The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis


Dr Ana Basiri awarded Future Leaders Fellowship by UK Research & Innovation

9 May 2019

Dr Ana Basiri, Lecturer in Spatial Data Science and Visualisation at CASA, awarded prestigious Fellowship

Dr Ana Basiri

Dr Ana Basiri has been selected as one of just five UCL academics in the first wave of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowships. The Fellowships form an aspect of the government’s wider Industrial Strategy programme.

Ana has been selected for her work creating accurate 3D maps of cities using crowdsourced data on the blockage, reflection and attenuation of GPS signals, using machine learning techniques, that can be used for emergency services, autonomous cars and drones navigation.

The Future Leaders Fellowships are supported by a £900 million investment fund and will provide researchers and innovators from diverse backgrounds and career paths with the flexibility and time they need to make progress on truly challenging questions.

Ana is Lecturer in Spatial Data Science and Visualisation at CASA. Since completing her PhD, (within the past five years - excluding two career breaks), Ana has won several awards and prizes, including Role Model in Science by Alexander Humboldt and EC Marie Curie Alumni, and has also been involved in several leadership activities. They include chairing several seminars and international conferences, including International Conference on Localisation and GNSS 2017, giving keynote/invited talks, and leading editorial teams of (special issues of) the prestigious journals in geospatial discipline, including International Journal Geographical Information Science. These leadership activities and her own research track record, (36 peer reviewed journal papers and book chapters, 32 conference papers, supervising 5 PhD theses and 21 MSc/MRes students), encouraged her to apply for the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship scheme.

Ana said, “UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship scheme is a fantastic opportunity for me to realise my ambition to become an internationally recognised leader in the field of Spatial Data Science. I will have the resources and freedom to establish my own world leading multidisciplinary research group, focussing on novel solutions based on my idea of ‘indicative data science’.”

Ana’s ‘indicative data science’ is a set of tools and techniques, and the mindset that considers gaps, unavailability, and uncertainty of data as a useful source of data to make inference. The proposed project within her fellowship will extract the 3D map of cities based on the blockage of signals coming from GPS (or other similar Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as European Galileo). Patterns of blockage, reflection, and attenuation of the GNSS signals can be extracted using statistical, machine learning, and Artificial Intelligence techniques. These techniques will be applied to crowd-sourced GNSS raw data, contributed by the volunteers and the crowd through the crowdsourcing framework of the project. This provides a ubiquitous and free of charge 3D mapping service that is essential or beneficial for a wide range of applications including emergency services, positioning and navigation in urban canyons and indoors, urban planning, and energy consumption modelling, drone and autonomous vehicles navigation.

“This fellowship allows me to lead my multidisciplinary team and build up my track record by publishing and presenting the results in the highest impact journals and applying for bigger grants, collaborating with world-leading international academic and industrial partners, including Ordnance Survey, Uber, Alan Turing Institute, and engaging with the public, and influencing policymakers and government.”

Indicative Data: Extracting 3D Models of Cities from Unavailability and Degradation of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)

Accurate, free and up-to-date 3D models of cities could be hugely valuable for location-based businesses such as firms requiring navigation and positioning or location-based games, emergency services, urban planning, autonomous cars and drone deliveries. The blockage, attenuation and reflection of signals of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as GPS and the European Galileo system, can be used to extract these models. Ana’s project is based on indicative data science – the mindset that considers the unavailability, and degradation of data as a useful source of data. Ana’s project will investigate how GNSS signals are altered as they interact with buildings and streetscapes. She aims to analyse the crowdsourced data using novel statistical and machine learning techniques to learn the patterns of unavailability and degradation of signals and estimate height, shape, and materials of the buildings. This would enable a globally available 3D mapping service that only needs free-to-use GNSS signals, which will improve the reliability of navigation and mapping – especially in ‘urban canyons’ and indoors when integrated with other signals such as Wi-Fi – and will put the UK at the forefront of the GNSS raw data industry. Ana said: “This Fellowship helps me to brings together multidisciplinary academic and industrial partners, including Ordnance Survey, The Alan Turing Institute and Uber, and make societal and economic impact.”

Science and Innovation Minister Chris Skidmore announced the 41 recipients who will form the first wave of the Future Leaders Fellowships this week. He said: “From Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s creation of the World Wide Web, to Rosalind Franklin whose work was critical in understanding DNA, we have a rich history of talented individuals who have paved the way for ground-breaking research and discoveries in their fields.

“Our investment in these Future Leaders Fellows will enable the brightest and best of our scientists and researchers to work with leading lights in industry, to help their research move from the laboratory to the commercial market.

“This support to the next generation of scientists and researchers is a key part of our modern Industrial Strategy, and our commitment to raise R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 will maintain the UK’s position as a world-leader in science and innovation and building on our historic legacy.”

Professor David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research), said: “UCL is committed to harnessing the power of academic research to improve the lives of people around the world, and to change our understanding of the world around us. Through the work of pioneering research leaders, we’re making breakthroughs that have real-world impacts, in industry, science, public health and beyond. This wouldn’t be possible without the hard work, academic insight and leadership of UCL’s people, and I’d like to extend my congratulations to the Future Leaders Fellows, who have deservedly been recognised for their discoveries and the potential they hold.”   

The Future Leaders Fellowships are open to early career researchers in any field of research and innovation across UKRI’s remit. Researchers are encouraged to pursue interdisciplinary and business-linked research. The Future Leaders Programme will award around 200 new fellows each year.

To see all the Future Leaders Fellows, visit the UKRI website.

To find out more about the programme, read the UK Government press release here, UKRI press release here and the UCL press release here.