When Pope Francis paid to a visit to Philadelphia in 2015, the city confronted security challenges.

This was especially true as about 20,000 people from 100 nations convened for the World Meeting of Families.

To address this issue, about 28,000 pictures were captured with the use of aerial and ground based photography of street views and building facades. These were submitted to software known as ContextCapture supplied by engineering and construction software provider Bentley Systems to devise a detailed and photo-textured three-dimensional ‘reality mesh’ of the community.

The results then were merged with simulation software called LumenRT (also from Bentley) to simulate human motion, traffic flow, sunlight conditions and seasonal trees and plants, and to evaluate layout choices like road closures and the positioning of barricades and video screens.

Similarly, the city of Helsinki has employed 50,000 images and 11 terabytes of data to devise a reality model of the whole city, which is transmitted to businesses and individuals in an open data environment. Applications that have emerged from this include a citizen platform which permits citizens to investigate the probable effect of potential design shifts like the addition of greenspace in some regions, a climate atlas that supplies citizens with building specific information regarding energy and water usage of Heka Oy’s rental structures and a digital twin of the Kalasatama region which provided a platform for designing, testing, applying and servicing the whole lifespan of the built environment.

The city is calling for citizens, businesses and schools to develop their own applications of this unique model.

All of these are samples of reality modelling in communities throughout the globe.

Reality modelling is the phenomenon of recording existing site conditions with the use of photos and point clouds to supply a true, geo-referenced three-dimensional model representation of buildings, assets and cities through the use of reality modelling software. These can be coupled with operation and/or engineering info to establish ‘digital twins’ – digital representations of standing structures, assets, cities or communities.

The geometrical accuracy aspect empowers users to both envision objects and to measure and comprehend their geometry and their form, size and arrangement. Since they are inspired by real photos or scans, 3D reality models are accurate in that they reflect a digital image that likens a true real life object or asset.

Benoit Frederique, Director of Product Management – Reality Modeling at Bentley, depicts a reality model as a three-dimensional image that you can navigate digitally. The result is a highly realistic real world image, with nothing false or fake inherent. This, in other words, is what people would see with their eyes. The applications of this technology are many and varied.

In regards to security and emergency planning, reality models and digital twins can be called upon by fire, police or emergency service departments to deal with emergencies happening around major city features like transit hubs, stadiums and primary public spaces.

Reality models can supply the realistic blueprint for renovations or maintenance. When redesigning buildings or road re-routing, 3D reality models can allow users to better comprehend current topography and conditions. When planning maintenance projects, the models can give crews realistic pictures of their sites and the conditions inherent.

In regards to stakeholder and community engagement, info regarding new developments could be projected onto a reality model to supply community members with a realistic perspective of likely visual impact as it might arise in properties or parks.

And in terms of disaster planning, engineers can draw upon reality models to attain a visually and geometrically true representation of the likely impact of occurrences like floods upon critical assets, and can simulate various strategies which could be called upon to minimise risk. And in regards to risk; some worry that virtual models could place sensitive information into the hands of those with bad intentions.

In this case, Mankowski says that access restrictions can be put into place. He says that Bentley’s cloud based services are situated on the Microsoft Azure Cloud which empowers various layers of security that can be accessed only through certifications—this thanks to stalwart firewalls. The Azure cloud also empowers nations to prevent sensitive data from exiting their borders. Singapore mandates that data shared with its residents should stay inside the city and state. Microsoft can get the job done, Mankowski says, as it maintains data centres around the globe.

He says that an open data environment is a creative and innovative one; not to mention a safe and secure one.