The cities we live in are collecting more data about our lives than we know what to do with. We look at how this can be used to simulate future urban spaces

Many of the world’s biggest cities, including Shanghai, Istanbul, Mumbai, Moscow, Beijing and more, are already overpopulated.

And as the world’s population continues to grow – the UN expects there to be 9.6 billion people on the planet by 2050 – so does the number of people that live in cities.

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Housing, pollution, food supply and renewable energy are some of the many challenges that are faced by those tasked with ensuring cities run smoothly with citizens who are healthy and have everything they need.

Coming to the aid of those making such decisions – which affect millions and in some cases billions of people – is data. We’re producing more data than ever before, and cities are no exception to this trend.

It can even allow us to see them in different ways. Travel cards in London let us see the movement of people across a public transport network; downtown buildings in Seattle are having their power consumption monitored to analyse how it could be reduced and in Lyon, France, a system has been developed that uses real-time traffic reports to predict congestion, like precrime in Minority Report, but for cars.

It is even applicable for emerging technologies.

3D mapped versions of real cities – think Sim City but a lot more practical – are being used to develop how driverless cars can move through them.

“We’re a working with large vehicle manufacturing firms and discussing how far we will work together, looking at the car in the city,” says Ingeborg Rocker, from Dassault Systèmes.

“This involves looking at the city and cars in the context of the internet of things, and understanding the car and what does it take to really arrive at an autonomous vehicle and how far do we need city models to facilitate this approach.”

The company has created software to model and simulate how our cities work and run on a daily basis – based on real world data. This is intended to highlight how a city can develop and improve.

“For example, we have had discussions with a city that wants to dramatically reduce the traffic lights, they also want to dramatically reduce the streets that are car-driven streets,” she said. This approach can lead to dedicating more streets as being open for pedestrians, but also has implications on other factors, including environmental ones.

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“It’s because the more stopping and going that the cars are doing, the more air pollution, for example, that exists. So if you limit the traffic lights and if you ensure a continuous flow, you have a much better air condition most likely than if you have many traffic lights with a lot of stopping and starting.”

This means that the journeys of autonomous cars can be simulated to determine the most environmentally friendly routes. There’s also the potential to simulate their interaction with wireless data points, traffic lights and more, all of which can be simulated in city environments as though they were being tested in real-life.

The future of city planning

The company is certainly not the only one using 3D mapping to look at our cities in a new light. On a commercial scale Google Earth, and later Maps, has been creating 3D maps for longer than it is comfortable to remember – this has been replicated by Microsoft, and the often-maligned Apple Maps.

In addition, Vizicities allows anyone, using open source data, to download 3D maps of cities and combine them with their own data. “Cities are more than just maps, ViziCities brings them to life in completely new ways,” says the company’s website. “Load up any city in the world and see live underground trains, crime statistics, live social data, flood predictions and much more.”

However, Dassault claims its visualisation tech is superior as it can simulate what is going to happen over time.

Rocker says that the 3DEXPERIENCE platform the visualisations are built on is intended for “people who want to actively envision the future of the city and want to simulate that.”

“It’s not that we think of designing the building but it is also designing with the building, through the building, the entire microclimate conditions that surround the building,” said Rocker, who has worked as an architect, in urban design planning and taught at Harvard.

“We are trying to take a holistic approach to the city model, so it is not only focussing on cars [or one aspect] but it is trying to map out as many systems of a city and their interlacing as possible.”

Turning East

One city that is being digitally replicated to create a virtual version of itself is Singapore. The 3D model that is being created will be able to test concepts, services, planning, decision-making and more.

Rocker says that among the factors that can be included in simulations are “energy consumption, simulation of radiation, the gain of energy through sunlight. We also have passive and cooling heating.”

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All images courtesy of Dassault Systèmes

The result of this, the company says, is “rich visual models and realistic large-scale simulations of Singapore.”

“Cities are some of the most complex ‘products’ created by humanity” said Bernard Charlès, President & CEO, Dassault Systèmes.

“Through more efficient and accurate predictions of future experiences within these cities using state-of-the-art tools and applications, we can better anticipate national resource planning or provision of services, and contribute towards a more sustainable quality of life.”