Digital twins of cities set to transform urban experiences
On a typical workday, the team of programmers at 3D CityScapes is constructing hyper-realistic interactive digital twins of cities.
Attention to detail is at the centre of the team’s method, whether it is to add accurate textures, input building designs, or to create interior and street-level exploration modules equipped with virtual avatars.
The company’s vision is to build interactive city environments in the cloud to answer the demand for building smarter, sustainable, design-focused cities around the world.
Their current focus is to revitalize urban planning processes, and optimize real estate sales strategies.
“If Canada wants to be on the global stage, we need to design smart cities where people can have healthy, balanced lifestyles. So much of that has to do with having an infrastructure that makes sense,” says Raza Jafri, President, and Chief Executive Officer of 3D CityScapes. “Our technology is in the centre of that process.”
According to Jafri, he always knew the key to constructing great cities, buildings, and making smart infrastructure improvements is in accurately communicating, and previewing these ideas through interactive 3D visualization.
When the 3D CityScapes team went to showcase their technology at Toronto City Hall to compete for the pre-seed funding, his belief in the technology was affirmed in a significant way.
“The crowd erupted,” says Jafri, describing the moment the audience saw the technology for the first time on screen. Toronto Mayor John Tory was among the many present, who came up to him personally to express excitement and offer words of encouragement. “We were chosen to receive the pre-seed funding out of ten start-ups who pitched their ideas centre stage at Toronto City Hall. It was becoming more and more of a shared vision to integrate sustainability and digital transformation, and it meant a lot to me.”
James Borst (left), Raza Jafri (Centre), Toronto Mayor John Tory discuss 3D CityScapes’ visualization technology.
James Borst, co-founder, and chief operating officer of 3D CityScapes, says the software’s application in real estate and urban planning is only the beginning of a whole new wave of possibilities.
“What we’re creating here will effectively transform the way people live,” says Borst. “For starters, imagine not only being able to walk around and check out the interior of your condo unit, in a building that hasn’t been built yet – with VR goggles – but also being able to see and learn about the neighbourhood, experience how the sun will rise and set from your future balcony. Now apply that thought to retail, tourism, construction, academia, conferences, transit …”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Borst says the demand for this type of software has only grown, as they hired several new members to their growing team in the midst of the crisis.
“The global pandemic showed us that the digital future we are helping build is not just for the sake of convenience, but it is a necessary progression in the way we, as human beings, evolve with technology,” says Borst.
Coming up on the horizon, Borst has his eyes set on building an internal neural net platform.
“Our goal is to teach the neural network the processes that go into building a virtual interactive environment framework,” says Borst. “The more information we feed the AI, the more automated and accurate the models will be, and it will save us up to 60% of our time.”
“What we’re creating here will effectively transform the way people live”
Raza Jafri (right), President/CEO of 3D CityScapes, speaks to investors Michael Degasperis (left), Geoffrey Belsher (centre)
The journey to creating a better world began when Borst and Jafri met for the first time at a technology conference in New York City, in November 2018. In less than an hour of meeting each other, Jafri knew there was an alignment in both of their visions that had the potential to materialize in a big way.
“Something clicked immediately … we talked about how we could build entire cities using this technology we primarily used for building interior renderings,” says Raza. “It sounded crazy at the time, talking about wanting to have space where you can see all the future projects of that city.”
Born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Jafri grew up witnessing North America’s crumbling infrastructure. This early experience eventually became a potent catalyst for his vision and a foundation for his drive to help build better cities. Now, his goal is to transform cities into an environment that fosters a healthy, balanced, fulfilling lifestyle for its citizens.
“From seeing the De la Concorde overpass collapse, spending countless hours commuting through gridlocks, zoning that didn’t make sense, to losing a friend in a construction accident, I saw a big demand for efficiency and innovation in the construction and urban planning processes,” says Jafri. “The more I looked into it, I realized this wasn’t an issue confined to North America, but one that needs to be resolved on a global scale. ”
Borst, who grew up in Coulee City, Washington, a small town of 550, says his passion for innovation stems from his involvement in charity work of 18 years.
“In business and in life, everything we do has to have a positive effect so that it reflects the intention behind the formation of this company,” says James.
With an unprecedented number of global construction proposals awaiting their turn to be reviewed, Borst muses about the potential impact the company’s product will have across various industries.
“Imagine if you could actually walk the stakeholders through the proposed project in a 3D interactive environment,” says Borst. “Showing them a vision of what the world is going to look like in 10 years, as opposed to just trying to talk to people and showing 2D drawings on paper … the difference is huge.”