Projection Augmented Relief Model – a blog by Emma Smith, Invest in Nottingham

Back in November Nottingham Partners held an event, kindly hosted by the Royal Concert Hall which was celebrating its 40th anniversary. The event’s focus was on the University of Nottingham’s Digital Nottingham programme which unites researchers, businesses, and the community to solve real world challenges via digital and data technologies for the purposes of growing the economy, attracting investment and developing skills. The natural cross over with Nottingham Partners’ overall mission meant that we listened keenly over breakfast to Prof Paul Grainge who is the academic director of Digital Nottingham.

6 months on we were delighted to receive some details of projects which have been undertaken by Digital Nottingham, one of which is called PARM, led by Gary Priestnall, Associate Professor from the University of Nottingham’s School of Geography. PARM is short for Projection Augmented Relief Model and is an innovative piece of technology that brings maps and models to life in new and exciting visual ways. The first public PARM display was at the Wordsworth Trust Gallery in Grasmere, Cumbria (2012-2013) focussing on key landscape references in William Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Prelude’ and since then there have been developments which have allowed the generation of flood modelling.

The PARM technology means that a physical model can effectively be changed and adapted to demonstrate whatever data one wishes. For example, the PARM could be used to show the parts of an area that are most at risk of flooding from a local river, in the event of heavy rainfall. It could be used to chart the gradual growth and development of a city’s infrastructure over time. Or it could bring to life survey data, for example, illustrating different people’s perceptions of what constitutes their local “city centre” or showing which pubs are most frequently visited by respondents.

In its physical form, a typical PARM display comprises a highly detailed 3D-printed model of a landscape created from digital terrain data, much of which has been captured using airborne laser scanning. The model is laid flat, usually at tabletop height, and a projector is positioned above it. The projector is then configured to project maps, images and animations directly onto the model to demonstrate different scenarios. The images are generated within a Geographical Information System (GIS) then warped to fit the model perfectly when projected. The result is a fascinating way to explore and visualise different scenarios, that is significantly more engaging and interactive than merely looking at a static map or model. The applications and uses are varied and valuable.

With the support of Digital Nottingham there is now the opportunity to enhance the capabilities of PARM and explore its use in relation to a wider range of local issues. The Digital Nottingham team has funded the creation of two displays based on Nottingham; one focussed on the city centre, and one on the wider city. The use of a touchscreen interface allows many alternative maps to be projected onto the model at will, allowing viewers to explore the city through data. More specific versions of the general ‘city explorer’ displays are now being developed which focus on themes such as accessibility to greenspace, or planning.   

Dr Priestnall said “The application of PARM is only limited by our imagination. We have seen it work well in museums and visitor centres, and in formal education, but I think it has great potential as a tool to engage local people in a variety of ways. For example, local authorities could use it as a planning tool to promote discussions with citizens about their local environment, to visualise new uses of existing parks or public spaces, or to assess the likely impacts of changes to traffic flows.”

The Invest in Nottingham team is attending the UK Real Estate, Investment and Infrastructure Forum (UKREIIF) later this month and along with attending panel discussions, and other interactive sessions, the team is coordinating Nottingham’s presence with partners from the public and private sector. We will be showcasing Nottingham’s exciting development plans at the event. Technology such as PARM shows great alignment with these plans and the city’s aspirations for growth and technological skills enhancement which we will highlight enthusiastically and look forwards to seeing the technology applied in different settings.