The Virtual Singapore project aims to digitize an entire city

It sounds like something out of The Matrix: take all of the data available in a living, breathing, thriving metropolitan city and use it to make a “digital twin” that can be researched, analyzed and manipulated in real time by multiple stakeholders. But that’s just what’s happening with Virtual Singapore, a new public-private partnership to take one of Asia’s most vibrant cities and recreate it as a dynamic 3D model. The idea is to collaborate on a data platform that will allow scientists, policy makers and even regular citizens to test concepts, conduct virtual brainstorming, and enable entities to solve emerging challenges.

The main driver of the project is the French multi-national software  company Dassault Systémes, which is employing its 3DEXPERIENCE platform to power the dynamic and fluid scheme. In Singapore, the project is led by the National Research Foundation Singapore in concert with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA). Digital Trends went to the experts at Dassault Systémes to find out more about this fascinating project.

Digitizing a city

“Indirectly, it started with the idea of digitizing a city,” said Ingeborg Rocker, the acclaimed Princeton-trained architect who was lured away to become Vice President of the 3D EXPERIENCity project. “We realized that there is a gap between the tools that are classically available for urban planning and design, and those we have at hand for other domains. What we started to do was to leverage the entirety of the portfolio of Dassault Systémes towards analyzing the capabilities of the city versus the needs of the city in order to expand how we think about digital transformation.”

It’s a model that organically lends itself to the Smart City movement , and it has wildly diverse applications, from capturing pedestrian movement throughout a city to visualizing evacuation routes during an emergency.

“We will capture the virtualized life of Singapore,” said George Loh, director of the National Research Foundation’s Programmes Directorate. “For example, it will include demographic data about where elderly people are living, where the businesses and shopping malls and restaurants are, and what the transport schedules are.

“People can have access to all of that information and make sense of it. It can serve government agencies but it also can be a platform where people could have access to limited data and they could use applications that make their lives much more convenient. Businesses also can offer targeted services to their customers. And the last stakeholder group is researchers, who may have more ideas than government bureaucrats about how to create new technologies and services.”

Smarter data analysis

From intensive research and development to planning infrastructure repairs or even simply working out logistics for a night on the town, Virtual Singapore can be used to build dynamic three-dimensional visualizations of any aspect of the city for which the platform has data.

“…you have to challenge the interfaces that your engineers may love, but everyone else might be deeply troubled by.”

“I think the dilemma of cities these days is that they’ve been offered a lot from other companies to place technologies for smart cities into their public space,” Rocker said. “They allowed these companies to control how the technology is accessed , and the data is more or less owned by the companies that placed the technology into the urban space. The benefit we can give to cities is to reassess the value of that data by helping them to integrate the data in a smarter way. It’s a rethinking of the possible business models for cities in general.”

The next step is figuring out exactly how the interface will look to an end-user. While the current platform is geared toward engineers and digital designers, project leaders are looking at virtual reality, augmented reality, robotics, cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things and the Internet of Experience concepts to augment the interface and its diverse applications.

“Over the course of the last five years, not only with the development of the platform but also the massive diversification of our portfolio, we are starting to address very different audiences,” Rocker said. “For that reason, you have to challenge the interfaces that your engineers may love, but everyone else might be deeply troubled by. What we’re doing currently and on an ongoing basis is to adapt our interfaces to the requests coming in from new user groups. We have also adopted the devices that these new user groups are using. Virtual Singapore will be able to run on everything from solid state engineering machines to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. We have to adapt to what is going to be the best way for the user to have a tactile experience.”

She explained that visualization is a major goal of the project, so the aggregated and integrated data from various sources can be “seen” in a way that produces actionable intelligence.

To that end, Dassault is working hard to integrate its visualization platform with the powerful data produced from high-end, complex simulations.

“If you look at Virtual Singapore, we’re really talking about two different motors,” Rocker said. “One is this mode where you have a very light visualization and interactive mode. This is really for the web and to produce an ability to access data on the fly. Then we have another authoring approach where you actually engineer the work, or would perform high-end simulation and analysis. That is an interface that is more geared to the expert user. But the result of these two approaches is the ability to import the more complex data into the visualization environment, and make it accessible to everybody.

Predicting future experiences

Rocker said that another major goal of the project is not only to serve multiple constituencies, but also to encourage interaction, collaboration, idea generation, and debate. Because the system is not focused on a single technology, domain, or constituency, it allows the platform to break down problems system by system. It also allows the platform to produce solutions for multiple constituencies including businesses, the municipality, the research community, and engaged citizens, all of whom will be able to simulate, analyze and visualize any available data.

virtual singapore project mapping out entire city in 3d singapore3

Bernard Charlés, the President and CEO of Dassault Systémes, says Singapore is the perfect test platform for the 3DEXPERIENCE technology.

“Singapore is the most advanced city in the world in terms of leveraging technology to plan and manage its transformation over the next decades,” he said. “Cities are some of the most complex ‘products’ created by humanity. Through more efficient and accurate predictions of future experiences within these cities, we can better anticipate natural resource planning or provision of services, and contribute to a more sustainable quality of life. We hope to see other cities echo Singapore’s exciting initiative.”

For her part, Ingeborg Rocker believes the technology will soon migrate to all sorts of places Dassault Systémes’ team never imagined.

“Singapore is the most advanced city in the world in terms of leveraging technology to plan and manage its transformation …”

“I think we will see lots of different applications,” she said. “For one, I think we’ll a turn to home topics and issues. I also think we’ll see more of a social turn to projects where the everyday person is integrated into the system. Mapping, of course, because I think mobility is a huge issue here. There are facility management opportunities where we can create virtual twins of large facilities in order to offer predictive maintenance or other optimizations.”

Rocker, who left Harvard University to take on the Virtual Singapore project, says she doesn’t regret the decision for a moment.

“Frankly, I think architecture will always be relevant but if you look at the development and demographics of the population, and about how we make urban space and how we enable ourselves to live together, it seemed to me to be much more radically important that we have the right tools and are creating the right intellectual position,” she said. “When you think about how this technology can help harmonize products with nature, and make the city the focal point of all these initiatives, it’s big, and amazing, and super-exciting. It affects what we do as a society.”