AR/VR applications for environmental visualization and data analysis
Massive amounts of environmental data are being generated at a rapidly increasing pace due to developments and investments in sensor technologies
Figure I 7.3 A snapshot of HoloFlood placed on a conference room table.
(Ebert-Uphoff et al., 2017) and crowdsourcing (Sit et al., 2019), which are fuelled by the increased awareness of sustainability (Bibri, 2018) and climate change (Weber et al., 2018) as well as the efforts for disaster preparedness and mitigation. Making good use of these large-scale datasets require intelligent and efficient approaches for access, analysis and communication to stakeholders (Demir & Beck, 2009; Krajewski et al., 2017). These approaches include the presentation of structured data via web-based platforms in forms of 2D visualizations and interactive tools (Demir, Jiang, Walker, Parker, & Beck, 2009) and intuitive and gamified decision-support frameworks to allow stakeholders to make informed decisions (Carson et al., 2018). AR and VR can be utilized to develop next-generation data retrieval, on-site analysis and in-depth visualizations in the environmental field as highlighted by the case studies described in the remainder of this section.
Environmental data retrieval and sensing
AR can help develop modern data sensing approaches. It provides an opportunity for the user to perform complex measurements and data collection with intuitive methods. Sermet, Sit, Villanueva and Demir (2019) presented several geometry-based approaches to measure water stages using prevalent sensors found in smartphones. All approaches presented in the study require a user to take a picture of a point of interest (i.e. an intersection of a water body with land) in order to assess the real-world elevation of the surface of the water body (Figure 17.4a). The study outlines how AR beacons and known structures can be used as reference points to calibrate sensor readings, perform more accurate surveys, guide users to survey locations that are in more need of data points and present previous measurements for that location and relevant information as AR overlays.
In addition to data sensing, AR-based cyber tools can serve as practical intermediaries to communicate raw data and information to users in the appropriate spatiotemporal context. As an example, a smartphone-based AR application is developed (Demir et al., 2018) to allow the enhancement of a real-time camera feed by creating interactive AR layers (i.e. overlays) for nearby sensors (e.g. water level sensor, rain gauge, soil moisture gauge) to access data resources (Figure 17.4b). The application filters the sensors based on proximity determined by the user and resizes the representative icons to create a perception of distance.
Another use case for enhanced data communication is the inspection and measurement of power line sag using AR-enabled smartphone applications (Sermet, Demir, & Kucuksari, 2018). An Android application was developed to effectively and safely inspect overhead power line sag in terms of the line’s sag tolerance and distance to nearby obstacles (e.g. trees) and ground using image processing. For known locations, information boxes are generated with various useful information including the last maintenance
Figure 17.4 (a) Smartphone-based stream stage measurement (b) AR layers for visualizing nearby sensors on a smartphone.
date, previous sag measurements with neighbouring poles and action messages to reflect whether the pole or line needs maintenance. These boxes are overlaid to the camera stream and placed on top of the electric poles on sight using AR (Figure 17.5).
Figure I 7.5 A screenshot from the Android application to show AR overlays for power line inspection.
Hydrological simulations and disaster education
A major motivation for the use of AR/VR in disaster sciences is the education of the public, students in K-12 or college level students concerning hydrological processes and natural disasters. XR technologies can bring the fun factor to the education applications with gamification and the interactive nature of these platforms. XR can allow students to experiment with environmental phenomena to see outcomes that are impractical or impossible to reproduce in real life. An example of such initiatives is the web-based hydrological simulation system (Demir, 2014) developed at the University of Iowa. The system can simulate hydrological concepts (e.g. watershed, precipitation, river network, flood inundation and mitigation) that are controlled by the instructor and students to create different flood scenarios and implement flood mitigation strategies while providing realistic visualizations to assess the potential structural and environmental damage. The system is accessible from a web browser as a 3D interactive environment, on smartphones as an AR application using a marker (Figure 17.6a) and on VR devices (e.g. Oculus Rift) as an immersive VR application.
In addition to education, augmenting real-life locations that are of interest to stakeholders is an effective tool in increasing awareness. The literature suggests that a notable percentage of people are undermining the effects of disasters, which contributes to the lack of preparatory activities, leading to increased damages and casualties (Burningham, Fielding, & Thrush, 2008). A realistic flood visualizer has been developed (Demir et al., 2018) using 360-degree panoramic imagery by integrating a layer of advanced water simulation (Figure 17.6b). The flood visualizer allows users to choose any place on a 2D map that has 360- degree imagery available and generates interactive VR that can be viewed on a web platform, VR headsets and smartphones. The main advantage of the tool is to provide a unique and immersive experience of how floods affect communities, giving users a feeling of empathy. Thus, it paves the way for individuals to take roles in disaster preparedness efforts by increasing their interest.
Figure 17.6 a) A snapshot of an educational hydrological simulation environment b) A screenshot of panoramic imagery augmented with realistic flood visualization.