Who knew video games could be used for city planning? In Gaza, women design parks, beaches and streets by stacking textured cubes in the 3D sandbox video game Minecraft.

Singapore is using a 3D map to deliver AEDs on drones to cardiac arrest patients. The Singapore Land Authority launched a 3D simulation of the entire island in September to simulate new kinds of public service delivery.

“The world is moving towards 3D, so as a Smart Nation, we need to push this digitalisation,” says Ng Siau Yong, Geospatial Director at the Singapore Land Authority. He discusses his team’s plans for a 3D map of the nation.

Improving the lives of citizens

OneMap is the nation’s digital map service, and is regularly updated with information from government agencies – such as where citizens can collect a free face mask. Singapore’s Civil Defence Force has also used OneMap to build MyResponder, an app that alerts all trained first-aiders to nearby cardiac arrests.

The new upgrade, known as OneMap3D Beta, will allow citizens to navigate through a neighbourhood in first-person view – simulating what a route would actually look like in-person. Home-buyers can also use the map to inspect the surrounding facilities of a potential flat, and observe how sunlight falls on the building at different times of the day, Ng says.

Businesses are using OneMap3D’s APIs to serve their customers, he adds. Property portal Mogul.sg is using the map for an immersive walkthrough of each apartment and to help users search for properties with key attributes they desire.

The 3D journey

SLA captured 3D data using aerial imagery and aerial laser scanning technologies, says Ng. This produced high quality 3D city models of terrain, buildings and other infrastructure.

OneMap3D is done entirely in-house by SLA’s engineers, he adds. “It’s quite a challenge to do, but they love to take challenges.”

The sheer size of 3D data was a challenge – the team had to ensure the data was compressed without compromising on its quality, so users could load a high quality map quickly, he adds.

Ng’s team experimented with different compression technologies until the right one was found. “We need trial and error, because there’s no existing magic formula to serve such big 3D data on the browser,” he adds.

The map is also open source, “which is even more challenging, because open source doesn’t come with vendor support.” But the team persisted in building the map by themselves as they wanted more flexibility, Ng says. SLA also wanted to enhance its in-house geospatial and digital capabilities, he adds.

“What you see today is very rudimentary. But it’s already taken a lot of effort by my team to come to this stage,” he says. In the coming year, Ng’s team hopes to improve the resolution and quality of the service.

Businesses and developers interested in OneMap3D’s codes and data models used in can get in touch with SLA.

Creating geospatial capability

SLA has a vision for Singapore to be “geo-powered”, Ng says, and is working to enhance the use of the technology in the island.

The agency launched its 3D Singapore Sandbox, a geospatial application development platform. Startups, developers, and researchers can use data from OneMap3D and technologies from SLA’s partners to test out geospatial innovations, he says.

SLA also plans to train the nation’s public sector to be geo-literate, Ng says. “You need to train people. Otherwise, whatever technology you have or whatever data that you have, will be used only by a small group of professionals.”

The agency is creating introductory geospatial courses on Learn.gov.sg, Singapore’s e-learning portal for the public sector, he says. SLA has also released a series of talks and workshops on Geoflix – coined after the popular streaming platform – to promote awareness of geospatial data and technology.

A geospatial course will teach semi-skilled public officers how to use open source geospatial software such as QGIS, and scholarships will also be available for talents to further their geospatial studies.

“Technology is just a means to an end,” Ng says. Geospatial is a “culture and way of life”. The agency’s efforts to use 3D geospatial data does have promising benefits for Singapore’s public services – and will be a key step in its Smart Nation efforts.