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UMKC Center for Big Imaging and Smart City Technologies


This article is the fifth in a series of seven about the Provost’s Strategic Funding Initiative. Seven proposals by UMKC faculty and staff have been approved for a total of $1 million in funding support in the first year of the initiative. Learn more about the proposals and criteria for approved projectsRead more about other initiatives.

Developed by the School of Computing and Engineering (Drs. ZhiQiang Chen, Yugyung Lee, Zhu Li, Ceki Halmen, Travis Fields) and the Institute for Human Development (Dr. Alexis Petri).

Just when you’ve gotten used to the idea of Big Data, get ready for the next step in creating a “smarter” physical environment: Big Imaging.

ZhiQiang Chen, Ph.D., an associate professor in the School of Computing and Engineering, defines Big Imaging as a version of Big Data in which images, rather than numbers, are the primary components.

“In Big Imaging, the process of image acquisition, analysis, and understanding is emphasized. As with big data, big imaging processes feature high volume, high velocity, and high variety,” Chen said. “The prevalent, and foreseeably ubiquitous, use of aerial robotics (drones) and mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) in our urban societies and complex built environments – by both professionals and the general public – has ushered in the era of big imaging.”

Big Imaging is at the core of an initiative to create the UMKC Center for Big Imaging and Smart City Technologies, which is designed to become a key component of Kansas City’s ongoing effort to adopt Smart City capabilities and practices. Smart Cities use technology to gather large volumes of data and analyze it to solve problems and improve quality of life in urban areas.

The Center is envisioned as a “collaboratory” – a center for UMKC faculty and students, industry, local government and K-12 schools to collaborate on applying big data and big imaging to complex urban problems, while attracting and retaining underrepresented youth to STEM disciplines.

“To me, a smart city simply means connectivity,” Chen said. “The connectivity leads to two critical properties for the city and its communities: sustainability (life-cycle efficiency in terms of energy and resources) and resiliency (measurable adaptability and recoverability to adverse changes and emergencies), since data and information will be collected, transmitted, and processed in the real time through the connectivity.”

UMKC faculty and students are already using Big Imaging and other Smart City technologies to assist with civil infrastructure safety and condition assessment, disaster and emergency response, resilience modeling, and multi-hazard risk assessment.

The new Center will launch with two major demonstration projects and one inspiring K12 outreach program:

(1) Aerial Robotic Imaging for Intelligent Construction Management and Infrastructure Inspection. The primary objective of this project is to display drone-based aerial imagery data for rapid 3D modeling and assessing of civil infrastructure objects, including buildings under construction, roadways and pipelines. Second, by optimizing the aerial data collection procedures, the Center will demonstrate that such models can be used for project control and long-term condition management. The goal is to set up a robotic and programmable aerial survey with real-time imaging and near real-time data processing capabilities.

(2) Smart Green Infrastructure Assessment through Big Imaging. The primary objective of this project is to develop a systematic data and software integration approach aided by crowd-based and experts-guided imaging for assessing rain gardens and other green infrastructure in responding to heavy storms and environmental degrading. First, we believe that the wisdom and action of the public (or the crowd) and the engineers (or the experts), if intelligently employed through software-enabled facilitation, can resolve this important urban green infrastructure management issue efficiently and sustainably. To prove this, this demonstration project will develop a novel imaging and computing integration methodology through multi-modal sensing (crowd-based mobile and experts-guided multi-spectral imaging) for enhanced rain-garden performance analytics. The vision is to collaborate with Kansas City Water Services to transform the traditional decision-makings approach that relies on inefficient visual routines, into an intelligent imaging and cloud-based computing approach.

(3) Engaging educational opportunities for K-12 students and teachers that provide a glimpse into the excitement and potential of Big Imaging. We hope to provide opportunities for K-12 students and teachers to participate in the demonstration projects. This may inspire more people to pursue STEM majors and careers through exposure to the leading edge of technological advances.

In addition to those proposed projects, the Center will expand big-imaging based smart technologies into many other applications, such as:

  • Medical rescue
  • Connected highway inspection and monitoring
  • Resilient emergency response in rural communities
  • Real-time monitoring and analytics for urban air and environmental pollution

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