Dassault Systèmes and Singapore Team Up to Create 3D Model of an Entire Country

Singapore gets ready to be the first country rendered into a 3D model.

Dassault Systèmes has been making some news in the past week, and the headlines aren’t looking to stop. The French software giant announced a new collaboration with Singapore’s National Research Foundation that will create a 3D-virtual model of the tropical island cum city-state. 

If all goes according to plan, Singapore should be completely modeled by 2018, making it a platform for the input of static and dynamic city data and information.

What does that mean?

Well, according to Dassault, once it’s running at full steam, Virtual Singapore will be a collaborative data and visualization tool that can display data from various public agencies, including geospatial and topology info, real-time demographics, migration patterns, climate effects and other forms of information. With all of this data built into a single system, Singapore’s businesses, government and research institutions hope they’ll be able to make better decisions about urban planning and logistics, environmental disaster management, security measures and, of course, infrastructure management.

“Cities are some of the most complex ‘products’ created by humanity,” said Dassault CEO Bernard Charlès. “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 toward a more sustainable quality of life. We hope to see other cities echo Singapore’s exciting initiative.”

Although I’ve always been one to support ambitious plans, I wonder if the proponents of Virtual Singapore have bitten off a bit more than they can chew. First of all, the scale of this project is complex beyond belief. Sure Google’s been able to pull off something like this (see Google Street View), but Dassault, a bunch of sub-contractors (which I assume will form the front line of this endeavor) and Singapore bureaucrats do not a Google make. Don’t get me wrong, I think Virtual Singapore will definitely come off, but mapping the entire city in two and half years might be a stretch.

Beyond the logistical nightmare that this project entails, it also seems to violate a key principle for organizing massive projects such as city redevelopment and infrastructure planning. Rather than simplifying the data collection process, Virtual Singapore seems to add more data (and possibly noisy data) to a scenario while coupling that with greater human intervention. It just seems to me that the more people you can take out of the loop when it comes to civil engineering, the smoother a project will run.

Maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe that’s exactly what Virtual Singapore is meant to do in the long run. But is seems to me that Virtual Singapore is more of a canvas than a tool, and that its existence is predicated on human input. That just seems too subjective, noisy and cumbersome to be useful.

Then again, I’m assuming that people will be making our civil engineering decisions in the future. Maybe, in the not too distant future, Virtual Singapore will be the model for the Virtual Londons, Beijings and New Yorks of the future, and each of these canvases will just be fodder for the likes of IBM’s Watson and other super-computing giants to crunch data and make suggestions that supplant the decision making capacities of our governors and mayors…

I better stop there. I’m getting way too dystopian.

The truth of it is, I am very curious to see what comes of Virtual Singapore.