1)The twin – a digital replica of a real asset?
Twins are far more than that. The key distinguishing feature of these ‘mirror systems’ from traditional 3D models is that they are connected with the physical original. A twin can provide insights beyond those that are currently seen with existing infrastructure models and can be used as a tool to aid decision making. Data is what brings a twin to life. A twin must deploy the following set of capabilities:
- It needs to be connected in real-time with the physical twin
- It needs to be integrated with relevant dataset and systems
- It needs to enable data visualisation across a data ecosystem
- It needs to be able to analyse federated data sets for business purpose
- It needs to be secure by applying technical and privacy standards.
2) Where does the twin originate from?
Industries including manufacturing and aerospace have long benefited from digital twins. Pioneers of the twin include NASA which developed a complex simulation of the Apollo 13 mission and used it to troubleshoot problems with a physical asset 200,000 miles away (with three astronauts inside it).
In the context of the built environment and cities, the digital twin is presenting owner operators and governments with a big opportunity to use data and technology to help resolve social and urban challenges and become more open, transparent and collaborative.
3) Why do we need them for our cities and built environment?
By effectively connecting and integrating datasets from various sources across the entire ecosystem, twins are transforming how we plan, design, and manage our natural and built environment. A virtual replica, armed with real-time information, can drive a sustainable economy and ensure the best possible service delivery for users/customers.
4) Why now?
Affordability of infrastructure development and management is a pressing concern. Given this context, it is vital that our governments consider significant changes to the way infrastructure is planned, delivered and operated, to optimise capital investment, reduce whole life costs and ensure the right service delivery and social outcomes are achieved.
The development and implementation of digital technologies presents an opportunity to support the change required. Digital enablement can provide a platform for integrated planning, improved design and help to drive efficiency in construction as well as optimising asset operation.
5) How complex is the process of establishing a twin?
The development – ‘building’ – of a digital clone requires graft with strict data quality gateways in place, integration flows established, and clear information creation and exchange processes implemented to ensure consistency and an organised approach. But the ‘pain’ of this initial work proves well worth it when the end-result is data in a meaningful, engaging format, which is reliable, easy to access, quick to surface and has real value to the asset owner /manager.
6) Where in our built environment are twins being used today?
HS2, Europe’s largest infrastructure project, is building a ‘virtual’ railway alongside the physical asset. Using PCSG’s cloud-based platform, GeoConnect+, it is connecting-up the vast volume of asset and project data which is being managed and procured on the project and making it easy to access and interpret by the delivery teams. This supports better, quicker capital delivery. On completion, a digital twin of the entire rail system will be handed over to the asset maintainers to ensure optimised performance of the flagship railway.
7) Are twins focused on the delivery of assets only?
No, twins can be established to unlock benefits at any stage of the life-cycle to improve performance, boost efficiency and enhance the customer experience. Highways England, for example, has been working with us to develop a data integration platform (Business Information Framework) to enable diverse data about its existing assets to be captured, managed and transformed into accessible, usable information.
8) There are big ambitions for this technology in our built environment?
Yes – the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) in the UK,, for example, has recommended a ‘national digital twin’ – a connected model of the UK’s entire infrastructure network spanning energy, water, transport and communications. It says this development could “vastly improve” how infrastructure is managed, maintained and planned in the future.
In February, the NSW Government announced details of the “world’s largest spatial digital twin.” The twin will provide 3D and 4D spatial data and models of built and natural environments.
Minister for Customer Service, Victor Dominello, said the twin will “allow us to better plan infrastructure, precincts and communities by providing real-time information and visualisation of buildings, roads, hospitals, schools and libraries, even before construction begins,”
The Fisherman’s Bend Precinct project – Australia’s largest urban renewal project covering around 480 hectares in the heart of Melbourne – has been chosen as the area to pilot Digital Twin technology in Victoria.
9)What’s the value of the market?
The economic benefits of digital twins, smart cities and emerging digital technologies are considerable. The global digital twin market is projected to be US$29.1 billion (AU$43.3 billion) by 2025.
In Australia, emerging digital technologies such as IoT and big data are predicted to increase our annual GDP growth rate by 0.5 to 1.0 percent, and the aggregate direct and indirect value of government data in Australia was AU$25 billion per annum in 2014.
10) Are twins set to become a feature of our built environment?
Yes – to help deliver and operate our built environment more effectively we need digital twins to help us to use data to better understand planning policy & development issues. We can also test interventions and monitor the impact of decisions as well as improve social, economic and environmental outcomes.
Ultimately, the twin can support faster, more robust regulatory assessments and compliance monitoring, more community-centric design and engagement, as well as opportunities for new innovation products, services, jobs and industries.