The introduction of digital twin technology has been by far the most revolutionary innovation of the 21st century. The technology has found immediate application in all sectors of the economy, particularly in manufacturing, healthcare and retail. In recent times, the AEC industry has also shown a trend of creating digital twins to deal with the unorganized nature of business.
Embracing this futuristic technology has allowed us to move from building one brick at a time to building one blockchain at a time. Architects, planners, and planners use technology to create a virtual global replica of the built environment to understand the feasibility of their work over the long term.
History of digital twins
The earliest account of digital twin technology dates back to David Gelernter’s 1991 book “Mirror Worlds” where he explores the impact of computer technology on the future world. The concept and model of the digital twin, however, was first publicly introduced by Michael Grieves in 2002 at a Society of Manufacturing Engineers conference held in Troy, Michigan. He proposed the concept of digital twins as a study model for product lifecycle management. The term “digital twins” was formally coined by NASA’s John Vickers in a “2010 Roadmap Report”.
How does digital twinning work?
Digital twin technology is data driven. A network of sensors collects data to create the virtual sibling of a physical world. The digital twins framework consists of three parts:
- The physical object – the real product
- The virtual object – the digitally cloned product
- The connection between the physical object and the virtual object – the data that flows from the physical product to the virtual product and the information that is provided from the virtual product to the physical product
The digital twin thus created makes it possible to understand the particularities of the built and non-built environment throughout their life cycle. Analyzing data in combination with other sources of information helps to understand the subject of study at its origin and to make predictions for its future.
Very often parallels are drawn between digital twins and 3D modeling based on their user interface and visualization. However, what sets them apart is the data factor. While 3D modeling only provides a view of an object, digital pairing provides real-time view and data of the object. Digital twins go further by exploring how the object will be impacted by various environmental conditions over a period of time.
How can digital twins improve urban planning?
The world is rapidly urbanizing. It is expected that 56% of the world’s population will live in cities. Therefore, cities must be resourcefully prepared for a massive influx of people. But, given the anarchic growth of most urban areas around the world, digital twins can help streamline urban developments with the help of data analytics. By creating digital twins of cities, policies, design principles and construction methods can be virtually tested and adopted in the real world. The adoption of digital twins can revolutionize the way cities are designed, operated, maintained and supported to improve the quality of life of their citizens.
Developing effective policies
Municipal authorities and other local governing bodies can benefit from digital twin technology by using the data for planning, finalizing investment strategies and identifying opportunities. They can run simulations of proposed policies in the virtual world and study their impact before implementing them in the real world. Globally, cities such as Singapore, Helsinki and the United Arab Emirates are investing in digital twin technology for a variety of purposes ranging from sustainability, to transit-oriented development, to building renovation projects. and opportunities for virtual tourism.
Environmental Risk Mitigation
With the alarming increase in global warming and climate change, digital twin technology can help map the future environment and its impact on cities. Data such as sea level rise and movement of tectonic plates in the virtual city can be used to guide the development of the physical city. By assessing risk, cities can be better prepared to mitigate natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones.
Audit structural stability
Due to shoddy construction, building collapse has become a daily occurrence in cities, resulting in the loss of lives and resources. Creating a digital twin before beginning the physical construction process can help determine the suitability of materials and construction practices. This will help create safe and healthy neighborhoods that will help urban communities thrive. Municipal authorities can use the data to check the structural strength of old buildings, freeing up the neighborhood in time to avoid physical damage.
Save energy and operational costs
The data provided by the digital twins can be used to optimize the building services system, which will help reduce the energy consumption and operating costs of the structure. City planners can also identify the potential of building roofs for solar gain that can be used to power buildings. The range of renewable energies can be invariably explored in the digital twin city to help reduce the urban heat island effect and improvise building self-sufficiency.
Improve the infrastructure network
With the data available from the Digital Twin Cities, transport planners in association with city planners can identify the possibility of bottlenecks and traffic jams in the physical city. The requirement for overflights and road expansions can be predetermined by identifying the growth of on-road automobiles. The power of the rapid transit system (MRTS) to improve public transport in cities can be tested and optimally designed to adapt to urban sprawl.
The possibilities of digital twinning do not stop at the technical aspects of urban planning, but go further to explore the generation of income from virtual tourism. While 360 degree views of streets and buildings are already available in the market. Digital pairing takes this technology one step further. In digital twins, people can do more than just see a place. They can shop, play, learn and even be a citizen of the virtual city.
For instance, Virtual Helsinki is a digital twin of downtown Helsinki, created by Zoan in high quality 3D for virtual reality, where people can visit and do activities virtually. Virtual tourism promotes a sustainable lifestyle by allowing people to experience the world from the comfort of their homes.
While many countries have yet to explore the potential of digital twin technology, Singapore has already created a live test case for its virtual doppelganger. The city-state model includes 3 million images captured at street level as well as 160,000 images captured from the air. Over a billion data points have been plotted in 3D, representing over 100 terabytes of data. The base of the model will be based on 14 basic datasets encompassing land use, forest cover and underground utilities. To keep the digital twin relevant and at the height of Singapore’s evolution, the entire island will be continuously mapped with aerial and road mapping tools.
With its digital twin in place, Singapore plans to solve its longstanding problem of the urban heat island effect. The virtual city will make it possible to study the feasibility of new real estate developments in the city and their impact on the immediate environment. Policy makers will also study the model to identify potential infrastructure pitfalls and propose appropriate solutions for the future Singapore. In the future, Singapore also aims to use digital twins to reconstruct accident scenes through the use of digital forensics and scenario planning for autonomous vehicles and robots.
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The benefits offered by digital twin technology have encouraged global IT leaders to work towards the advancement of digital twin software. The major IT giants, namely Microsoft, GE Digital, Siemens and Dassault Systemes, have already created digital twin software. AEC industry innovators such as Cityzenith have launched a digital twin software program specifically for the built environment. SmartWorldPro is another leading digital twin software, which makes it easy to design and manage buildings and other forms of real estate.
The use of digital twin technology in urban planning improves the decision-making capacity of its stakeholders. It establishes hope for a future city that is more sustainable, people-centered, organized and desirable.