Urban planners don’t blindly work on major projects—say, a new highway—without thinking about the potential impact on surrounding structures. But even with today’s best technology (2-D survey maps, generally), it’s not always easy to figure out exactly how things like noise and pollution will be impacted by that new highway. The Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering is working to change that with a 3-D planning tool that lets users easily visualize noise, pollution, and traffic so that they don’t accidentally build a structure that will have nearby residents enraged.
Data in the picture above corresponds with the different colored boxes. High levels of noise could be green, for example, while low levels could be blue. There is a distance of just over 16 feet between data points. Users can zoom in to street view to virtually walk through the city or gaze down from a bird’s-eye view.
There are any number of simulations that can be played out using the tool. One example: the Fraunhofer researchers visualized the noise levels if gas-powered vehicles were taken off the road and electric cars dominated. Surprisingly, noise levels would remain similar. "Admittedly, you can barely hear electric cars when starting up," explained Roland Blach, department head at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering, in a statement. "At about 30 kilometers per hour, however, you start to hear rolling noises that can get really loud at speeds of 50 kilometers per hour."
Fraunhofer hasn’t revealed when (or if) the tool will be made available to the public, but there are other decent options in the meantime. Google’s SketchUp software is one free option for urban designing. And last year, MIT released free urban planning software that analyzes the ways that spatial layout affects how people live in cities.