Creating SimCity: Real time data and 3D visualisations bring cities to life

Data is all around us, but we’re unable to see and interact with it. This could change with one online tool that combines real-time data with 3D maps to help bring cities to life.

At present the creators of ViziCities have been able to map buses, planes and even London Underground’s tube service.

One of the creators, Robin Hawkes, said the inspiration for the tool was “to see if we could do SimCity for real life.”

ViziCities was created by Hawkes and business partner Peter Smart, who intend for the tool to  help developers create city visualisations with real-time data.

They said that the system, which operates in a browser and comes as a free and open source download, allows people to see cities in new ways and unlock the data that is hidden within them.

Potential applications include viewing public transport flowing around a city, performing traffic simulations, visualising social data, overlaying historic data and much more.

Hawkes, who was speaking at the Re.Work Future Cities Summit in London, said that there could also be virtual reality potential for the visualisation tool.

“People are wanting to use this for things like wanting to put yourself in a situation where you can see the underground network below you,” he said.

This means that with development, a city could be viewed through an Oculus Rift and you could look at your feet and see a train that is passing below.

Other future developments that are planned for the service include creating virtual local weather for the areas, AI vehicles and pedestrians and more.

The aim is to try and create as realistic a 3D city simulation as possible, using data for as many sources as can be obtained.


The maps are built up using data that is static and also live. The types of data can include crime, flooding and as many other sources as can be obtained. They are all layered onto the 3D maps, which are built upon OpenStreetMap.

Most of the collection of the data comes from official sources, which are publishing it proactively. However, the amount and quality of data that they publish can hamper what the developers can do.

Hawkes said the quality of the data needed to be improved and, when writing an early blog on the construction of the visualisation tools, said: “The biggest problem by far has been finding accurate, usable data for the locations that we plan to visualise in 3D.”

Images courtesy of ViziCities 

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