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University to build virtual world for Columbus police

Nov 6, 2007

University to build virtual world for Columbus police

Grant funds homeland security-related project

Ohio University's School of Telecommunications and Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab have won a two-year, $702,000 grant to create a virtual world capable of making the real world safer.

The grant will help fund development of interactive digital environments in 30 high-profile Columbus buildings or sites that could be most susceptible to terrorist attacks, hostage situations or other critical incidents. The funding comes from the Urban Area Security Initiative Terrorism Early Warning Group, a unit of the Columbus, Ohio, Division of Police.

"The GRID Lab development, the multimedia staff and curriculum there fit in well with our purposes for our homeland security project," said Lt. Fred Bowditch, head of the Terrorism Early Warning Group. "The eagerness of the staff, the knowledge of the staff and the product they can produce are what sold us on Ohio University."

To build accurate models of the sites, Ohio University team members will employ new technologies such as 360-degree photography, immersive video, global positioning systems and inertial measurement units (which utilize accelerometers and gyroscopes to enable accurate tracking where GPS is impractical). Each virtual model will contain embedded information about a facility's history, owner, utility service providers and contacts.

The group also will develop software and hardware that allows first responders to access the data and models on wireless-enabled laptops, whether at a precinct or in the field. Users will be able to call up information tailored to a specific area to help design an appropriate response.

School of Telecommunications Director Roger Cooper, principal investigator for the project, is excited about the undertaking -- the first collaboration between this Terrorism Early Warning Group and academia -- because it will offer a glimpse of what media and law enforcement can accomplish together by harnessing new technologies.

"What we do will have important implications for national security and law enforcement because we will help enhance the effectiveness of emergency response," he said. "The video imaging network will make emergency response more reliable and will enhance first-responder preparedness."

Scripps College Dean Gregory Shepherd said the grant will serve as a platform to showcase the talents of the college's faculty and staff.

"It is with great pride that I congratulate our telecommunications faculty and GRID Lab staff on the procurement of this grant," Shepherd said. "Our team is at the forefront of new media, and our expertise will make the world a safer place through the application of new technology."

The project will begin in spring 2008 and conclude in fall 2009.