Matching infrastructure to the city’s needs

By John KITCHINGMAN, MD, EuroNorth, Dassault Systèmes.

At no surprise to any of us now, the coronavirus pandemic has turned our lives upside down. It caused many of us to stay at home through numerous lockdowns. It also forced businesses to remodel themselves over night, with some even closing down for extended periods. Finally, our once lively cities shut their doors, for our own safety, by restricting the spread of the virus.

As we look to reopen the world, the route to a “normal” state of affairs is by no means straightforward. Our urban environments are a complex web of infrastructure, transport networks and rapidly growing populations. We will have to take incremental steps to reintegrate with our cities, while also embracing new and permanent ways of navigating people-dense areas and keeping sustainability high on the agenda. Unsurprisingly, technology will make a critical contribution.

Meeting society’s urgent requirements

As sustainability remains high on the government’s priorities, people and even businesses will need to think about how they move around cities, where they live, and the modes of transport they use to ensure we don’t contribute negatively to the effects of the pandemic.

The recent pandemic has shown how quickly our city populations can adopt new behaviours, whether it is the movement of residents within our cities, the flow of tourists and visitors, or the daily commute of workers. We’ve seen fundamental changes in the way people move around cities using a range of transportation modes and services. Enclosed spaces such as airplanes and trains have had to assess the risks of spreading diseases among travellers, while we’ve seen a surge in people walking and cycling to get between places. It is clear that transport as we know it will not revert to a pre-pandemic state.

A sharp focus has also been brought on the design of our urban environment. The technology-enabled urban area is by no means a radical idea, but it has exposed those city authorities who were proactive in their implementation of technology - and exposed those who were slow to adapt.

We have now been presented with a huge opportunity to overhaul legacy processes and make use of today’s increasingly connected world to support important social trends. Changes will include a rethink of city planning, new business models and services for transportation, and new vehicles that meets the needs of city dwellers whilst supporting net zero policies.

Simulating cities

Virtual twin and simulation technology will play a crucial role in rethinking how we design our urban environments – ensuring we have the right infrastructure to meet the demands of new inhabitants, whilst also aligning to sustainability priorities.

With virtual twin technology, you can create digital replicas of cities, to depict what they could look like in hypothetical situations. Within these virtual models, you can test ‘what if’ situations, without it having any implications on the real world. Within these models, you can collate masses amount of data which can be shared with key stakeholders to make better, quicker and more informed decisions about the future of cities.

Since 2015, Dassault Systèmes has been working with Singapore to create ‘Virtual Singapore’. The city state now has a digital 3D map that provides access to all of the different public agencies’ data, geometrics and even legacy data that show how the climate and the demographics of the population

has changed. With this model, the city state authorities can make informed decisions about the future, and turn Singapore into a true smart city.

City simulations also allow authorities, city planners and civil engineers to map out other key infrastructure points needed within cities. For example, these sophisticated models can be used to determine optimum locations for charging points to support the mass rollout of electric vehicles. In addition to supporting large-scale infrastructure policy challenges, they can be used to help citizens navigate changes over the city.

Supporting the mass EV rollout

The move to EVs will be critical to reducing the carbon emissions associated with transport. Yet, mass adoption currently faces an infrastructure challenge: EV drivers often struggle to find charging points for their car.

One option is to enable EV owners to carry their own portable charger, allowing them to charge their car anywhere. This is why our 3DEXPERIENCE Labs start-up accelerator supports Sparkcharge, a start-up whose mission consists in creating portable chargers for EVs that can fit in the car and provides high speed charging at one mile every 60 seconds.

Further to this, we can also use virtual twin technology to design EV charging infrastructure. Designing in the virtual world allows companies to drastically reduce their time to market, to explore many more design options, and to reduce cost by building far fewer physical prototypes. Innovation becomes faster, cheaper, and more effective.

Finally, simulation technology can be used to create live maps of city infrastructure, which can be made available to citizens. By connecting EV charging points to the model and making it available to citizens, city planners can effectively provide live maps of all available EV charging points to drivers. This will reassure drivers who are considering purchasing an EV but are worried about the energy supply to run one, and help increase adoption of this new, clean mode of transport.

We already have the tools in place and a common goal we’re all striving toward to make our cities greener. Now is the perfect time to change our approach to build the right infrastructure for a sustainable future.

The new normal will not be a static situation: it will be a highly dynamic – and as it continues to evolve, it will need technology that can match the pace of innovation, starting with digital twins.

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