A deep dive into one of the most important directions for the future of the metaverse: smart cities and digital twins
In honor of today being the release of Matthew Ball’s long awaited book, The Metaverse and How it will Revolutionize Everything, I’d like to dive deeper into one of the most important directions for the future of the metaverse: smart cities and digital twins.
Digitally twinning cities is not a new topic and has been done (albeit with inferior technology) for many years as part of smart cities initiatives. Yet the explosion of interest in the metaverse, and the growing tools, including blockchain, 3D visualization, AI and yes VR/AR poses the biggest opportunity for smart cities to truly leverage digital twins for transforming life and urban infrastructure.
I personally also believe some of the biggest opportunities for metaverse users and builders will be in more hyper-realistic, digital twins of the real world as opposed to thoroughly invented virtual worlds.
Some readers may be familiar with the work I published annually in Fast Company to benchmark and rank smart cities around the globe. Several years ago I even extended this with a one-time effort to rank blockchain cities.
Combining my historical interest in smart cities and my more recent interest the past 5+ years in blockchain and the metaverse, I would like to borrow from past city ranking efforts to provide a cursory ranking of Metaverse Cities.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the growing dedication of a range of cities around the globe (mostly in the Middle East and APAC) to embrace robust digital twins and the metaverse.
There is a battle brewing for supremacy of the metaverse amongst global cities. While there is currently little separation amongst the top cities, I feel obliged to give Dubai the top slot. Dubai has been working for a few years to become a major regional and global hub in blockchain along with Miami and Singapore.
Today Dubai announced its ambitious metaverse strategy which includes attracting 1,000 metaverse related companies and generating more than 40,000 new jobs in the sector by 2030. A new metaverse accelerator recently launched in Dubai and the city is home to a growing number of blockchain venture funds with active investing interest in the metaverse, including Iomob investor Cypher Capital.
In May of this year, Dubai’s Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) became the first government to enter the metaverse when it launched its VARA MetaHQ in the Sandbox.
Singapore was amongst the first cities (or city states) to embrace digital twinning when it launched Virtual Singapore in 2014. While Dubai’s position is largely due to the government’s own impressive array of ambitions and activities in the metaverse, Singapore gets second position in this first ranking due mostly to the activities of the private sector to advance metaverse activities from Singapore bridging the East and West.
Singapore is home to Vizzio Technologies, a company with an impressive array of government clients in the ASEAN region as it deploys its patented tech enabling digital twins leveraging satellite tech and AI to create hyper-realistic city twins.
Example screenshot from a digital twin of Singapore by Vizzio
Recently, Singapore based venture fund NGC Ventures announced a $100mn fund dedicated to investing in local and global metaverse startups. Singapore-based Millennium Hotels and Resorts announced a metaverse hotel version of their M Social brand (disclosure: I stayed at the Singapore M Social hotel last week) in Decentraland.
Now it is not only private sector activity that got Singapore on this list. A few of Singapore’s amazing universities are getting into the act as well. The Singapore University of Social Sciences (disclosure: I am a Fellow there), which just hosted the GWEI Summit, may be home to the world’s first set of courses and a lab dedicated to the metaverse. Meanwhile, Singapore Management University also recently got into the game with a new dedicated program.
In November of 2021, Seoul’s mayor announced the launch of Metaverse Seoul, a decade-long ambition to be a world leader in leveraging metaverse technologies to transform life in the city. By 2023 the aspiration was to already allow “citizens to conveniently meet with avatar officials to deal with civicl complains and consultations, which are currently handled only by visiting municipal offices.”
The project is not only focusing on introducing virtual, digital and immersive ways for citizens to engage with city administrators but also seeking to support the private sector and even offer pathways for virtual tourism for Koreans and foreigners alike.
At the end of 2021 Shanghai announced a 5-year plan to leverage the metaverse for public and private interests. Furthermore last week the government announced its ambition to grow the local metaverse industry to a whopping $52 billion by 2025 while adding 10 globally leading enterprises and an additional 100 more new metaverse companies to the local ecosystem. This news was accompanied by the announcement of a new $1.5bn fund to support metaverse development.
Many Western readers will notice that there are no named cities from Europe or the Americas. As a US citizen living in Barcelona I am aware of this apparent bias in the list. But it is the reality. Just like European and Asian cities have been well ahead of their American counterparts in embracing smart cities, with respect to blockchain, and in particular the metaverse, the cities taking the early lead are from the Middle East and the APAC region. I am certain some of the European and American smart cities will get on the metaverse train soon, but in the meantime we have to look Eastward with admiration. Hopefully if I repeat this next year, the list will be much larger and more geographically diverse.
Boyd Cohen is the CEO and Co-founder of Iomob, a decentralized internet of mobility (IoM) network. Since obtaining his Ph.D. in strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado in 2001, he spent the past two decades focused on accelerating the path to a low-carbon sustainable economy. This included publishing 3 books, multiple peer reviewed articles, frequently contributing to Fast Company and starting a handful of ventures in the smart cities and sustainability arena.