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Virtual L.A.: A traffic-less trip

images  of LA
A virtual city could be valuable for police and firefighters, quickly mapping the best route to an emergency

Take a virtual trip in Los Angeles with CNN's Jim Hill
Windows Media 28K 80K

New view could help firefighters and police

June 13, 1999
Web posted at: 10:20 p.m. EDT (0220 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- In a city noted for cars, concrete and crowds, there is a new way to travel around Los Angeles --the virtual way.

The experts who engineered the computer marvel call it urban simulation.

"It's the ability to interactively move through very high-definition, very large urban environments on the computer and in an interactive fashion," said Bill Jepson, an architectural computing professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The virtual reality model of Los Angeles begins with aerial photos of the city.

They go into a computer program, along with satellite global positioning coordinates to map -- with precision -- the basic outline.

Then the designers carefully add the smallest details, using street-level videotape and photographs of every city block, building and storefront.

They are programmed into the virtual model as well, creating a detailed virtual city which anyone can navigate with the click of a computer mouse.

"It's fully three-dimensional," said Jepson. "There's no smoke, and there's no mirrors. It's a real-time system."

Virtual L.A. may become valuable for police and firefighters, who could quickly map the best route to an emergency.

Once building interiors are included, dispatchers could guide emergency crews with incredible detail.

Los Angeles County covers roughly 40,000 densely populated square miles. So far, the computer experts have mapped about 20,000 square miles into their model.

UCLA computer science students do the legwork. Each participant devotes about a week to accurately model one block.

But Dick Muntz, a UCLA professor involved in the school's Virtual World Data Server Project, hopes other cities will fill in the remainder of the county.

Individual communities like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills would maintain their own databases, he said.

"Eventually we would like it to be distributed and also deliverable to individual users over the Internet, so it's accessible to people in the home," Muntz said.

Correspondent Jim Hill contributed to this report.

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