Virtual Models for Real Development
In the past few years, the Digital Twin technology has attracted the attention of several countries around the world, prompting them to use digital replicas of the physical environment for better social, economic, and environmental outcomes.
In a Forbes article in 2017, Thomas Kaiser, then SAP Senior Vice President of IoT, was quoted saying, “Digital twins are becoming a business imperative, covering the entire lifecycle of an asset or process and forming the foundation for connected products and services. Companies that fail to respond will be le? behind.” Kaiser’s assessment was highly accurate, and it holds true not just for companies but even countries. In the last few years, several nations around the world have adopted the Digital Twin technology for better infrastructure development, risk assessment, predictive maintenance, real-time remote monitoring, team collaboration, financial decision-making, and many other reasons. Let’s look at some of these countries.
In the United Kingdom, the Centre for Digital Built Britain, a partnership between the University of Cambridge and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has been working on the National Digital Twin program (NDTp) since 2018. The program was initiated to deliver key recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission’s 2017 Data for the Public Good report. NDTp was launched to improve the way infrastructure is built, managed, operated, and eventually decommissioned. Its core objectives include:
- Enabling a National Digital Twin — an ecosystem of connected digital twins to foster better outcomes from the built environment.
- Delivering an Information Management Framework — to ensure secure resilient data-sharing and effective information management.
- Aligning a Digital Framework Task Group — to provide coordination and alignment among key players.
Under NDTp, the Digital Framework Task Group (DFTG) was set up as an advisory body, which includes senior leaders from the industry, academia, and the government. The program is believed to be a key step in the digital transformation of the infrastructure and construction sectors in the UK, and hopes to generate social, economic, business, and environmental benets. The NDTp runs the Digital Twin Hub, a collaborative and supportive web-enabled community for those who own or are developing Digital twins within the built environment.
To demonstrate the power of connected digital twins, Anglian Water, BT, and UK Power Networks are currently working together with NDTp on a Climate Resilience Demonstrator (CReDo). The three utility providers will build a Digital Twin across energy, water, and telecom networks to provide a practical example of how connected data can improve climate adaptation and resilience. “We are really excited for what we can deliver through CReDo: demonstration that connected digital twins can enable increased climate resilience, and that collaboration across a team that spans industry, academia, and government forms the pieces of the puzzle that unlock solutions to reaching net zero,” Sarah Hayes, CReDo Project Lead, was quoted as saying. NDTp is expected to eventually generate benefits worth £7 billion ($8.12 billion) per year for the UK, according to the Netherlands Geolocation Economy report by Geospatial World.
In Australia, Digital Twin technology is being leveraged by several states for better visualization, which can support administrative and business decision-making. For instance, work is underway by the New South Wales Department of Customer Service’s Spatial Services team to build a proof-of concept spatial Digital Twin of the state. The digital replica will help the New South Wales (NSW) government to react to natural disasters, including wildfires.
“Australia is a highly urbanized country, yet many of our nation’s challenges occur in and around our regions and in the interactions between cities and regions. The Digital Twin technology is important to Australia because we see the opportunity to apply it to model changes and create impacts in the wider landscape beyond our buildings and cities,” says Alison Rose, Chief of Place, Space and Communities Division, Geoscience Australia. Recently, the Government of Victoria announced a record investment in Digital Twin technology and spatial innovation, committing AU$37.4 million ($27.14 million) to the Digital Twin Victoria program. The initiative will harness cutting-edge Digital Twin technology, rich 3D and 4D spatial data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), sensor data, and more, to revolutionize how the administration plans, models, and consults on the built and natural environments.
The program encompasses seven workstreams — advanced Earth Observation, enhanced disaster response, utilities, asset management, faster subdivision registrations, automated approvals, and the Digital Twin Victoria platform. “The combined power of these workstreams will help facilitate better, data-driven decisions about the impact of change on our communities and the environment,” says Melissa Harris, Chief Executive, Land Use, Victoria. She adds that the Government of Victoria is taking a leadership role and helping industry groups work together to set the agenda and stimulate the discussion on what’s important and worth the effort.
Singapore, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, has seen significant vertical development over the years. The vertical development meant that traditional 2D town planning maps made way for high-resolution 3D maps, eventually leading to a dynamic 3D model called “Virtual Singapore”. Launched in 2014, the Virtual Singapore platform acts as a Digital Twin of the city-state and enables urban planners to test solutions without taking too many risks. The S$73 million ($54 million) project is led by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and is based on the 3D topographical data from Singapore Land Authority (SLA), the country’s national mapping agency. The platform also integrates geometric and image data from different public agencies, 2D data and information from existing geospatial and non-geospatial platforms, and legacy and real-time data from scores of sensors deployed all across the city-state as part of the Smart Nation initiative.
In 2019, the authorities in Singapore started developing GeoSpace-Sea, a virtual twin of the country’s land and coastal waters. GeoSpace-Sea can map out and present data in 2D and 3D forms for the authorities to monitor coastal and sea activities in real time and plan building projects. The digital model stores and presents data from 11 government agencies, including national water agency PUB and the Housing Board. Among other things, GeoSpace-Sea allows users to view and analyze the seabed with 3D images.
The Netherlands was one of the first countries to begin digital mapping in 1994. Over the years, several digital twins have been built across the Netherlands, including a digital replica of the port of Rotterdam, the biggest port in Europe and the sixth biggest in the world by annual cargo throughput. The project used emerging technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) and AI and was a collaborative effort that included the Rotterdam Port Authority, Axians, Cisco, IBM, and others. In the case of a Digital Twin for Amsterdam, the focus has been on mobility (data from traffic and public transport), human environment (air quality), and energy transition (using data from solar panels installed on buildings).
For the Dutch mission to create a Digital Twin, which is called the Nationale Digitale Tweeling Voor De Fysieke Leefomgeving or National Digital Twins for the Physical Environment (DTFL), Hexagon’s Geosystems division and Cyclomedia have partnered to host a complete virtual representation of the country that is called 3DNL. “The partnership with Hexagon enables Cyclomedia to create an innovative 3D data product such as 3DNL,” Frank Pauli, CEO, Cyclomedia, was quoted as saying.
The estimated size of the investment in the DTFL ecosystem, and other market instruments amounts to €41.6 million ($48.2 million). “In the Netherlands, the authorities have invested quite a lot in making the basic layer of information available. Simultaneously, a lot of work has happened on the digitalization front. We are gradually getting rid of silos and are making processes smarter and more efficient. We see great steps to establish a national Digital Twin, connecting all the dots. This program is of national and European interest,” says Bart Brink, Global Program Director, Digital Twin, Royal HaskoningDHV, and Chair of the Digital Twin Working Group within Buildings Smart International.
In the US, several government departments and agencies have been using digital twins for various needs. For instance, the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) of the Energy Department uses the technology to develop next-generation nuclear reactors. These nuclear reactors will run autonomously and be highly secure while operating with a level of monitoring, control, and supervision that has reportedly never been experienced. Further, all three military branches in the country — the Army, Navy, and Air Force — are either using or are in the process of exploring digital twins to improve weapons’ platforms and systems’ maintenance and readiness. Digital twins have also been used to assess cyber vulnerabilities within Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites and systems. These digital models have also found use in the healthcare sector. In order to help doctors find optimal treatments for certain lung cancer patients, the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute are conducting extensive research on Digital Twin applications.
Thanks to the potential use cases of these digital replicas, the Digital Twin market, which was estimated to be over $3 billion in 2020, is expected to be worth over $45 billion by 2026. Further, new standards will ensure that the new Digital Twin applications are more compatible, secure, and scalable. Together these developments will mean more countries adopting this transformative technology in the years to come.