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Increasingly, more and more cities are piloting different technologies within the metaverse ecosystem to provide more inclusive cities development to ensure the needs of diverse community groups are fully represented and proactively engaged at all levels. How could cities governments use metaverse and digital twins to develop smart cities of a sustainable future? This is what I will be speaking on 6th June 2023 at the Tampere Smart City Expo & Conference.

Source: The Use of Digital Twin and Metaverse for smart cities of a sustainable future? | TSCEC

  1. Cities fighting Climate Crisis

On 20 Mar 2023, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made up of the world’s leading climate scientists, delivered a “final warning” on the climate crisis: the world still has a chance of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the threshold beyond which our damage to the climate will rapidly become irreversible.

In response, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said: “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”

I cannot agree with the statement more. It is a survival issue- now or never! Unfortunately, according to the latest report from UN, at current pace we won’t achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the latest Climate COP confirmed we won’t reach the Paris Climate Agreement goals either. We need to continue doing more and better of what works so far and really provide the funding and support in place to accelerate this. Meanwhile, maybe we also need to be more imaginative to explore what new methods, new ideas, new techniques and how they can be used to address the survival and wellbeing issues of all humanity.

Cities has played an important part in addressing climate changes over the years. Over half(55%) the world currently resides in major urban areas. By 2050 the UN estimates that number will grow to 80%. With proximity and access to networks, cities have been engines of innovation for centuries, providing a clear path from poverty to prosperity for many. Most cities in the world have put sustainability at the heart of all policies implementation.

  1. The Metaverse

The term ‘metaverse’ is nothing new. Author Neal Stephenson coined the word in his 1992 science-fiction novel ‘Snow Crash’, which envisions a virtual reality-based successor to the internet. In the novel, people use digital avatars of themselves to explore the online world.

The 2003 virtual world Second Life is often described as the first metaverse platform. Second Life allows people to create an avatar for themselves and have a parallel life in an online virtual world. Developed and owned by the San Francisco-based firm Linden Lab and launched on June 23, 2003, it saw rapid growth for some years and in 2013 it had approximately one million regular users. It is still going strong as of 2022, with around 900,000 active users.

I was lucky to be one of the early adopters of the metaverse, in 2006. I saw it as the next generation of the internet, and both my master’s degree and PhD were focused on using the metaverse to help education institutions develop their international strategy, and on how architects, engineers and the construction industry can use digital twins in the virtual world for simulations, aimed at improving real world AEC projects.

The metaverse we talk about today is the second attempt at mass adoption. It started with a successful IPO of Roblox in March 2021, which achieved a market value of $38bn. The excitement about the metaverse really ramped up after Facebook changed its name to Meta in October that year.

Now, the metaverse has become a convergence of a whole range of cutting-edge technologies, which together will form the next generation of the internet. These include better and faster IT infrastructure, such as 5G and 6G mobile networks; new user interfaces such as XR, wearables, haptics, and voice/gesture recognition; and new computing technologies such as spatial, edge and quantum computing. There are also new information-organising tools such as AI and machine learning; digital-finance technologies such as blockchain, NFTs, and cryptocurrency; and new forms of social interaction online, such as e-sports, virtual events and gaming. Many of these developments are interrelated or even interdependent, but it is still uncertain what shape the emerging ecosystem will take. Nevertheless, it seems inevitable that many of these elements will combine to make the internet more immersive, interactive and intuitive.

  1. Digital Twins:

The idea of a “digital twin” was born at NASA in the 1960s as a “living model” of the Apollo mission. In response to Apollo 13’s oxygen tank explosion and subsequent damage to the main engine, NASA employed multiple simulators to evaluate the failure and extended a physical model of the vehicle to include digital components. This “digital twin” was the first of its kind, allowing for a continuous ingestion of data to model the events leading to up to the accident for forensic analysis and exploration of next steps.

A digital twin is a dynamic virtual copy of a physical asset, process, system or environment that looks like and behaves identically to its real-world counterpart. A digital twin ingests data and replicates processes so you can predict possible performance outcomes and issues that the real-world product might undergo.

Digital twin is one of the key metaverse technologies that can also play a key role as a sustainability solution, by helping to model, monitor and predict changes to the Earth’s climate system on a city, country and global levels. The European Commission has invested 150 million Euro to create digital twins of the Earth named “Destination Earth”, which will start by simulating extreme events and climate change adaptation. The long-term goal is to integrate simulations of the oceans and biodiversity by 2030. Similarly, Nvidia’s “Earth-2” is another digital twin able to predict, monitor and mitigate climate change using AI and machine-learning.

  1. Using Metaverses for People centred Smart Cities Development

There are two types of application. One is to use the metaverse to develop a brand-new city from scratch, such as the $500 billion Neom City in Saudi Arabia. Most of them are focusing on using the new technologies to improve efficiency of existing cities with different focuses. For example, traffic control is an important area explored by many cities such as New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Wellington. Some cities are focusing on using the gamified feature of the metaverse to attract more consumers for the local shops such as Santa Monica. Seoul has been exploring the use of the metaverse to improve its public services while Dubai and Abu Dhabi are focusing on positioning themselves as the global tech hub for metaverse technology adoption.

What interest me most is how to the use the metaverse to empower the citizens to play more active roles in key decision makings of the future of their cities. The decentralized nature of the metaverse has the potential to give power back to the end-users and employees, and allow them to play a more proactive role in business and society.

I gave a keynote speech in November 2022 at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona looking at how to use digital twin in the metaverse to support mayors worldwide to develop smart cities. The metaverse has the potential to provide millions of citizens with an “immersive, interactive and intuitive user interface” which will allow urban planning to become more “bottom-up”. 3D visualisation could become a powerful tool for the general public to better understand how the city’s development would impact on their daily life. It could also incorporate information on CO2 reductions, empowering millions to play a more active role in fighting climate change.

This is what we call people centred metaverse strategy for smart cities of a sustainable future. Why not join us and let us use various technologies in the metaverse environment to make our cities inclusive, equitable and sustainable.

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