The urban observatory: A multi-modal imaging platform for the study of dynamics in complex urban systems

Gregory Dobler, Federica B. Bianco, Mohit S. Sharma, Andreas Karpf, Julien Baur, Masoud Ghandehari, Jonathan Wurtele, Steven E. Koonin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We describe an “Urban Observatory” facility designed for the study of complex urban systems via persistent, synoptic, and granular imaging of dynamical processes in cities. An initial deployment of the facility has been demonstrated in New York City and consists of a suite of imaging systems—both broadband and hyperspectral—sensitive to wavelengths from the visible (∼400 nm) to the infrared (∼13 micron) operating at cadences of ∼0.01–30 Hz (characteristically ∼0.1 Hz). Much like an astronomical survey, the facility generates a large imaging catalog from which we have extracted observables (e.g., time-dependent brightnesses, spectra, temperatures, chemical species, etc.), collecting them in a parallel source catalog. We have demonstrated that, in addition to the urban science of cities as systems, these data are applicable to a myriad of domain-specific scientific inquiries related to urban functioning including energy consumption and end use, environmental impacts of cities, and patterns of life and public health. We show that an Urban Observatory facility of this type has the potential to improve both a city’s operations and the quality of life of its inhabitants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1426
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2 2021


  • Complex urban system dynamics
  • Hyperspectral imaging
  • Imaging data acquisition systems
  • Infrared imaging
  • Multi-modal data fusion
  • Multi-wavelength imaging
  • Urban science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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