Mixed reality technology – toward sustainable urbanization

Ericsson has been working in partnership with UN-Habitat since 2013 to develop a better understanding of the role that ICT can play in sustainable urbanization. Since UN-Habitat has identified urban planning as one of the major issues that must be addressed to achieve sustainable urbanization, our most recent collaborative project explores how mixed reality technology enhances urban planning.

UN Habitat mixed reality demo and mixed reality technology

The reason why this is such an interesting topic for Ericsson and the ICT industry is because a real-time mixed reality experience is dependent on technologies such as 5G and edge computing as well as IoT platforms, devices and sensors. It is these technologies that will enable city planners to enhance the urban planning process in critical ways that will lead to more sustainable urbanization.

Mixed reality technology in urban planning

Mixed reality technology blends physical and virtual objects in realistic ways to create new forms of 3D views in urban environments. This opens up for a much more intuitive way for planners, architects, citizens and other stakeholders to experience and reimagine future environments from the streets of today. Mixed reality could, among other things, enable city planners to get on-the-ground feedback from stakeholders at a very early stage in the planning process.

Mixed reality makes it much easier to include the perspectives of those who are not trained architects and urban planners in the city planning process, enabling a broader participation regardless of age, functional disparities, cultural background, education level, social class or gender. Mixed reality also makes it easier to take a more comprehensive approach to topics such as safety, resource efficiency, environmental concerns (emissions and biodiversity, for example), urban farming, and arts and culture.

Mixed reality demo at the Gather Festival

As part of our mixed reality in urban planning project with UN-Habitat, we jointly prepared a mixed reality demo with the support of a number of other stakeholders, including building companies. The demo is for an urban area that will be built in the municipality of Nacka, a suburb of Stockholm. It includes future building models, infrastructure and services, as well as playful digital interactions linked to placemaking and public spaces.

Mixed reality demo

Together with UN-Habitat, we recently showed the demo at the Gather Festival, an annual innovation and music festival that takes place in Stockholm in September. One of the themes this year was Urban Planning and Society, and the participants included a wide variety of international profiles in the science, tech, business, culture and government sectors. Aside from the demo, we also arranged box talks and workshops at the festival, which provided us with an excellent opportunity for additional iteration of our mixed reality and urban planning activities. One of the issues we talked about is the vast number of cities in the world where there is no urban planning process – places where the city just grows without any steering. We also discussed how some of the barriers to sustainable urbanization, such as land-grabbing, limited stakeholder engagement in urban planning, could be handled in a better way.

Mixed reality has enormous potential in the area of urban planning. It is truly a fantastic technology that provides more groups in society with the opportunity to develop a better understanding of city development and take part in city planning discussions, even if they can’t come to a meeting a city hall a specific time!

Learn more about Ericsson’s thinking on city scale mixed reality, and check out this video about our mixed reality project in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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