Virtual Cities: The Era of 2D/3D Design

My Virtual Oresund startup, located in the Oresund region (Copenhagen, Malmo, Lund, Helsingborg) will soft launch our VR platform for Sustainable Cities design and planning next month using the Unreal VR engine.  People ask me:  What are virtual cities?  What is a sustainable city?  Why use VR to design sustainable cities?  What are the opportunities for me as a designer, developer, consultant or marketing person? Where do you see VR headed in the enterprise?  How will VR change the way cities are designed?  This article is an initial effort to distill my thoughts and organize our VR Sustainable Cities community, which we have launched at:  https://www.facebook.com/VR-Sustainable-Cities-1430285733935881/?ref=bookmarks

What is a virtual city?   My Swedish team views it as a mixed reality of 2D, VR and AR (augmented reality) worlds where people can build, explore, learn, shop, and interact with others using smartphones, tablets, PCs and the latest VR/AR tools.  Our VR platform will enable people to fly through Copenhagen and Malmo virtually, see existing buildings, shops, harbors and parks, and build their businesses, communities and schools, both real-world and virtual.  Over time, VR/AR tools will merge so people can create mixed 2D/3D realities. The virtual cities will be extensions of real cities, just as e-commerce extends brick-and-mortar stores, but they will be immersive.

What are Sustainable Cities?  A working definition is a city that minimizes energy consumption and carbon emissions by optimizing urban infrastructure systems to reduce reliance on gas-powered systems and increase the use of recycling and electric-powered vehicles and systems.  The key metrics would be energy use, carbon emissions, recycling, and electrical use.  Overall metrics would include Quality of Life (QoL) indicators, such as educational levels, health, employment, housing affordability, school quality, parks, sense of community, etc.  My startup is launching our VR Sustainable Cities platform in the Oresund region because Copenhagen, Malmo and Lund are world leaders in building sustainable cities, so they will be models for other cities. Last fall, India partnered with Sweden to integrate Nordic sustainability into its 100 planned smart cities.  http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/indiasweden-tieup-for-smart-urbanisation/article7758010.ece

To measure their effectiveness, sustainable cities will be monitored using Smart Cities technologies, such as sensors, IoT (Internet of Things) devices, smart grids, Big Data and predictive analytics, and other data technologies.  Key metrics will be developed for hard infrastructure and QoL.  Fortunately, Sustainable Cities and Smart Cities are converging since data analytics will be required to quantify and predict the impacts of Sustainable Cities policies and programs.

Why use VR to design sustainable cities?  How will it change how cities are viewed and developed?

Urban Design:  Major architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) companies, a $8.5 trillion industry, are already using VR to plan, design, and globally market their projects because it accelerates design and client feedback.   Today, it is possible for AEC companies to invite their clients and other stakeholders for VR tours of projects, reducing the need for costly travel. Companies like Sweco (http://www.sweco.se/en/) already provide walk-throughs to clients around the world, saving on travel costs, with VR conferencing.  My Swedish team is exploring ways our VR platform can be used for visualizing and planning the new science city near Copenhagen in Lund, where the European Spallation Source (https://europeanspallationsource.se/) and Max IV x-ray accelerator (https://www.maxiv.se/maxiv) will be built. Another project would be visualizing the proposed bullet train, which would create an “8 Million City” stretching from Oslo to Malmo, to educate the public. (http://www.fastcoexist.com/3033176/a-futuristic-megacity-grows-in-scandinavia)

In Silicon Valley, an architecture firm gave me a VR tour of the upcoming Kaiser hospital using my Google Cardboard, which was very impressive since it featured moving avatars.  The big opportunity will be involving citizen groups who want to visualize and design their own neighborhoods.  Urban design competitions with local schools, universities and community groups would be the best way to give people ownership of the design process.  All groups, volunteer or professional, could showcase their designs online so people around the world could view them and add comments, which would revolutionize urban design by making it more open, grassroots and people friendly.  It would avoid the pitfall of governments wasting money on “ghost cities”.

Virtual Communications:  Like phone calls today, VR phone calls and conferencing will become a major growth industry as 5G bandwidth becomes available because of their convenience and appeal.   Think 3D phone calls, mediated by AI, Big Data, predictive analytics and deep learning tools — or VR meets “Minority Report” — which will be gradually adopted by businesses and consumers in all areas of life, creating truly virtual cities.  As 4G triggered an explosion of mobile apps, 5G will stimulate a booming economy in VR, AR, and MR (mixed reality) apps for every conceivable business, government, educational, healthcare and consumer use.  The apps proliferation will require image and sound search engines, bookmarks, directories, and sharing tools to make it convenient for the average person.

Virtual Travel:  360 videos are proliferating on YouTube and other social media sites, such as the White House 2015 Christmas tour.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98U2jdk8OGI  Although not true immersive VR, they are building audiences for VR headset makers, which are adding a variety of accessories to make it easier to capture and show travel videos.  Education will be a major component of virtual travel because of the need for more in-depth information about places being visited.  Remote wilderness locations, historic and cultural sites, artistic venues (like Burning Man, street fairs, and Shakespeare in the park), music and dance performances, and sports competitions mixing real-world and VR/AR imagery will become popular.

Virtual Shopping:   Virtual travel and education will be monetized by shopping, as it is now on the Internet.  In the Oresund region, we want to enable 1,000 shopkeepers to sell their products virtually by allowing customers to walk into their virtual shops and see items.  The difference is that shoppers will be able to walk through virtual malls to see and manipulate products, try fashions on their digital avatars, and see simulations.   Besides VR videos of real shops, imaginary shopping malls will become an even bigger business.  Think a walk-through 3D Amazon or Alibaba.  VirtualEShopping.com is the world’s first such virtual 3D shopping mall:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGRF5QuRG2Y

Virtual Governance:  A big advantage of virtual cities is the opportunity to develop truly open governments where all city projects can be displayed, reviewed and commented upon by everyone, not just city officials and insiders who can attend daytime council meetings.  In real estate, where corruption is rampant, all development projects could be made transparent using VR to ensure accountability.  For many poor developing nations suffering from corruption, the proper VR open governance systems monitored by the public and third-party auditors could dramatically reduce waste and improve the overall quality of life.  In the long run, open virtual governance could save nations trillions of dollars a year in money wasted and lost to corruption.

So the potential for VR/AR in designing our cities is enormous.  It is still early in the industry growth cycle so we will see rapid technological innovations that could dramatically reinvent the way we design Smart Sustainable Cities, the goal in this post-Paris Climate Change world.   These are my opening thoughts so I welcome your comments and suggestions.

***

Sheridan Tatsuno was trained in urban planning at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and worked with Bechtel and architecture firms on major energy, transit and housing projects before working in Silicon Valley, where he has advised over 800 tech companies around the world since 1983.  He is currently co-launching Virtual Oresund with a team in Malmo, Sweden.

See his related articles on cities:

“Cities: The New Battleground of Climate Change” by @statsuno on @LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cities-new-battleground-climate-change-sheridan-tatsuno

“Connected Sustainable Cities & VR UI/UX Design” by @statsuno on @LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/connected-sustainable-cities-vr-uiux-design-sheridan-tatsuno

“Crowdsourcing Sustainable Cities” by @statsuno on @LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/crowdsourcing-sustainable-cities-sheridan-tatsuno

“Live or Die by Your 3D On-Demand UI/UX” by @statsuno on @LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/live-die-your-3d-on-demand-uiux-sheridan-tatsuno

“India 3.0:  Sustainable Cities Possible?” by @statsuno on @LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/india-30-sustainable-cities-possible-sheridan-tatsuno

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