In the spring of 2019, the city worked with vGIS, the leading developer of augmented-reality solutions, to design a citizen engagement tool. The objective was to create a public augmented-reality app that provides residents with an enhanced experience of city infrastructure projects.
At present, much of the communication about zoning proposals and infrastructure development is done through conventional tools that are difficult for non-technical users to interpret. The current feedback processes also make it difficult for citizens to learn about, comment on, and vote on projects that directly affect their lives. vGIS plans to change this by tapping into the city’s Geographic Information System (GIS) to bring spatial data to life as descriptive augmented-reality images.
Members of the public will be able to use the app to visualize zoning proposals, infrastructure projects, and future buildings in augmented reality that offers both a table-top experience with a birds-eye view and to-scale models shown in the projected location. So that city officials may collect feedback from citizens, the app will provide tools enabling users to comment on the proposals. The system will also include tools for data mining so that officials may analyze usage patterns.
“Most modern cities have accumulated a wealth of information that they can use to improve bi-directional communication with their residents,” says Alec Pestov, CEO of vGIS. “We’re thrilled to work with the City of West Sacramento to explore the possibilities of utilizing GIS data to power the next generation of civic engagement tools.”
The project was undertaken as part of a Startup in Residence (STiR) challenge conducted by City Innovate (https://www.cityinnovate.org). Startup in Residence is a 16-week program that helps startups collaborate with cities to secure government contracts and help improve cities.
The project was a natural fit for the vGIS team, which has extensive experience in designing industry-leading augmented-reality solutions for field services. After conducting several discovery and scoping sessions with the City of West Sacramento, the team selected Esri ArcGIS Runtime SDK as the underlying technology for the application, choosing the ArcGIS components over vGIS’s own visualization engine. ArcGIS was chosen because of the off-the-shelf nature of its components and the ease of development enabled by the ArcGIS Runtime SDK. The project team sought a solution that could run directly on top of the city’s ArcGIS instance using only standard Esri components supportable by in-house developers.
“We decided to use ArcGIS Runtime as it offers native integration with the ArcGIS back-end while delivering the necessary depth of functionality,” says Pestov. “We evaluated our own visualization engine and concluded that it would be overkill, whereas ArcGIS Runtime has just the right combination of functionality and ease of use.”
The team completed a fully functional proof of concept within the 12-week period. Meanwhile, several other municipalities also expressed interest in participating in the project. In early June 2019, the functional prototype app was distributed to participating cities for testing, and it has received positive reviews.
After completing the STiR program, vGIS formed a consortium of municipalities to fund development of a fully functional product, which is expected to be launched by at least four municipalities before the end of the year.