Work at UCL


Professor Tao Cheng

Professor in Geoinformatics and Director of SpaceTimeLab Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering (CEGE)

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am a Professor in Geoinformatics, actively involved in all aspects of UCL, including teaching, research, knowledge exchange and outreach activities. I am the Course Director of the MSc in Space-Time Analytics and Big Data Mining, which equip professionals with skills in big data analytics, in order to gain insights from large and complex datasets which are geo-tagged and/or time-stamped. I have been working on four major grants since I joined UCL 12 years ago. These involve smart transport with TfL, intelligent policing with the Metropolitan Police Service and business intelligence with leading consumer companies. I founded the SpaceTimeLab in 2012, and I am very pleased to have seen it become the world-leading Geocomputation Centre.

What attracted you to UCL?

I had a telephone interview and was invited for a campus visit in 2005 before I took the job at UCL. On my visit, I found that people seemed very happy to work here and extremely friendly. I felt I was welcome. So I decided to join UCL instead of other universities in Europe. Of course, the Geomatic group of CEGE is world-leading, in addition I was attracted by UCL's reputation, and London's status as a global city with a rich culture and history. 

What working achievement or initiative at UCL (or in previous work experiences) are you most proud of?

The collaboration with the Metropolitan Police Service on the UCL Crime, Policing and Citizenship Project funded by EPSRC. Using spatio-temporal analytics, big data and network complexity theory, we have developed an integrated platform for intelligent policing in an operational context. The platform consists of three inter-connected parts essential for policing: network-based crime prediction, optimal patrol routing strategies, and performance evaluation.

The tools are street network based; this not only allows for greater accuracy, but is also easier to implement on the ground. The cutting-edge network-based algorithm pinpoints crime hotspots to within a street or part of a street. This product is able to help front line officers effectively patrol on high risk streets and deter crimes more effectively, either preventing crime from happening in the first place or being nearby should a crime be committed and hence having a greater opportunity to arrest the offender. The network-based crime prediction has been used in the Metropolitan Police Service to guide daily patrols and police resource allocation since last October and preliminary results show its impact in crime reducing. We are hoping the tool will help the Metropolitan Police Service to tackle the gun, knife and mopped crimes that some London Boroughs are suffering at the moment. The China-Britain Business Council has reported on this innovation

We are working with UCL Business to spinout the technology so that it could be adopted by other police forces in the UK and world-wide. So I am also busy in setting up the business at the moment.

I am also very pleased that I have been actively involved in UCL's Athena SWAN activities in its early stage, leading our successful departmental Silver SWAN application in 2009.

What is the best aspect about working at UCL?

We have the freedom of doing research and working at our own pace (though sometimes it can be hectic). We have the best talent (students and academics) coming from around the world and this leads to cutting-edge research. Being in London and close to governmental and industrial organisations means it's easy to make connections and have impact. There are so many opportunities at UCL that everyone can take advantage of some. I think that good work would be recognised at some point which is also very important for UCL’s success.

What are your future career aspirations?

New ideas always excite me. So I think I will continue cutting-edge research as my first priority. I always want my research to make a real difference to people’s lives, so I will push for its implementation in practise, with the hope of commercialising some of our research outcomes for wider adoption of the technology. Currently, collaboration with Chinese academics and industries is also a big part of my work given its connection to my roots and its rising influence in the world.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

My success at UCL has only been possible with my colleagues generous support, especially in the early days when I first arrived. For example, Prof. Muki Haklay helped me secure funding from Arup to start my first project here, my old Geomatic group colleagues helped me polish my English for my first grant application, and my Head of Department (Prof. Nick Tylor) and UCL research facilitators (Dr Andrew Clark and Dr Mat Davis) have been very helpful for my grants applications. The department has been very supportive for my team and my collaboration with China.