Logo: University of Southern California

IMSC Awarded Microsoft Grant to Advance Digital Geographics

March 27, 2006 —
Computer scientist Cyrus Shahabi has won one of eight highly competitive Microsoft research grants to conduct basic research in advanced geographical visualization and data management systems for “Virtual Earth.”  The new geospatial technology will allow Internet users to access the next generation of interactive 3-D maps accurately, quickly and easily.   
Graduate student Jeff Khoshgozaran, left, uses a data glove seen on his wrist to specify an area on the screen he wants to examine in more detail. Using this new graphical user interface, he will execute a query to obtain additional information about the area that has been outlined in yellow, such  as the positions of the trams on the street and more building information.  Fellow graduate student Arjun Rihan is on the right.

Shahabi, an associate professor of computer science, specializes in databases and information management, and leads a project at USC called GeoDec: Geospatial Decision Making. The research, also supported by a recent grant from Google, is designed to enable an information-rich and realistic 3-D visualization and/or simulation of geographical locations, such as cities or states, rapidly and accurately.

According to Shahabi, GeoDec programming applications will be needed for data-mining and management as high-powered interactive mapping tools like “Virtual Earth,” “Google Earth,” and “MapPoint” come online.  These mapping tools are hints of what’s to come in commercial mapping and local search platforms that will enable users to harness state-of-the-art capabilities.   

"This award from an industry leader in online mapping provides us with an incredible opportunity to work with high-caliber scientists at Microsoft Research and to help advance the state-of-the-art in online mapping," said Shahabi, who is part of the USC Viterbi School’s Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC).  “We would like to extend the query and data analysis utilities of ‘Virtual Earth’ so it can be used in more application scenarios, such as in emergency-response, urban planning, and intelligence applications.”

USC’s GeoDec research includes a family of interactive, highly accurate, 3D visualization tools ranging from rapid modeling to the depiction of live dynamic data, including live video.  Led by Shahabi, the project is part of IMSC’s Decision Support Research Area, which is devoted to research on presenting massive amounts of data in real-time in forms and displays that can be quickly understood.

These interactive mapping capabilities have already been sought out, Shahabi added.  For example, GeoDec recently received funding from USC’s Annenberg Center for Communication to support an urban renewal project that is under way in downtown Los Angeles.  IMSC researchers are developing programming interfaces that will allow urban planners to redesign the city and create digital blueprints for a proposed $1.8 billion redevelopment project.

The latest Microsoft research grants, totaling about $1 million, were awarded to eight academic research teams around the world — including India, Belgium, Russia, South Korea and the United States — to support basic research in digital geographics. The goal is to accelerate progress in this field.   
“In our proposal, we showed that we can build more accurate 3-D models in a relatively short time,” said Shahabi, principal investigator of the GeoDec project.  “We also showed that we can map images and live video textures to the models to make them even more realistic.”
Cyrus Shahabi works on new graphical user interface for GeoDec: Geospatial Decision Making. The project wil enhance high-powered interactive mapping tools, such as Google Earth, MapPoint and Virtual Earth. 

In addition, GeoDec can automatically and accurately integrate a variety of spatial and temporal data, such as road networks and GPS data, into a model to make it ready for sophisticated spatio-temporal data analysis.

The ability to create high-fidelity, information-rich models of cities, states or countries is critical for a wide variety of decisionmakers, Shahabi said.  For example, in the United States, GeoDec can be used by city managers, urban planners, emergency response planners, and first responders. In  military operations, these capabilities will be useful to urban operations planners, psychological operation planners,  and training systems for solidiers in the field.

Co-principal investigators on the GeoDec project include USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI) researchers Craig Knoblock, who specializes in databases and artificial intelligence, and Ram Nevatia, an expert in computer vision; and IMSC researchers Ulrich Newmann and Suya You, who will focus on graphics.
More information about  IMSC’s GeoDec project is available at    http://infolab.usc.edu/projects/geodec/index.jsp.