Digital Twins are used increasingly to support urban planning processes – by visualizing urban data, show-casing future scenarios and many other use-cases. In general Digital twins are virtual representations of an object, process or system that can be used to run simulations to optimise efficiency and examine what-if scenarios. The technology has been primarily used for manufacturing to test products (e.g. as of 2018, GE had 1.2 million digital twins for 300,000 types of assets) but is quickly expanding to buildings, supply chains and entire cities as digital planning technology advances (Castro, 2019). Integrating data from the internet of things (IoT) with the advanced modelling capabilities of technologies such as geospatial information systems (GIS), virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) and building information modelling (BIM) allows governments and industry to create predictions of how systems will react and respond to real-world data. Creating a feedback loop between the virtual and real worlds results in substantial improvements of processes and impacts, with time-saving and financial benefits.
The concept of digital twins is not new; for example, NASA has been running simulations of spacecraft for decades, but the rapid growth of connected sensors and endpoints with the rise of the IoT and advancements in artificial intelligence has opened up a myriad of possibilities for the planning and analysis tool. Potential uses for digital twins are still being imagined. Uses for cities currently include using digital twins to plan transportation systems, prepare for natural disasters and identify optimal locations to install solar panels. Future uses could include predicting how a disease will spread and informing optimal lockdowns and hospital reservations or using the tool to facilitate collaborations with other cities that have shared problems and mutual goals.
Digital twins are supported by cities with:
- IoT sensors embedded in city’s core services
- High levels of connectivity and useable data
- GIS system in place
Digital Twins of smart cities is a new application of a number of technologies that need to be interoperable and high-performance. A capable and innovative team, with in depth knowledge of how these technologies and their data function, will support a city in getting the most out of their digital twin. A brief overview of some of these technologies that are integrated into digital twins follows:
- Geospatial Information Systems: The core spatial modelling technology of a city’s digital twin, GIS connects different kinds of geospatial data to create a single view and provide advanced analytics of the system.
- Building Information Modelling: When integrated with GIS, BIM provides a rich dataset for the built environment to create more accurate models. Real-time data requires the interoperability with the Internet of Things.
- Augmented or Virtual Reality: Enhances real life perception of digital twins. This can be particularly useful in collaborative and participatory process in urban planning.
Stakeholder Map of an Urban Digital Twin (BABLE, 2021)
Across all industries, the global digital twin market size was valued at USD 3.1 billion in 2020 with an expected CAGR of 58% until 2026, when it projected to reach USD 48.2 billion. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to be a major driver of the digital twin market growth, in particular in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, as well as for cities to better monitor outbreaks and respond to the changes in daily life brought by the pandemic (Markets&Markets, 2020).
Digital Twins on the city level are still a nascent technology and the cost structures will vary widely based on how advanced the software and hardware the city decides to invest in. One example, Virtual Singapore, had a budget of $73 million for developing their digital twin platform and for researching the tools and technologies required (NRF, 2020).