On Thursday 30th April, The City of Helsinki is celebrating its annual May Day holiday by inviting citizens to participate in a virtual celebration with one of the country’s popular artists. Powered by the city’s Virtual Helsinki digital twin, Fullsteam Agency and developer Zoan’s Burst Live technology platform, citizens of the Nordic capital can tune in with a smartphone or computer, choose an avatar and see JVG – the most streamed band in Finland – perform from the iconic Senate Square, interacting with the sports rap stars with gestures, applause and emojis that the band will see in real time.
The concert can be live-streamed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSBdj2foLQU&feature=youtu.be.
Taking inspiration from a gig in Fortnite by DJ Marshmello, the experience is the most ambitious use of the Virtual Helsinki platform to date. The partnership is designed to make the experience as accessible as possible – VR headsets are not required – and keep citizens safe during the COVID-19 crisis.
“May Day is one of the largest public holidays of the calendar year, normally bringing together many of Helsinki’s 650,000 residents to celebrate. This year will be a very different May Day as we are forced to celebrate apart. However, even though we won’t be physically together, we can still enjoy May Day as a community, together in spirit,” said Jan Vapaavuori, Mayor of Helsinki.
The result of two years of development and investment in a digital twin, paired with the city’s open-data policies and an ongoing partnership with Zoan, Virtual Helsinki demonstrates the possibility of VR for citizen and visitor experience, and how they can bolster a city’s resilience to global issues like the COVID-19 pandemic. The city is actively developing the platform to host a number of events: from art, music, city landmarks and attractions, business to business events and international conferences.
“The world will be a very different place post-COVID-19 and cities needs to be innovative when it comes to creating new ways to provide experiences. Helsinki wants to be the city that pioneers this digital innovation to create solutions. Virtual Helsinki demonstrates the opportunities for this kind of technology to change how we experience cities and destinations in the future,” said Jan Vapaavuori.
In addition to May Day, the Virtual Helsinki initiative has recreated experiences of the city’s most famous landmarks through virtual reality to provide an opportunity for Helsinki to be experienced without the dependence on carbon intensive travel.
While VR and 360-degree videos are used as a marketing tool by many destinations, Virtual Helsinki goes a step further, allowing visitors to move about freely in the digital simulation of Helsinki to explore at their own pace and create their own experiences in past, present and future time.
Through this virtual city, users can experience different parts of Helsinki, as well as participate in activities such as concert, exhibitions, meetings, and events. Virtual travellers can visit the historical centre of Senate Square, the home of famed Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, and archipelago island Lonna Island. Destinations and landmarks will be added to the experience over the coming months including Vallisaari Island.
Virtual Helsinki is a major initiative forming one part of the City of Helsinki’s overarching digital strategy, which sets ambitions for the city to become the virtual capital of the world. The initiative is the culmination of a longstanding partnership with Helsinki-based studio Zoan. A digital twin of Helsinki has been built in Unreal Engine using 3D modelling from open data provided by the city, Zoan merged this with a series of drawings, hand-crafted modelling and imagery to create one of the world’s most realistic VR experiences. Zoan was awarded second prize at the 2019 Unreal Awards: Experience Design for the design of Virtual Helsinki.
Helsinki, which was crowned as the most innovative region in the EU by the European Commission in 2019 and awarded the European Capital of Smart Tourism in 2019, is at the forefront of utilising digital innovation to create democratic and sustainable solutions for people to experience all Helsinki has to offer.
Helsinki has ambitious goals in the pioneering and promoting of sustainable tourism, aiming to become a carbon neutral city by 2035. In developing Virtual Helsinki, Helsinki recognises the unique role that cities play in creating solutions to enable changes in lifestyles to address the global climate crisis.
In the future, Virtual Helsinki will also serve as a digital platform that will enable service providers to run their businesses through the platform.
- Finnish rap stars JVG to perform in first-ever virtual May Day concert, as Helsinki remains in lockdown
- Inspired by the success of gigs in gaming platform Fortnite, the city has partnered with local VR specialists Zoan to bring citizens together as avatars in the city square on the capital’s most popular holiday
- Virtual Helsinki, the Nordic capital’s digital twin, has been in development for two years, and is already in use in sustainable travel initiatives
- As COVID-19 crisis lengthens, the May Day celebration is just the first innovation in Helsinki’s digital offer for visitors, arts and business