Virtual Cities to Aid in Managing Increasingly Complex Urban Landscapes
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on December 13, 2017 |

As our global civilization grows within a world of finite resources, so does its complexity. If we have any hope of tackling the issues that accompany this complexity, including a ballooning population and increasing climate chaos, we will need to deploy new solutions.

These may range from implementing sustainable energy sources and restructuring society along more equitable lines to deploying new methods of understanding and organizing the data associated with our urban environments.

The city of Rennes, France, made into a virtual city through the 3DEXPERIENCity platform. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)
The city of Rennes, France, made into a virtual city through the 3DEXPERIENCity platform. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.) 

As one of the world’s leading software developers, Dassault Systèmes sees its role in this latter strategy. Through the use of its 3DEXPERIENCity platform, the company is able to take the flood of data generated by territories large and small and transform it into a manageable and interactive 3D visualization. The result is something that can be used by various stakeholders, including everyone from city officials to residents.

The latest city to receive the 3DEXPERIENCity will be Rennes, France, the country’s second-fastest growing region. To learn more, ENGINEERING.com spoke to Severine Chapus, cities initiative director at Dassault Systèmes.

From BIM to CIM

Dassault Systèmes has evolved since its inception, from a focus purely on CAD to becoming a product lifecycle management company. In other words, the software developer expanded from developing tools for creating individual models to managing the entire lifecycles of products.

Similarly, the firm is expanding from a focus on building information modeling (BIM) to entire territories, what Chapus referred to as city information modeling, or “CIM.” The 3DEXPERIENCity executes on this vision by applying BIM across cities like Rennes.

Utilizing every bit of data it can from its partner, Dassault Systèmes creates a digital model of the territory. The exact data depends on the desired outcome of the partner, but it can range from utilities, such as electricity and plumbing, to geological data.

“We work with the city and its agencies to collect a wide range of data, provided by a variety of different actors,” Chapus said. “This could be data from sensors, photos, documents, even Word or Excel documents and PDFs. We work to prepare them, make them interoperable.”

Dassault engineers then build a data architecture, which makes it possible to connect different parts of a given territory, such as roads, infrastructure, parks, trees and buildings. As useful as this data model might be in itself, the utility is only as strong as the ability of a user to explore, digest and act on that data.

Because humans are so visual, used to navigating the world in 3D, Dassault Systèmes creates a 3D referential of the data, complete with easy-to-use dialogue boxes, menus and windows: an information-rich 3D map of the territory. All of the assets are connected, making it possible to see, for example, how electricity flows throughout a city. Consequently, a territory’s stakeholders can all access relevant parts of the map, creating collaboration among different departments or between a city and its residents. You can see what such a virtual city looks like in the walk through of virtual Singapore below:


“The 3D referential might be seen as the main component of 3DEXPERIENCity, but, in a way, it’s only the conclusion of a great deal of work,” Chapus pointed out.

CIM Applications

Again, the exact nature of 3DEXPERIENCity, the apps developed for it and how it would be deployed, depends on the customer. Dassault Systèmes takes on projects that can be as small as a corporate or university campus to as large as a city or even a state. Within a few weeks of initiating the project, the Dassault team can have a 3D referential of an urban area with some detail, but for much greater detail, including specific use cases related to mobility, resource management or utilities, it can take up to several years.

In Singapore, the largest 3DEXPERIENCity to date, Dassault Systèmes signed a research and development contract that will be implemented over three to five years. The duration is defined not just by the time it will take to curate the data and create the 3D referential, but also to switch the old ways of managing the city to this very new method. If switching a city’s water works department from paper to digital is tough, imagine moving Singapore’s public infrastructure management over to a “virtual city.”

The goal of the “Virtual Rennes” is to manage the city’s public services and the territory in a more collaborative way and in a way that engages local residents. This means that citizens will be able to share with the city, while the city will be able to share with its citizens.

In an increasingly complex society, in which democratic citizen participation can be challenging, the 3DEXPERIENCity can be utilized in the hopes of increasing this participation. Chapus believes it does this by creating a more informed citizenry. Providing residents with a holistic view of the city in an easy-to-read and easy-to-understand format may give them a better grasp of civic matters.

For instance, if the city is considering developing real estate in a particular area, citizens could potentially see that project on the publicly available 3D map. Along with it, it could be possible to simulate the noise or air pollution that could occur from the construction project. The residents could then inform the city of their opinion regarding the project.

CO2 emissions from a construction project estimated within the virtual Rennes. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)
CO2 emissions from a construction project estimated within the virtual Rennes. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

At the same time, such a map would make it possible for the city’s administration to communicate transparently with the citizenry. “We give public decision-makers everything they need to make the right decision,” Chapus said. “We don’t say what the right decision is because they are the ones with the political will and vision for their territory, but we enable them to make the right decision based on their vision.”

CIM to Fight Climate Change

Though not necessarily something that will be deployed in Rennes, the 3DEXPERIENCity platform can also be used to create a smart grid within a territory. Some cities have worked to make more efficient utilities through the installation of new hardware, such as meters that collect usage data. Chattanooga, Tenn., for example, has hardware installed across its powerlines that makes it possible to redirect electricity during outages.

The difference with 3DEXPERIENCity is that it’s a software-based approach to the smart grid. “Everything is monitored in the 3D referential,” Chapus explained. “If you build a new area or regenerate a district, you’re able to monitor the impact of that project in terms of energy consumption. If you plug in some new renewable energy systems, you’re also able to assess the impact. This is a first step to initiate a sustainable energy strategy. We can also visualize each building not only as using electricity, but also as a resource, in terms of electric power, space and so on.”

Because 3DEXPERIENCity connects with other Dassault products, such as its simulation tools, it’s easy to imagine a virtual city used, then, to monitor or simulate solar power within a city in the case that a building owner might want to purchase solar panels. Not only might it be possible to see which direction to place the panels for optimal sunlight, but also how much energy that building could sell back to the local government.

In a time in which weather events are exacerbated to the extreme because of climate change, simulations could also become essential in disaster preparation.

“We can also perform what we call ‘what-if scenarios,’” Chapus said. “These are related to different kinds of simulations: agent-based simulations, physical simulations, noise simulations, wind simulations,air circulation and geological risks. Once you build a virtual category [for a what-if scenario], you can test different hypothesis to make the right decision and to measure the impacts before doing it.”

In the low-lying island of Singapore, climate change will lead to sea level rise, as well as more intense tropical storms and hurricanes. The ability to simulate those effects could inform how the city prepares for those impacts.

A very early tool already developed as a result of the virtual Singapore project with Dassault was the creation of a pathfinding app. Because Singapore is an urban environment with densely packed buildings, the island is producing more heat. To help residents avoid the sunlight while walking through the city, an app was created with the 3DEXPERIENCity that allows users to find the shadiest paths from point A to point B. In the TED Talk below, Singaporean urban planner and architect Cheong Koon Hean elaborates on how a virtual city can be used in such a manner.


The 3DEXPERIENCity platform is still new. With UN projections suggesting that 2.5 billion people will be added to urban populations by 2050, it’s likely that such platforms as the 3DEXPERIENCity will be crucial to managing that growth. With that in mind, we’re likely to see 3DEXPERIENCity grow as well.

To learn more about 3DEXPERIENCity, visit the platform website.


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