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Building a Smart City from scratch – X

Rotterdam is creating a “digital twin” for the city, which will act as a platform for a new era of digital city applications. Image credit: EIP-SCC

10. Digital Twin

Digital Twins are becoming a widespread reality in many areas, they started to be used in manufacturing and are now expanding into healthcare, education and training … The field of AEC, Architecture Engineering and Construction, is also rapidly deploying the technology. It is starting with office buildings and extending to smart residential constructions (a digital twin smart building returned 36 million hits on Google in September 2019). This is easy to understand. Building construction is all based on CAD, Computer Aided Design, so constructors create first the digital image of the future building and use that image throughout the construction. That digital model is further used as building documentation through the life, operation, of the building in its monitoring, maintenance and modification.  The embedding of IoT (sensors) in the building, the presence of sensors and actuators in the building infrastructures make the creation of the digital shadow “native” to the building operation. The accumulation of data, including suppliers, components, people operating in and on the building creates the digital thread (the historical record). As you see we have, basically for free, the three components making up the digital twin (model, shadow and thread).

Cities are made of buildings, and much more. Having digital twins for the building provides important components, then you need to add digital twins representing the city infrastructures (and related processes), including power distribution and supply, waste management, transportation (and of course road infrastructure…), logistic chains,  stores and commerce, and …

This approach to create a digital twin of a city by clustering existing and future digital twins of its component is a pragmatic one and for sure a worthy way to go. However this approach may fall short of creating a useful digital twin of the city unless the municipality creates a global city framework to provide a coherent platform to access those digital twins and to enable their interactions.  Notice that in most cases digital twins are designed as closed systems thus it may be tricky to have them interoperate as part of a whole (that would be the case for a city).  The creation of a virtual digital twin, resulting from the assembly of many digital twins, each one representing a real entity, is yet a subject of research and basically requires to move into the semantic space and operate at that level.

Cities are now busy in setting a general framework to let them exploit existing digital twins and to steer the design of new digital twins in a direction that would make their exploitation easier. This is the case of Rotterdam and Singapore (watch the clip). Both cities have been exploiting the existence of digital twins in their area, as an example Rotterdam is leveraging on the Digital Twin of its port (using IBM technology) and Singapore leveraging the digital cadastral data of the city.

If you can start a smart city from scratch, like Amaravati the future capital of Andhra Pradesh, you may well approach it with a digital twin technology. Amaravati project, a  6.5 billion $ initiative, was presented at the Economic World Forum in Davos, Switzerland,  and it emphasises the value of adopting the Digital Twin technology.

The presentation of the BleuTech Park, that stimulated me to discuss technologies for smart cities, did not included, as far as I was able to learn, reference to digital twins but it wouldn’t surprise me if digital twins will be used extensively.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.