[INTERVIEW] S. Korean 3D geospatial map platform developer aspires to support UAE's digital twin project

By Kim Joo-heon Posted : March 4, 2024, 17:43 Updated : May 14, 2024, 09:21
Courtesy of Techtree Innovation
[Courtesy of Techtree Innovation]

SEOUL -- Techtree Innovation, a South Korean developer of 3D geospatial map platforms, hopes to play a key role in the United Arab Emirates' digital twin ecosystem project by sharing its expertise in related technologies. Techtree aims to provide its three-dimensional spatial information platform "Around" to the Middle Eastern country to create digital twin infrastructure for various tests including simulations of natural disasters such as flooding.

A digital twin is a virtual clone of an object or an infrastructure. Digital twins are often used as testing grounds for new technologies or other elements to figure out the results of real-life situations. This allows business operators to demonstrate their products under various conditions without causing irreversible effects in reality. 

According to Techtree, Around boasts an extremely higher resolution than conventional digital maps. In an exclusive interview on February 28, Techtree CEO Choi Seung-yup said his company collects the necessary information for digital maps using drones equipped with cameras. "Unlike many other companies and government organizations that establish digital maps with light imaging detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors, Around was created based on photo images captured by drones flying in the sky," he said.

Construction firms can utilize the ultra-precision map platform to simulate multiple disaster scenarios and formulate appropriate solutions. "We are currently discussing with the Abu Dhabi-based consulting firm HBFQ on providing Around to the Emirati market," he said. According to Choi, there has been significant demand in the UAE for building recovery operations due to floods. The Middle Eastern country suffered from unexpected torrential rainfall in July 2022 leaving significant damage to the UAE's two cities -- Fujairah and Sharjah. At least seven people died, and 4,000 evacuated.
Techtree Innovation CEO Choi Seung-yup Courtesy of Techtree Innovation
Techtree Innovation CEO Choi Seung-yup [Courtesy of Techtree Innovation]

"Expanding into the UAE market holds significant potential, as our solution could aid in the development of new planned cities in the region," Choi said, adding that South Korea's largest portal operator Naver is also trying to secure contracts in the Middle East. In December 2023, Naver signed an agreement with the operator of "Sharjah Media City," a media accelerator zone in the nation's third-most populous city of Sharjah, to upgrade its virtual reality ecosystem.

Choi is also working with South Korea's urban air mobility (UAM) company to realize UAM flight scenarios in virtual reality using Around. UAM involves flying passenger vehicles in urban areas, with designated aerial corridors to prevent accidents and ensure pedestrian safety. Pilots can experience multiple scenarios in a virtual world before they actually operate flying taxis. South Korea's transport ministry launched a public-private consultative body in 2020 to commercialize manned drone taxis in 2025.

Choi also engaged in a dialogue with the Republic of Korea Air Force Academy on offering flight simulators for cadet training. Without disclosing specific details, he mentioned ongoing discussions with a domestic aircraft maker and defense forces regarding the adoption of virtual simulators for helicopters and fighter jets.

Despite its exceptional technology, Around currently has limited data on South Korean territory, with images available for only a few regions, including the central city of Daejeon and the southern satellite city of Seoul. Due to budget constraints, the small-sized company is unable to create a map covering the entire territory of South Korea.

Choi pointed out he encountered sanctions in South Korea while using drones to gather image data for Around. Operating drones without authorization is prohibited in numerous urban regions, including Seoul, due to concerns over privacy violations and potential leakage of information, particularly regarding military security zones. Choi expressed concern, stating, "The government is sensitive regarding the drone operation since the country is still technically at war with North Korea."

Despite facing these obstacles, Choi is consistently striving to expand the business portfolio. As Around serves as a testing ground for innovative technologies, the head of Techtree suggested that the platform could be utilized in various other areas, such as smart city construction and autonomous driving.
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