multibillion-pound UK space sector.

Recently, Digital Urban ran its first live demonstration to Wirral Council, with the production of a 3D urban digital video. Wirral Council used the digital model in support of its £40m bid to government, using it to demonstrate the scale and ambition behind its regeneration programme as part of the Birkenhead 2040 vision.

Delyth Edwards, business incubation programmes manager at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory, said: “UK start-ups are increasingly using space technologies to create new products and services, whether that’s for use here on Earth or for satellites in space.

“Through the ESA BIC UK, I’m really excited to support Digital Urban and provide the essential support it needs to gain a competitive advantage in a global marketplace. The space industry is a priority for regional economic growth across the UK and here, within the North West Space cluster, Digital Urban is an outstanding example of a business achieving demonstrable success through the use of space technology.”

Part of the ESA Space Solutions network of successful ESA BICs across Europe, the ESA BIC UK provides up to 15 start-ups every year with a combination of funding and access to world-leading technical expertise, facilities and business development support. This is in addition to the benefits that being part of a flourishing and unique network of science and innovation campuses can bring.