Managing Smart City Digital Twin Expectations

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Managing Smart City Digital Twin Expectations

Floating neighbourhoods, anti-gravity towns with flying cars, and metropolises in outer space; the future of cities has long captivated people’s imaginations. Now, the concept of digital twins is gaining attention from urban centres. Digital twins are evolving digital models that mirror real-world assets, systems or processes. They replicate the properties of their physical counterparts, employing real-time and historical data to simulate and optimize performance.

Digital twins have become increasingly prominent in the industrial sector, enhancing facility design and enabling operational efficiencies. This technology is witnessing uptake in smart buildings, primarily within complex asset types, such as hospitals, airports and university campuses. The twin aims to deliver a digital view of a building’s entire life cycle and usher new advances across asset management and energy optimization. Although digital twins are gaining traction in the smart building market, the realization of a smart city based on this technology is still in its experimental phase.

Singapore, the world’s top-ranked smart city, naturally takes the lead with its Virtual Singapore initiative. Dassault Systèmes collaborated with Singapore’s National Research Foundation to develop a digital replica of the island that combines 3D modelling and predictive analytics. The model pulls real-time data from a network of sensors installed across the country as part of the Smart Nation initiative. The sensors record air quality, footfall, temperature, humidity and water usage amongst a multitude of other parameters. The city twin caters to various user segments. For example, town planners can visualize different infrastructure designs, while businesses can utilize it for resource planning.

Embracing the trend, other cities across the world are also entering the digital twin realm. Rotterdam’s open urban platform, intended to be fully operational in 2024, aims to help with urban planning and management, building permit applications and improved information provision for emergency services. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2030 the application of digital twin technology will save $280 billion in urban planning, construction and operations. Cost savings like this, amongst other benefits, are leading hundreds of other cities to deploy digital twins by 2025, including Brisbane, Dubai, Shanghai and Sydney. However, these smart cities have a long road to maturity, with most digital twin case studies currently functioning at an informative twin level, where the digital replica is linked to systems and sensors but lacks intelligence.

Despite its nascency, there is growing urgency for cities to implement digital twin technology due to the escalating complexity of urban challenges, including growing populations, climate change resiliency and resource allocation. Increased recognition of the value of real-time data insights coupled with the decreasing cost of the technology underpinning digital twins will trigger a broad array of municipal authorities to seek accessible methods to implement city digital twins. However, the fruition of an autonomous city twin, able to learn efficiently from diverse data sources and act on behalf of users, remains a distant aspiration.

Read our related research for more insights on the evolving landscape of digital twin technology for industrial facilities and smart buildings: Smart Innovators: Digital Twins For Industrial Facilities and High Value Use Cases For Smart Building Digital Twins.

Amelia Feehan

Senior Analyst

Amelia is a Senior Analyst in the Verdantix Smart Buildings practice. Her current research agenda focuses on digital twins, IoT solutions and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) software. Prior to joining Verdantix, Amelia worked as a façade engineer at Arup, where she gained experience in sustainable building design and construction. She holds an MEng in Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering from Trinity College Dublin.