Revolutionizing urban design through mixed reality

Together with UN-Habitat, Ericsson recently explored how new visualization technologies can be used to revolutionize our approach to urban design. Our pilots and explorations are showcased in the latest UN-Habitat report*. Read below to find out the key takeaways.


Insights Lead at Design and Technology at Ericsson ONE

Insights Lead at Design and Technology at Ericsson ONE

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New visualization technologies such as mixed reality holds a great potential for urban design and public participation. This way of realistically blending 3D architectural sketches and designs with the physical environment can create a more intuitive space for planners, architects, residents and other stakeholders to re-imagine future environments from the city streets of today. Mixed reality can help to take dialogues to people in the streets and to present alternatives in more understandable and engaging ways.

Mixed reality in cities

Since 2014, Ericsson and UN-Habitat have been collaborating on applied research projects to explore how frontier technologies might contribute to the development of inclusive, accessible and sustainable cities. Throughout the partnership, the ambition has been to articulate how urban technologies can add to a broader notion of urban prosperity, including facilitating dialogues between different stakeholders, engaging and informing various actors, showing needs and ownership of urban regeneration and helping to identify alternative paths of action. Recently, the focus has been on the role of mixed reality in urban design and public participation, and how this frontier technology can open up new opportunities for civic engagements.

So, what is mixed reality about? It is a new technology that enables visual experiences where physical environments and digital objects coexist and interact with each other in a realistic way in terms of occlusion, lighting, and reflections. In practice, this means you can look through a mobile phone or other devices and see digital objects and models as if they were really there. Existing augmented reality applications like the game Pokémon Go are only the beginning of our journey in to what is actually possible. Mixed reality on a city scale has the potential to fundamentally change the way that people interact with digital information.

For the last two years, we have worked together with UN-Habitat, municipalities and local partners to explore city scale mixed reality within the context of urban design, and how this technology can be used to experience the feel of planned buildings, public spaces or streets that do not yet exist. We have together developed and piloted mixed reality in two contexts; Johannesburg, South Africa and Stockholm, Sweden. 

People watching mobile

Residents experiencing their ideas and designs created in Minecraft out in a public space. Image from the mixed reality pilot** in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Read the report: Mixed reality for public participation in urban and public space design

The findings from the series of activities, including reflections from key partners from both public and private sectors, are now summarized in a publication that UN-Habitat just launched in collaboration with Ericsson: "Mixed reality for public participation in urban and public space design: Towards a new way of crowdsourcing more inclusive smart cities"

3 key takeaways from the report:

  • With two-thirds of the world's population expected to live in urban areas by 2050, cities and communities are under increasing pressure to address urgent environmental, social and economic challenges. The Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda acknowledge that participatory urban planning and inclusive public space are top priorities in cities and human settlements.
  • Frontier technologies can help bridge the gap between residents and policymakers and improve political outcomes. By focusing the use of new technologies on public participation, stakeholder engagement and inclusive urban planning, it can be possible to approach the smart cities field from a different perspective, one that places people at the center and uses technology to ensure that our future cities are compact, connected and integrated.
  • Mixed reality holds tremendous potential for real- time digital visualizations, both at the street and neighborhood level and the overall urban skyline and city grid. This new visually realistic blending of reality with virtual imagination can create a more intuitive space for planners, architects, residents and other stakeholders to viscerally experience and re-imagine future environments. Architectural sketches and designs can be made more legible and accessible, thus pulling users into the process of design and strengthening the long-term viability and buy-in of urban projects.
City view, Stockholm, Sweden

Viewing digital architect models blended with the physical environment by looking through a mobile device or other viewport. Image from one of the mixed reality pilots in Stockholm, Sweden.

Shaping future technologies together

The way the partnership between UN-Habitat and Ericsson has evolved is a bit unusual for both organizations. For UN-Habitat it has provided a unique opportunity to collaborate with a technology partner to explore how frontier technologies and innovation can contribute to sustainable urban developments.

For us at Ericsson, using the Sustainable Development Goals as a starting point for innovation has certainly opened up new perspectives on the value that our technologies might bring. Through UN-Habitat we have also had the opportunity to interact with municipalities and local partners and take the technology explorations out in the reality, which definitely has led to the development of better and more relevant mixed reality technologies.

The collaboration with UN-Habitat is one example of how Ericsson is working to shape future technologies and innovation in a way that contributes to positive societal development and helps to address common global challenges. This project meets many of our Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), such as #11 Sustainable cities and communities, #9 Sustainable industry, innovation and infrastructure, and #17 Sustainable partnerships for the goals.

As a result of our efforts, the experiences from the explorations and pilots are now informing the development of 5G and edge computing to enable large-scale, high-definition mixed reality with complex photorealistic content –  for urban design as well as a range of other contexts.

Find out more

Explore our mixed reality pilots in the latest UN-Habitat report: “Mixed reality for public participation in urban and public space design: Towards a new way of crowdsourcing more inclusive smart cities”.

UN-Habitat report

** mixed reality pilot

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