Virtual Singapore - Building a 3D-Empowered Smart Nation

The Virtual Singapore platform is a digital twin of the city-state of Singapore. It enables users from different sectors to develop sophisticated tools and applications for test-bedding concepts and services. It also helps in planning and decision-making, and research on technologies that could solve complex and emerging challenges in the country.

BY GW Prime

The land-scarce city-state of Singapore is the second most densely populated country in the world. Due to the lack of horizontal space, Singapore has seen significant vertical development over the years, with more and more people residing in high-rises and underground space being utilized for utilities so that valuable surface land becomes available for more livable uses like accommodation, recreation etc. The vertical development also means that traditional 2D town planning maps have become inadequate to effectively map and represent the complex environment, with the airspace and subterranean space overlapping with ground-level information. In order to overcome the constraints of 2D maps, high resolution 3D map data of the entire country was collected and a 3D digital model was developed.

Data Collection - 3D National Mapping Project

Singapore Land Authority (SLA), the national mapping agency of Singapore, embarked on a 3D national mapping project in 2014 to develop a Singapore Advanced Map that would represent the complex urban environment in high detail and aid in the creation of unlimited space from limited land. The reliable high-resolution, open-source map data collected as part of the project would provide a digital framework for the smart nation. It would also help in the transition to a 3D-empowered Smart Nation where the data is used in applications related to national security, urban development, climate change adaptation, etc.

The SGDSDG 8 million initiative to create and maintain a high resolution 3D map of the country was led by SLA. It was financed 50 percent by the Government of Singapore and 50 percent by agencies, primarily the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and the Public Utilities Board. The initiative involved collection of large amount of data in multiple formats, amounting to more than 50 terabytes. SLA commissioned the AAM Group to collect data through aerial and terrestrial surveys. The project was split into two phases. In the first phase, aerial photography and airborne LiDAR were used to capture the country’s terrain and surface data and build digital models, which formed the overall framework of the Singapore Advanced Map. As part of the second phase of the project, vehicle-mounted laser scans supplemented the aerial imagery with street level data to greatly improve map detail. A vehicle-based mobile mapping survey was conducted for the nation’s 5500 km road network to capture more than three million images and over 600 million LiDAR points, and create highly detailed 3D models of the dense urban roadway system. The fastest possible data capture and manipulation techniques of Bentley’s MicroStation were used to achieve a modelling accuracy of 0.3m and save over 3000 resource days and associated costs.

SLA contracted GPS Lands Singapore to develop the Singapore Advanced Map platform which displays all parts of the nation in highly detailed 3D representations. GPS Lands used Orbit 3DM Content Manager to integrate and import all the collected data into the platform. The goal of the Singapore Advanced Map project was to meet the demands of as many agencies as possible for 3D mapping data, to support daily operations, planning, and risk management, and was successful in meeting the requirements of partner agencies such as Public Utilities Board (PUB) and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) for applications like flood management and flight safety, respectively. The 3D topographical data on the Singapore Advanced Map forms the framework for the development of the Virtual Singapore platform, which makes the 3D map of Singapore accessible to a wider range of stakeholders.

Data Dissemination - Virtual Singapore Platform

Virtual Singapore is a dynamic 3D city model and collaborative data platform, The Virtual Singapore platform which acts as a digital twin of the city., It enables urban planners to test solutions without taking too many risks – especially relevant in the case of Singapore given that land scarcity doesn’t leave any space for risky experiments. The SGD 73 million project is led by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and is based on the 3D topographical data from SLA, which was collected as part of the 3D National Mapping project. The platform also integrates geometric and image data from different public agencies, 2D data and information from existing geospatial and non-geospatial platforms such as OneMap, People Hub, and Business Hub, as well as legacy and real-time data from sensors deployed across Singapore as part of the Smart Nation initiative. NRF uses Dassault System’s smart city offer called 3DEXPERIENCity to create a dynamic 3D digital model of the city, and connect all stakeholders in a secure, controlled environment.

Benefits of 3D City Model

The functionality of the platform is expected to vary for different user segments, and will be rolled out in a phased manner considering the data confidentiality and privacy protocols for different segments. The Virtual Singapore platform has been made available to government agencies to enable decision-making with respect to various whole-of-government initiatives but they are still at an early stage of adoption and hence 3D city models haven’t been adopted at the enterprise level yet. On rolling out the 3D city model to other stakeholders, the following possible benefits with great potential for improving general quality of life can be accrued:

The Virtual Singapore platform is currently in use in the following real-world projects:

Challenges in Adopting a 3D City Model

The challenges faced in the adoption of the 3D city model were similar to the challenges faced in the adoption of any technology at the nascent stage:

Similar challenges were faced during the implementation of the 2D Geographic Information System (GIS) too.

The high data collection costs were minimized through the use of very fast data collection and manipulation techniques, thereby bringing down resource days and associated costs. The SLA worked closely with Bentley to implement CityGML schema, which is a standard managed by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) to allow data interoperability and exchange. The challenging task of managing and updating the data was handled using Bentley Map, which helped in creating, maintaining, and disseminating 3D information and in providing multi-user access to the database through direct connection and Web Feature Services (WFS). The use of open standards (CityGML) and services (WFS) has enabled stakeholders to access and use data without revamping the existing systems, in turn leading to cost reduction.

The Way Forward

In order to further contribute to the three-dimensional development of Singapore, SLA is collaborating with Singapore-ETH centre (under ETH Zurich) for the Digital Underground project. The aim is to establish an accurate, current, and complete map of subsurface utilities in Singapore. A roadmap for underground mapping was developed as part of the first phase of the project. The SLA is also upgrading the OneMap – a free local intelligent map service for citizens that is regularly updated with information from government agencies – to 3D. The beta version of the 3D OneMap is expected to be launched as part of the Singapore Geospatial Week 2020.