Think of a city as a single living organism, coordinating all its parts to benefit the lives of its people and the environment. That promise could be achieved by connecting digital twins—cyberspace mirrors of the components that make up a city—into a citywide ecosystem.
A digital twin is a virtual model of a real-world asset, such as a factory, electrical power plant, airplane, cargo vessel, car, wind turbine, or oil platform.
A digital twin in the construction industry spans the lifecycle of a project, from the beginning (planning and building), to the middle (operating and improving), to the end (decommissioning and disassembling the asset in a sustainable and cost-effective manner).
The physical and digital twins regularly exchange data throughout their shared lifecycle. Smart cities apply the digital twin idea specifically to parts of a municipality: buildings, streetlights, roads, public transit, waste management, the energy infrastructure, and so on.
The new vision is to link digital twins of parts of the city to create a “digital twin ecosystem,” enabling the city as a whole to more effectively respond to and anticipate events such as a pandemic, blizzard, traffic snarl, or just everyday life occurrences, says Frank Weiss, senior director of global product management for Oracle Construction and Engineering.
“Components of those already exist today, but they are not connected in a way that allows intelligence sharing to benefit the city as a whole,” Weiss says.
Frank Weiss, senior director of global product management, Oracle Construction and Engineering.
“An ecosystem of digital twins would result in a city that learns from how we live, combining multiple data sources to continually improve everything that we use and is around us,” says Weiss in a recent blog post.
Digital twin ecosystems are still in their early days, but we already see promising implementations and concepts:
• Rotterdam is building a smart thermal grid to facilitate heat exchange between buildings and make whole neighborhoods more energy efficient. The Dutch city is also implementing smart parking using mobile apps and wireless sensors to help drivers find spaces faster, reducing car mileage and pollution. The city also deployed a network of charging points for electrical vehicles.
• Rennes Métropole in France developed a 3D model of the entire city to simulate sun coverage, noise, and the effect of tree shadows on buildings. The goal is to reduce the city’s environmental impact and improve quality of life for city residents.
• In Finland, Helsinki uses a digital twin to improve energy efficiency and mitigate climate change. The city’s Energy and Climate Atlas model provides information on building heating systems, renovations, electricity consumption, heating, and water, and it lets city planners examine the solar-energy potential of buildings. Additionally, Helsinki’s 3D modeling provides for virtual tourism—people can visit the Finnish capital’s tourist attractions using virtual reality glasses and an app.
Digital twin ecosystems require a sophisticated technology framework. Oracle Cloud Infrastructure provides a secure elastic cloud foundation for building applications. Oracle Autonomous Database efficiently manages the petabytes of data required to make digital twin ecosystems run.
More specific to construction and engineering projects, Oracle Aconex is a common data environment—essentially a collaborative workspace—that helps construction companies, property owners, and subcontractors design, construct, and operate building projects. Oracle Primavera Cloud software helps planners schedule and manage these ambitious capital projects.
Tying it all together, Oracle’s Construction and Engineering team provides the complete software portfolio and professional services, grounded in deep industry expertise.
But no single technology provider can succeed alone at building a digital city twin, Weiss says. For example, partners will need to supply the billions of sensors that gather needed information, as well as additional building information modeling (BIM) and validation solutions.
Oracle is working on standards for interoperability with organizations such as the European Committee for Standardization, the International Organization for Standardization, and buildingSMART International, a community that’s creating interoperable digital tools for managing buildings, roads, railways, bridges, and other municipal infrastructure.
“The technology to gather and integrate data to create digital twins ecosystem is available today,” says buildingSMART International in a technical brief.
“But the data comes from different sources in different formats, and getting it all together is challenging. Different players still use proprietary formats… making it more difficult for the entire industry.”
In other words, many digital twin suppliers today lack awareness that they’re components of a bigger ecosystem. Standards are key to getting different vendors’ digital twin technologies to work with one another.
To help make digital twin ecosystems a reality, vendors, governments, and other stakeholders can join buildingSMART.
*Featured image: Jackal Pan/Getty Images.