A walk through the $73 million Virtual Singapore project

The National Research Foundation (NRF) of Singapore has partnered with Dassault Systèmes to develop Virtual Singapore, a dynamic three-dimensional (3D) city model and collaborative data platform.  The project was initiated at a cost of $73 million for the development of the platform as well as research into latest technologies and advanced tools over a period of five years.

Targeted to be ready by 2017, Virtual Singapore will be the authoritative 3D digital platform intended for use by the public, private, citizen and research sectors. It will enable users from different sectors to develop sophisticated tools and applications for test-bedding concepts and services, planning and decision making, and research on technologies to solve emerging challenges for Singapore.

In 2014, the population of Singapore was estimated to be 5.47 million, inhabiting a land area of 718 square kilometres. As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Singapore faces complex urban challenges, and careful urban planning is crucial to maintain efficiency and sustainability. For the coming decades, Virtual Singapore will provide a collaborative platform and rich data environment to help make long-term decisions on areas such as infrastructure and resource management, environmental and disaster management, public services, urban planning, community services and homeland security.

“Research, innovation and enterprise are central to Singapore’s development as a knowledge-based economy and society as it helps to provide solutions to improve people’s lives, as well as to create job opportunities and new industries,” said George Loh, Programmes Director of the National Research Foundation. “A rich data environment such as the Virtual Singapore is needed for innovation and co-creation of applications and solutions. The Virtual Singapore will leverage big data technologies and visualization techniques to develop sophisticated tools and applications for multi-party collaborations, national resource planning, and provision of services.”

Semantic 3D Modelling and Visualization

Apart from offering images in a 3D environment, the Virtual Singapore platform allows semantic 3D modelling and incorporates layers of detailed information - terrain attributes such as water bodies and vegetation, texture and material of geometrical objects, as well as the components of a building, down to details such as the composition of sand and stone in walls. Advanced information and modelling technology will allow dynamic and real-time data to be laid on top of static city data.   

Building on existing efforts, the platform will integrate images and data collected from various public agencies, such as Singapore Land Authority’s OneMap and the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s 3D Singapore City Model. This includes geometric and geospatial topology, as well as legacy and real-time data such as demographics, movement and climate information to enrich the virtual model of Singapore.

Benefits to Stakeholders

Loh said that Virtual Singapore will offer a range of benefits to various stakeholders, including citizens, government agencies, businesses and the research community.

“We are focusing our objectives for Virtual Singapore on 3Vs – ‘Virtual, Visual and Venture’. We want to ‘virtualize’ Singapore with data and knowledge that will give insights to the lives of our building and urban furniture such as roads and trees. Next, we want to visualize what we have ‘virtualized’ by leveraging on the power of 3D. And eventually, we want to encourage the various stakeholders, people, government agencies, businesses and researchers to tap on the wealth of data and information within Virtual Singapore for their business ventures,” said Loh.

Virtual Singapore provides several potential applications for local communities. Residents can locate amenities such as bus stops and clinics, access interior floor plans of shopping malls, and plan routes for the handicapped. Incorporating information from wearables and tracking devices, residents will be able to track elderly family members who have dementia, or locate missing pets. Neighbourhood watch can also be conducted for crime prevention, using shared information to view CCTV footage of public areas.

As a collaborative platform, it will allow communities to co-create and improve the city environment and their neighbourhoods. From choosing the colour of paint for a public housing block to locating new facilities such as basketball courts, parks and function rooms, Virtual Singapore serves as a useful and convenient platform for individuals to make collective decisions.

Businesses can tap on the wealth of data and information for business analytics, resource planning and management and specialised services. For the research community, the R&D capabilities of Virtual Singapore allow the creation of new innovations and technologies for public-private collaborations to create value for Singapore.

Capabilities of Virtual Singapore

According to NRF, Virtual Singapore offers four major capabilities:

Virtual Experimentation - Virtual Singapore is a virtual experimentation and simulation tool. For example, it can be used to examine the coverage areas of 3G/4G networks, provide realistic visualisation of poor coverage areas, and highlight areas that can be improved on in the 3D city model.

Virtual Test-Bedding - Virtual Singapore can be used as a test-bedding platform to validate the provision of services. For example, the 3D model of the new Sports hub with semantic information within Virtual Singapore could be used to model and simulate crowd dispersion to establish evacuation procedures during an emergency.

Planning and Decision-Making - With a rich data environment, Virtual Singapore is a holistic and integrated platform to develop analytical applications. For instance, an app could be developed to analyse transport flows and pedestrian movement patterns, and this data can be used for planning and decision-making.  

Research and Development - The rich data environment of Virtual Singapore, when made available to the research community with the necessary access rights, can allow researchers to innovate and develop new technologies or capabilities. The 3D city model with semantic information provides ample opportunities for researchers to develop advanced 3D tools.

'Virtualizing' Smart Cities

Having successfully applied its virtualization and simulation technologies in aerospace and automotive industries, Dassault Systèmes are looking forward to extending its capabilities to smart cities such as Singapore.  Bernard Charlès, President & CEO of Dassault Systèmes, hopes that this will pave the way for other cities worldwide to use 3D universes to meet urban challenges of the future.

“Singapore is the most advanced city in the world in terms of leveraging technology to plan and manage its transformation over the next decades, and its government’s forward-thinking vision towards a Smart Nation parallels our own mission to harmonize product, nature and life through 3D universes,” said Charlès. “Cities are some of the most complex ‘products’ created by humanity. 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. We hope to see other cities echo Singapore’s exciting initiative.”