The combined impact of a slew of new technologies promises to radically transform the practice of urban planning and the development of cities in the 21st century.

Brett Casson, infrastructure development manager at Autodesk, said one of the most profound changes poised to hit the field of urban planning will be the use of the cloud, big data and other emerging technologies to expedite the creation of smarter cities.

“Cloud technology along with other technologies including the Internet of Things are really going to the change the way that we approach the challenge of designing smart cities,” he said.

According to Casson, this raft of new ground-breaking technologies confers urban planners with an understanding of modern cities that is unprecedented in terms of depth, scope and detail.

“We have more information now than we’ve ever had access to before – we’ve got sensor technologies, we’ve got big data, we’ve got cloud servers that the designers of cities and infrastructure can all access,” he said. “As a consequence, the way and the what and the why of designing smart cities and infrastructure in Australia will radically change over the next few years.”

The chief advantage will be providing urban planners with a detailed, empirical basis for making key decisions with respect to city design and infrastructure development.

“One of the things that having access to all of this technology and all of this data enables us to do it to make better decisions,” said Casson.

“At the front end there’s this paradigm change in the industry in terms of access to data and influencing the ‘why’ – it won’t be so much the what, but the why – why are we designing this city, why is this infrastructure project important.”

An outstanding example of the way in which emerging technologies are transforming urban development is already near at hand with the latest large-scale transit overhaul in Sydney.

“The Sydney light rail and associated works around Wynyard are an excellent example of the application of new technology to urban planning,” said Casson. “A lot of work done analysing traffic conditions around the Wynyard precinct for the works that are going on there – in particular the Wynyard walk project that links Barangaroo up to Wynyard station.

“That’s a real pinch point for buses, and a major hub for the Sydney Bus Network, so the associated works around there, in conjunction with the Sydney light rail project were going to cause problems.”

The most expeditious means of handling this challenge is the use advanced simulation software to model both pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the immediate area and its surrounding environs.

“A lot of work was done to try to simulate different types of scenarios using nano-simulation and bus simulation, and simulation around associated works in that area,” said Casson.

“The nano-simulation technology isn’t just a standard traffic simulation; it looks at the actual pedestrian simulations and integrates it with traffic, which is really the core issue…big data can be aggregated, and then used to run simulations and scenarios in a digital world.

“This enables us to not only look at the discrete travel times for buses, but also what the impacts will be of certain actions for the wider transportation network.”

Casson further notes that Australian government at all levels is pushing for the application of these new technologies to urban planning and development.

“Both federal and state governments are definitely aware of what’s going on, and starting to make decisions around how they’re going to deliver that,” he said.

“The federal government has the Hansard report which called for industry to come and present their ideas on how to deliver infrastructure better, to which Autodesk and other industry partners contributed.

“That was a really clear example of how the Federal Government wants to understand how we could be more efficient in the delivery infrastructure – ideas like smart cities, sensor technology, 3D design and 3D delivery were raised in those presentations.”

Government at the state level is also pursuing pathbreaking investigations into how emerging technologies can be applied to urban development.

“The big one that comes to mind is Transport of NSW and its BIM Working Group, which I think applies to a larger context than BIM,” said Casson. “In my opinion, it’s one of the most important policy groups in Australian government at the moment.

“The NSW government established this group because they want to drive the adoption of an integrated transport network – they want to have more automated trains, and to achieve this they realize that the delivery from design through to construction through to operation and maintenance needs to change completely.

“They’re developing a framework in a much wider context, not just in terms of a single project and how they’re going to deliver, but also what does that mean for the wider network, what does that mean for the state rail network, what does that mean for the road network.”