Virtual cities: Designing the metropolises of the future

Futuristic city on water  Virtual cities: Designing the metropolises of the future 96e77c9684Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption The cities of the future will be informed by data as much as by design

Simulation software that can create accurate “digital twins” of entire cities is enabling planners, designers and engineers to improve their designs and measure the effect changes will have on the lives of citizens.

Cities are hugely complex and dynamic creations. They live and breathe.

Think about all the parts: millions of people, schools, offices, shops, parks, utilities, hospitals, homes and transport systems.

Changing one aspect affects many others. Which is why planning is such a hard job.

So imagine having a tool at your disposal that could answer questions such as “What will happen to pedestrian and traffic flow if we put the new metro station here?” or “How can we persuade more people to leave their cars at home when they go to work?”

This is where 3D simulation software is coming into its own.

Architects, engineers, construction companies and city planners have long used computer-aided design and building information modelling software to help them create, plan and construct their projects.

But with the addition of internet of things (IoT) sensors, big data and cloud computing, they can now create “digital twins” of entire cities and simulate how things will look and behave in a wide range of scenarios.

“A digital twin is a virtual representation of physical buildings and assets but connected to all the data and information around those assets, so that machine learning and AI algorithms can be applied to them to help them operate more efficiently,” explains Michael Jansen, chief executive of Cityzenith, the firm behind the Smart World Pro simulation platform.

Take Singapore as an example.

Image copyrightNRF Singapore
Image caption The real Singapore has been faithfully recreated in virtual form
Image copyrightNRF Singapore
Image caption Planners now have a data-rich simulation of the city to interact with

This island state, sitting at the foot of the Malaysian peninsula with a population of six million people, has developed a virtual digital twin of the entire city using software developed by French firm Dassault Systemes.

“Virtual Singapore is a 3D digital twin of Singapore built on topographical as well as real-time, dynamic data,” explains George Loh, progammes director for the city’s National Research Foundation (NRF), a department within the prime minister’s office.

“It will be the country’s authoritative platform that can be used by urban planners to simulate the testing of innovative solutions in a virtual environment.”

In addition to the usual map and terrain data, the platform incorporates real-time traffic, demographic and climate information, says Mr Loh, giving planners the ability to engage in “virtual experimentation”.

“For example, we can plan barrier-free routes for disabled and elderly people,” he says.

Bernard Charles, Dassault Systemes’ chief executive, says the addition of real-time data from multiple sources facilitates joined-up, holistic thinking.

Image copyrightNRF Singapore
Image caption The city envisages Virtual Singapore being used by citizens to locate driverless cars for hire

“The problem is that when we decide about the evolution of a city we are in some way blind. You have the urban view of it – a map – you decide to put a building here, but another agency has to think about transport, another agency has to think about commercial use and flats for people.

“The creation of one thing changes so many other things – the flow and life of citizens.”

The firm’s 3DExperience platform gives planners and designers “a global overview” they’ve never had before, explains Mr Charles.

Dassault’s software, which incorporates calculations that simulate the flow of a fluid, is used to design most F1 cars and aeroplanes, says Mr Charles, and this capability is useful for understanding wind flow around buildings, through streets and green spaces.

Image copyrightNRF
Image caption The software can model wind flow through built up areas

“If some parts of a city are too windy and cold, no-one will like to go there,” he says.

Tracking people’s movements through a city using anonymised mobile phone and transport GPS data can help authorities spot bottlenecks and heat maps as the day progresses, hopefully leading to smarter, more integrated transport and traffic management systems.

“You can look at all ‘what if’ scenarios, so if we ask the right question we can change the city, the world,” concludes Mr Charles.

In the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, a brand new $6.5bn “smart city” called Amaravati has been planned since 2015, but has been mired in controversy amid disagreements over the designs and criticism of its environmental impact.

But last year Foster + Partners, the global architecture and engineering firm, and Surbana Jurong, the Asian urban and infrastructure consultancy, were chosen to take on the huge task.

And Chicago-based Cityzenith is providing the single “command and control” digital platform for the entire project.

Image copyrightCityzenith
Image caption Cityzenith’s Smart World Pro platform gives a real-time simulation of the entire Amaravati city project

IoT sensors will monitor construction progress in real time, says Mr Jansen, and the software will integrate all the designs from the 30 or so design consultants already involved in the first phase of the project.

“The portal will simulate the impact of these proposed buildings before anyone even breaks ground,” he says, “and these simulations will adjust to real-time changes.”

The platform can incorporate more than a thousand datasets, says Mr Jansen, and integrate all the various design and planning tools the designers and contractors use.

The city, which will eventually be home to 3.5 million people, will be hot and humid, experiencing temperatures approaching 50C at times, so simulating how buildings will cope with the climate will be crucial, says Mr Jansen.

More Technology of Business

One large Norwegian engineering consultancy, Norconsult, is even combining simulation software with gaming to help improve its designs.

When working on a large rail tunnel project in Norway, the firm developed a virtual reality game to involve train drivers in the design of the signalling system. The drivers operated a virtual train and “drove” it through the tunnel, flagging up any issues with the proposed position of the signals.

Image copyrightNorconsult
Image caption Train drivers “drove” a virtual train through the tunnel to test the positions of the signals

“They could change weather conditions, the speed and so on,” says Thomas Angeltveit, who worked on the project. “It feels real, so it is much easier for them to interact.”

“We had a lot of comments, so we were able to change the design and make a lot of adjustments.”

Changing the design before construction begins obviously saves money in the long-term.

Digital twin simulation software is a fast-growing business, with firms such as Siemens, Microsoft and GE joining Dassault Systemes and Cityzenith as lead practitioners.

Research firm Gartner predicts that by 2021 half of large industrial companies will use digital twins and estimates that those that do could save up to 25% in operational running costs as a result.

The future of design is virtual and driven by data it seems.

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YouTube suspends ads on Tommy Robinson channel

Tommy Robinson  YouTube suspends ads on Tommy Robinson channel 3725150f3aImage copyrightPA
Image caption Mr Robinson said the ad suspension amounted to censorship

YouTube has suspended adverts on the account of former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson.

Mr Robinson had broken the site’s advertising rules, said YouTube, adding that his channel covered “controversial issues and sensitive events”.

The decision means the channel, which has 270,000 subscribers, will not earn revenue when people watch the videos.

Mr Robinson denied they contained any “hateful” content and said he was the victim of “continued censorship”.

‘Derogatory and disparaging’

The video most recently posted to the channel shows Mr Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, punching a migrant on an Italian street and includes references to a “rape jihad phenomenon”.

YouTube said it believed in freedom of expression but also had a duty to protect viewers from “derogatory and disparaging” content.

The decision comes a day after YouTube removed adverts for anti-Islamic group Britain First from its site, saying they breached its advertising rules prohibiting “hatred, intolerance or discrimination”.

A Britain First representative said: “Britain First is at present suing Facebook in Belfast for political discrimination. Once that case is resolved, in February, we will launch proceedings against YouTube for their politically motivated censorship.”

‘Coffers plump’

Campaign group Hope Not Hate said social media companies had been “too slow” when responding to reports of hate speech.

“Lennon and others in the far right are utterly reliant on social media and crowdfunding platforms to keep their coffers plump,” it said.

In November, PayPal announced it would no longer process payments for Mr Robinson, saying he had broken its policy on acceptable use.

In May, Mr Robinson, 35, was jailed for contempt of court. The 13-month sentence sparked a series of #freetommy protests. The conviction was later quashed after procedural concerns.

The case has now been referred to the attorney general.

In March 2018, Mr Robinson was banned from Twitter. It is understood that his account was suspended for breaking its “hateful conduct policy”.

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Future of airport security on show in London

X-ray bag  Future of airport security on show in London 0768c7232fImage copyrightGetty Images
Image caption A bag seen through an X-ray scanner

Technology that could speed up and enhance security checks at airports is being demonstrated to industry experts at a showcase event in London.

Among the innovations is a pad that could detect explosives hidden in shoes while people are queuing at security.

The show is part of the government’s Future Aviation Security Solutions (Fass) scheme, which is investing millions of pounds in promising ideas.

However, the innovations are mostly still at prototype stage.

The shoe scanner, developed by a company called Scanna, uses a grid of sensing electrodes to analyse shoes and what they contain.

When the machine detects something that should not be in a pair of shoes, it alerts staff so they can intervene.

As it only takes a few seconds to work, the company hopes it could be integrated with full body scanners so passengers no longer need to remove their shoes at the airport.

It could even be used on passengers as they wait in the queue at security. The company hopes to trial the technology before the end of 2019.

Deep pockets

Another company, Sequestim, hopes to eliminate the hassle of removing coats and items such as phones and wallets from pockets.

It is working to combine artificial intelligence with a more sensitive version of the millimetre wave body scanners already used in airports.

It hopes to let passengers pass through its scanners wearing their coats with full pockets, and still identify concealed threats.

Future of airport security on show in London bceadb052e
Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe Sequestim scanner has been tested at Cardiff airport

Cooling its sensor to -273C (-459F) increases its effectiveness and allows passengers to be scanned from up to 8m (26ft) away, the company says.

While the cooling comes at a cost, the airport may find it pays off by being able to process passengers more quickly.

The company says its artificial intelligence will let passengers leave their belongings in their pockets, as the system will learn “what normal looks like” and will be able to flag suspicious items.

“It won’t eliminate the need for a pat down, but will speed up the process by reducing the number of trays going through the scanners,” said Rob Spurrett, managing director of Sequestim.

Deep learning

Researchers from Durham University hope their system will eliminate the need for passengers to remove electronics and liquids from their cabin bags during security checks.

They are developing artificial intelligence that can analyse the images from the airport’s X-ray scanners and identify anything that does not look right.

Such a system would learn what a typical laptop looks like, for example, and would recognise if it had been modified to contain materials it had never seen in one before.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Cambridge have been looking at the best way to train airport security staff.

They propose that training people to spot forbidden items on X-ray images may be counter-intuitive, because the most severe threats are also the images that occur the least frequently.

Their research suggests teaching staff which items they can ignore may lead to more successful threat detection.

Future goals

Image caption A portable security scanner is being developed by UCL

One of the ideas brought to the showcase by University College London was a portable security scanner that can probe of what materials an item is made.

It hopes that the technology can be developed within the next five years, so that the scanner can reliably find forbidden items, even if they are hidden inside bags, without the need for X-rays.

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Fake BBC News page used to promote Bitcoin-themed scheme

Fake BBC webpage  Fake BBC News page used to promote Bitcoin-themed scheme 050e477330Image copyrightMyOnlineSecurity
Image caption One sign that the webpage is fake is that it uses the wrong font

An investment scheme is using a fake BBC News webpage to convince members of the public to hand over funds.

The spoof page references a Bitcoin-themed documentary broadcast by Panorama last year, but links on the page direct visitors to a site promising to make them a millionaire.

Reports indicate that the fake page is being spread via emails sent from hacked accounts.

A spokesman for the BBC said it is looking into how best to respond.

The Financial Conduct Authority has previously issued a warning about an earlier scheme run under the same Bitcoin Trader branding that features in the latest effort.

This is not the first time an attempt has been made to link the brand to the BBC.

Last year, adverts appeared on social media and elsewhere falsely claiming that a trading platform operating under the same name had been backed by several of Dragons’ Den’s stars.

Two of the show’s entrepreneurs – Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones – subsequently issued denials.

Ads also claimed that Lord Alan Sugar had quit The Apprentice to help promote its software, leading the businessman to tweet that he had contacted the police.

Skip Twitter post by @Lord_Sugar

A scam do not part with any money . Police and Lawyers on the case https://t.co/NZkCrOgmi5

— Lord Sugar (@Lord_Sugar) May 23, 2018

End of Twitter post by @Lord_Sugar

In addition, the former BBC journalist Martin Lewis – who now runs the MoneySavingExpert site – launched legal action against Facebook after it failed to remove fake ads suggesting he was also involved.

And Sir Richard Branson has also warned that fake CNN news pages had been created to make it seem that he had endorsed a Bitcoin Trader-branded scheme.

Image caption Sir Richard previously warned the public of a fake CNN Tech page

It is not, however, clear whether the people behind the effort are the same as before.

Countdown timer

The fake BBC News page contains a lengthy article describing an “underground banking system” that allows investors to turn small deposits into “a fortune”.

It presents a case study of one individual who supposedly saw an investment of less than £300 grow into nearly £900,000.

At the bottom of the page, a countdown clock indicates that there is little time remaining to enrol in the venture.

City of London Police’s cyber-crime team has previously warned users against this tactic.

“Always be wary if you’re pressured to invest quickly or promised returns that sound too good to be true,” it said when it discussed the con last April.

One of the indications the latest bogus webpage is fake is its address, which does not correspond to the bbc.co.uk or bbc.com domains used by the broadcaster.

One cyber-security expert said members of the public who receive emails urging them to click any link with an unusual address should in general be cautious of doing so.

“If you are suspicious of any email, search for the page or website in Google rather than clicking the link,” suggested Lisa Forte, from Red Goat Cyber Security.

“And if you receive the email at work, let your IT team know so they can deal with it appropriately.”

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Facebook tackles Russians making fake news stories

Sputnik news agency  Facebook tackles Russians making fake news stories 9f26a76817Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Facebook said one campaign it shut down had links to staff at Russia’s Sputnik news agency

Facebook has removed 500 pages and accounts allegedly involved in peddling fake news in Central Europe, Ukraine and other Eastern European nations.

The action ends efforts by two separate groups to “manipulate people”, said Facebook in a blog.

The accounts had more than 900,000 followers and between them spent more than $160,000 (£124,000) on adverts.

Facebook said the accounts were loosely connected to Russian state groups known to push fake news.

Nest of trolls

The shutdowns hit two separate campaigns that were “engaging in co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour”, it said.

The largest group of pages and accounts was located in Russia but targeted its misleading content across most nations and regions in Eastern Europe.

The organisations running the networks of pages posed as independent news sources and regularly put out information about a variety of subjects including weather, travel, sports, economics and politics.

As well as more general subjects, these pages also regularly wrote about protest movements, anti-Nato sentiment and anti-corruption efforts.

Detective work by Facebook, aided by police and other technology groups, found that many of the people behind these accounts and pages worked for the Russian news agency Sputnik.

Image copyrightAFP
Image caption The pages Facebook removed had links to a group accused of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election

The other group of accounts that were removed were also located in Russia, but aimed almost all of their content at Ukraine.

The types of information being spread and the tactics used “shared characteristics” with the campaigns run by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA).

The US government has described IRA as a “troll farm” and said it has ties to the Russian government. In February 2018, 13 people who worked for IRA were indicted by the US and charged with trying to undermine the 2016 US presidential election.

“We’re taking down these pages and accounts based on their behaviour, not the content they post,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cyber-security policy at Facebook, in the blog.

“In these cases, the people behind this activity co-ordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action,” he added.

Tackling pages that abuse Facebook was an “ongoing challenge”, said Mr Gleicher.

“The people responsible are determined and well-funded,” he said. “We constantly have to improve to stay ahead.”

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GCHQ sets up all-female cyber-training classes

Cyber skills  GCHQ sets up all-female cyber-training classes f6073ac354Image copyrightGetty Images

All-female classes in cyber-skills are being set up by the GCHQ intelligence service, in an attempt to recruit a wider range of online security experts.

Almost 90% of the cyber-skills workforce worldwide is male, says GCHQ’s cyber-defence arm, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

With warnings of serious skills shortages, the security services are worried about missing female recruits.

Chris Ensor of the NCSC says it needs to “address the imbalance”.

There will be 600 free places on all-female CyberFirst Defenders courses in April and May this year, run as a mix of residential and non-residential training events.

The venues for the four-day courses will include Nottingham, Lancaster, Wrexham, Edinburgh and Oxfordshire.

Cyber-girls

The intention is to make cyber-skills lessons more open to teenage girls, in a field which has been accused of having a very male image, whether it is James Bond-style stereotypes or stock photos of teenage boys in hoodies.

All-female classes have been used in some schools as a way of building confidence in subjects once seen as being more male-dominated.

Aisling Brown, curriculum leader at the Stephen Perse Foundation school in Cambridge, said that teaching boys and girls separately in computing can help them with different ways of learning.

In computing classes, she said: “Girls are sometimes more reflective and take time to volunteer answers, while boys can tend to rush.”

The school’s computing club could tend to become dominated by the boys, she said, and they had to find ways to make it more accessible to girls.

It follows the CyberFirst Girls competition, launched last month, and run by the NCSC to promote computer skills and careers in cyber-security.

The agency wants more teenage girls to get involved, with questions designed to build skills in cryptography, cyber-security, logic and coding and networking.

It is part of a wider CyberFirst project aimed at raising cyber-skills in young people up to the age of 18.

The security services, needing talented staff to tackle the growing threat of cyber-attacks, have been concerned about recruiting from too small a pool of people with computer skills.

The lack of women in cyber-security is part of the bigger picture of women in science, technology, engineering and maths, says the NCSC.

Image copyrightNCSC
Image caption Pupils at the Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School in Blackburn have been taking part in the cyber competition

The agency says about 35% of its overall staff are female and half of its senior leadership.

As well as wanting a better gender balance, the NCSC wants to attract applicants from a wider range of social backgrounds, from state as well as independent schools.

‘Inquisitive instincts’

Among the schools taking part in the competition is the Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School, a Muslim state school in Blackburn which is among the highest-performing secondary schools in the country.

“Women are very under-represented in the global cyber-industry,” said assistant principal, Asia Ali, who says she wants “exceptionally talented girls” to help make the country safer online.

The NCSC has warned of the scale of wide-ranging cyber-threats.

Already this month, the NCSC has highlighted threats to hack smart TV devices, cyber-attacks on information about German politicians and the theft of insurance and legal documents relating to the 9/11 attacks.

Mr Ensor, the agency’s deputy director for skills and growth, said increasing numbers have been taking part in their training courses.

“However, women only make up a small proportion of the global cyber-workforce, and throughout GCHQ and the NCSC we are looking to address the imbalance.”

He said he wanted to appeal to the “inquisitive instincts of young people”.

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Ace Combat 7: Can it match flying in real-life?

The latest version of long-running video game franchise Ace Combat has a new virtual reality (VR) mode allowing players a more immersive experience of the game.

But does it really make players feel as though they are flying for real?

BBC Click’s Marc Cieslak and Kate Russell take to the skies in two acrobatic biplanes before playing Ace Combat 7 to assess how the VR version of the game compares.

More at BBC.com/Click and @BBCClick.

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Laser shoes made for Parkinson’s patients

Many people with Parkinson’s disease have freezing episodes when they walk. They suddenly come to a standstill and even though they want to move, they can’t.

One London-based entrepreneur has come up with a solution – lasers fitted to their shoes.

Filmed by Richard Kenny and edited by Ammar Ebrahim for BBC World Hacks. Like, Share, Engage.

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Netflix’s Bird Box film contains footage of Lac-Megantic disaster

Sandra Bullock in a blindfold  Netflix's Bird Box film contains footage of Lac-Megantic disaster 9e7d8a7cf5Image copyrightNetflix
Image caption Netflix used footage of the 2013 Lac-Megantic rail disaster in Bird Box, a horror film starring Sandra Bullock

Streaming service Netflix has confirmed it used stock footage of a real-life rail disaster in the film Bird Box.

Netflix will not be removing the brief clip from Canada’s Lac-Megantic tragedy used early in the film to depict a fictional news story about an apocalyptic scenario.

Over 40 people were killed in 2013 when a train carrying crude oil derailed in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic.

Dozens of homes and businesses were destroyed.

Bird Box is not the only Netflix production containing images of the deadly runaway train disaster.

Earlier this week, similar footage was found to have been used in the Canadian-American science-fiction drama Travelers.

In the show’s third season, images of Lac-Megantic’s blazing downtown core can be briefly seen illustrating fictional news coverage of a nuclear attack in London.

Image copyrightReuters
Image caption A cloud of smoke is seen over Lac Megantic after a train explosion, July 6, 2013.

The production company behind the show, Peacock Alley Entertainment, said in a statement that it acquired footage from stock footage vendor Pond 5 “and weren’t aware of its specific source”.

It apologised, saying it did not mean to dishonour the tragic event in the town, and would be replacing the footage used in the show.

In a statement to BBC, Pond 5 said it deeply regretted the footage being “taken out of context and used in entertainment programming”.

The company apologised “to anyone who was offended, especially the victims and their families”.

Clips from the company’s collection of stock footage and other media are found in TV and documentary series produced by major news and entertainment companies including Disney, Netflix, the Discovery Channel and the BBC, according to its website.

The company said its library includes both fictional scenes as well as news and archival footage including “historical tragedies, military conflicts, weather events, and natural disasters that may depict sensitive events” and it is rare “that something like this occurs”.

It said it will contact customers who have purchased any related clips to make them aware “of the sensitive nature of this footage”.

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US ‘probes Huawei for trade secret theft’

Huawei phones  US 'probes Huawei for trade secret theft' d9d29603fbImage copyrightReuters
Image caption Huawei is one of the world’s biggest smartphone-makers

The US is reportedly investigating Huawei for “stealing trade secrets” from American business partners in the latest action against the Chinese technology giant.

The criminal inquiry was first reported by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

It comes as the Trump administration is pressing China to take action on questions of technology theft or face additional trade tariffs.

Huawei and the Department of Justice declined to comment.

The WSJ said the investigation stems in part from a lawsuit that telecoms company T-Mobile brought against Huawei in 2014.

T-Mobile accused Huawei of stealing the technology behind a robot T-Mobile had developed to test mobile phones.

A Seattle jury in 2017 agreed that Huawei had misappropriated trade secrets, but determined that the actions were not “willful and malicious”.

The probe adds to pressure facing Huawei, one of the world’s biggest technology companies.

Espionage allegations

Last week a Huawei employee was arrested in Poland, accused of spying.

The firm, which makes smartphones and telecommunications equipment, is facing accusations in the US and other countries that its equipment could be used by the Chinese government for espionage.

Huawei has denied those claims. On Tuesday Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei denied the firm posed a spying risk.

The US has also accused the firm of lying to US banks about its business in Iran, in violation of US sanctions.

Last month, the firm’s chief financial officer was arrested in Canada, at the request of the US related to those claims.

The arrest heightened tensions between the US and China, which are vying for influence around the world.

There has also been increased tension between China and Canada, with China sentencing a Canadian man to death over drugs smuggling in the wake of the Huawei arrest.

The US has also accused China of unfair business practices, including technology theft, triggering tit-for-tat tariffs on billions of dollars in annual trade.

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