Explainer: What Makes a Good Digital Twin? We Asked the Experts
Here’s what separate good digital twins from the bad ones
Well, it turns out the components of a good digital twin are as plentiful as its use cases. A quick reminder that the definitions of what is and isn’t a digital twin vary depending on whom you ask, but for Dan Isaac, Chief Technology Officer at the Digital Twin Consortium (DTC), “a digital twin is a virtual representation of real-world entities and processes, synchronized at a specified frequency and fidelity.”
The DTC is a global think tank focused on the acceleration and adoption of digital twins around the world. (Disclosure: 3D CityScapes is a member of the DTC) Technical details aside, Isaac says how good a digital twin is will come down to the job it’s created for.
“A good digital twin addresses a real business problem and provides a solution that can only be achieved using a Digital Twin approach.” He adds that, at the end of the day, good digital twins help businesses by enabling “optimal decision-making and effective action.”
That’s in line with Stephen Fai, an associate professor with the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University in Ottawa, who shares a more holistic approach to digital twins.
“I think a good digital twin would be something that’s inclusive,” said Fai, citing the big players in the digital twin space tend to produce one-size-fits-all solutions and adds that good twins are “something appropriate for the application.”
Aside from treating digital twins as the right tool for the right job, data integration also plays a crucial factor.
“There’s no twin without the exchange of data. If there’s no data then it’s a mirror,” said Fai. He’s also the director of Carleton Immersive Media Studio and the principal investigator behind the Imagining Canada’s Digital Twin project, a federally funded research project into what it would take to make a digital twin of Canada.
Isaac takes it a step further, liking digital twins to a heart and data as the “lifeblood”.
“The frequency or the twinning rate is akin to the heartbeat,” said Isaac. “The virtual representation and the real world are synchronized – this is the mechanism for the transferal of the data to ensure the requisite level of fidelity between the virtual representation and the physical entity or process.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by David Weir-McCall, a business development manager at Epic Games, the company behind the Unreal gaming engine used to power some digital twins.
“For us, it’s the link to live, continuous data for it to be a digital twin and not just a digital snapshot,” said Weir-McCall.
At Epic, the company is less focused on making digital twins and more invested in creating tools to power them. That’s given people like Weir-McCall insight into examples that incorporate the four components present in any good digital twin: a 3D model, data integration, visualization of that data and an accessible user interface. He highlighted BuildMedia’s digital twin of Wellington, New Zealand, as a good case study.
“It’s a brilliant example of how data has been sitting — for free — in an open-source database from Wellington city council for the last number of years. It’s very inaccessible in the way that you have to read XML data in order to understand it,” said Weir-McCall.
“BuildMedia basically looked to create a place where that data is visualized so that the citizens of Wellington can actually understand how their city runs. That’s what a great example of a translation layer is between data that is open and free and available to people who want to understand and make better decisions with that information.”
The results of projects like BuildMedia have Issac excited for what’s to come.
“The next generation of Digital Twins will open the doors to what was only envisioned before in imagination. This means that we can better understand the world we live in today and provide the path to changing the future for the betterment of society as a whole.”
Do you agree or disagree with these takes of what makes a good digital twin? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
How Digital Twins Safeguard Cities Against Natural Disasters
Experts say the recent floods in Canada are a reminder to other cities about using digital twins to protect residents from natural disasters
Digital twins have a role to play in helping cities better plan ahead and minimize damage as emergencies related to natural disasters become more frequent, according to experts.
This comes as three days of torrential rainfall battered parts of Atlantic Canada earlier this week. Residents in Cape Breton had to contend with 10 to 15 cm of rainfall, while the same storm dumped 20 cm of precipitation on residents in Victoria County, N.S., prompting officials to declare a state of emergency.
The situation wasn’t much better in Port aux Basques, a town in the southwestern region of Newfoundland. The town is expecting 30 cm of rainfall by the time the storm passes on Thursday. It usually sees an average of 160 mm spread out over all of November.
The rain has already washed out roads, flooding the main part of the Trans-Canada Highway and a smaller secondary highway along the southern coast, effectively cutting off the town of 4,000 from the rest of the island, according to the Canadian Press.
— Transportation and Infrastructure NL (@TI_GovNL) November 24, 2021
Out west, cleanup efforts continue in British Columbia, which saw historic flooding mid-November and a summer where record-breaking temperatures created a deadly heat dome and the third-worst season for forest fires in the province.
What Happened In B.C.?
A natural phenomenon known as an atmospheric river swept over the province, dumping over 10 cm of rain in 24 B.C. communities from Nov. 14 to Nov. 15, according to Environment Canada.
The town of Hope, B.C., smashed previous records and endured over 25 cm of rain over the weekend. To put things in perspective, the town’s average rainfall in all of November is 34.4 cm.
Atmospheric rivers are when bands of moist air travel from the tropics to the poles. In this case, the one passing over B.C. was carrying lots of moisture, and when it passed over the cooler mountain regions, turning that excess moisture into rain. They typically pass over a coastal region in 20 hours. The one in B.C. took close to 72 hours, according to the Globe and Mail.
What Were The Repercussions?
Flooding and landslides triggered by the sudden and heavy rainfall turned deadly, killing at least four people and leaving one person missing. It also wreaked havoc for communities located on low-level land and for anyone transporting or receiving goods.
The B.C. government entered a two-week state of emergency on Nov. 17 to help manage the distribution of food, supplies and fuel due to damaged roads making transporting goods near impossible. It says 17,775 people have been displaced by evacuations related to flooding. Over 9,000 more properties are either on evacuation order or evacuation alert.
For farmers, many had to abandon their livestock in order to get to safety and dramatic footage emerged of some trying to guide cattle on jet skis and canoes to higher ground. It’s the latest blow to dairy and livestock farmers as the brutal heatwave in the summer killed off many crops and animals. Farmers fortunate to have animals after the flood now face logistical nightmares about restoring power, keeping animals fed and healthy and transporting their goods to distributors.
At the Port of Vancouver, Canada’s largest seaport, shipping delays began piling up due to washed-out railroads, impacting deliveries from Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and Canadian National Railway Co. The delays meant nearly 1,000 rail carts carrying grain sat idle, Bloomberg reported.
Where Do Digital Twins Fit In?
While observers have described the weather conditions behind the flooding as something that only happens once in a century, other cities should take heed now, if you ask Ali Asgary.
“Other cities should realize that we are entering a phase of climate change when the past data may not sufficiently describe the frequency and severity of natural hazards events,” said the associate professor of Disaster & Emergency Management at York University in Toronto.
“It is imperative that cities update their risk assessment, treatment and communication models and approaches, and cost-benefit analysis to consider the new realities. More investments in risk mitigation and adaptation, as well as emergency preparedness, are needed if we aim to reduce the cascading and catastrophic impacts,” he added.
A 2019 white paper by Bentley Systems, a U.S.-based software company, specifically highlighted digital twins as a tool that cities should adopt to reduce flooding damage.
“Predicting floods in a city is challenging because “compound” flooding can result from a combination of origins, such as a river, rainfall, storm surges, sea level rise, and soil sealing. It is only possible to face these types of flood events with a holistic approach with software capable of integrating the different flood origins, such as flood modeling and simulation solutions. The results that these solutions generated can then serve as a simulation input to a city’s digital twin.”
It’s worth noting that B.C.’s flooding could be classified as a pluvial or rain-related flood but remains unique in the sense that it was hit with a double whammy of cause factors: intense rain as well as run-off, due to the summer’s forest fires that created a waxy top layer preventing the soil from absorbing some of the rainfall, according to experts quoted by the CBC.
The #BCWildfire Service has been working collaboratively with industry partners to manage the Garrison Lake Wildfire (K62088), which originated 33 kilometres southwest of #PrincetonBC. pic.twitter.com/Rmp5hI7DeB
— BC Wildfire Service (@BCGovFireInfo) August 20, 2021
For Asgary, there are additional benefits for cities to adopt digital twins: education as well as hazard and risk analysis.
“Using 3D models and digital twins, it’s possible to better measure the effectiveness of various hazard mitigation and adaptation measures. Such information is also more appealing and effective for communicating the risk and risk mitigation to the general public,” he said.
“The real world is a 3D world. 3D modelling and visualization is the best way to [view] reality.”
Flood evacuees seeking more information can head here for the latest details from the B.C. government
Space Agency Tackles Climate Change with Ambitious Digital Twin Project
Digital twins are back in the spotlight as the European Space Agency gave an update on the project ahead of the COP26 Glasgow, the United Nations’ climate change conference
Digital twins are back in the spotlight as policymakers from around the world gather at COP26, the UN conference in Glasgow, Scotland, to hash out solutions to combat climate change.
Last week, the National Digital Twin programme (NDTp) and partners on the Climate Resilience Demonstrator (CReDo) debuted a short film and interactive app to highlight how interconnected digital twins offer cities better protection against climate change vs. their non-connected counterparts.
“We want the film and app to connect with everyone, from asset owners to the public, and remind them that lives are at stake. We need to build more resilience into our systems, and that takes collaboration,” said Sarah Hayes, the project’s lead and author of the report Data for the Public Good, in a statement.
The idea is that digital twins allow for just about anyone to interact with a virtual replica of a living or non-living asset that’s fed with real-time data from an array of sensors. In the case of NDTp and CReDo, those assets are cities.
But for other agencies and companies, their ambitions are much bigger in scale.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has been chipping away at a digital twin of Earth since the summer of 2021 as part of Destination Earth, or as they prefer to call it, “DestinE”.
It’s an ambitious project in scope as it wants to create a digital crystal ball to help users predict major environmental damage and disasters before they happen.
“It will focus on the effects of climate change, water and marine environments, polar areas, cryosphere, biodiversity or extreme weather events, together with possible adaptation and mitigation strategies,” the agency wrote in a September update. “It will help to predict major environmental degradation and disasters with unprecedented fidelity and reliability.”
The agency goes on to break down the focus of the twin in a few key areas: the Antarctic, oceans, forests. The program also touches on other topics through smaller-scale digital twins like climate change through monitoring drought in Africa and hydrology in Northern Italy.
“We have used the Antarctic twin to track the whereabouts of melt water on and under the ice sheet, and to explore how fringing ice shelves melt under various hydrology scenarios,” said Noel Gourmelen, a researcher with the University of Edinburgh whose team built the digital twin of Antarctica.
Also jumping on the digital twin game in the name of climate change is computer hardware company Nvidia, which recently announced its ambitions at the 2021 GPU Technology Conference.
“We will build a digital twin to simulate and predict climate change,” said Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang, according to VentureBeat. “This new supercomputer will be E2, Earth 2, the digital twin of Earth, running Modulus-created AI physics at a million times the speed in the Omniverse.”
The Omniverse is Nvidia’s platform allowing engineers to build the foundations for their metaverse, which allows for a connected network of virtual worlds.
Details are still scarce but Huang says his company plans to rely on its strengths to make it happen.
Details are still scarce but Huang says his company plans to rely on its strengths to make it happen.
“To develop strategies to mitigate and adapt is arguably one of the greatest challenges facing society today,” said Huang. “The combination of accelerated computing, physics ML, and giant computer systems can give us a million times leap — and give us a shot.”
For Roy Damgrave, an assistant professor of design, production and management at the University of Twente, the push towards digital twins represents a shift in attitudes from companies unheard of decades ago.
“I must say — and it’s solely because I’m coming from the engineering perspective — the companies we talk to are more focused on waste, capturing energy consumption, and carbon footprint. That information is a visible layer in a twin. I think five or 10 years ago, they would have never asked for that, Damgrave told 3D CityScapes.
Damgrave, who is more interested in the act of digital twinning vs. building digital twins, says the potential to fight against climate change ultimately lies in the power to shape the world how society needs it to be instead of how things currently are.
“If we’re not connecting the twin to reality then we bring up some simulations and look at how the world should or could be, and how it can be at certain moments.”
How would you like to see digital twinning used to fight climate change? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below.
8 Cities Using Digital Twins to Help Residents
Seoul’s “Digital Twin S-Map” is the latest example of cities utilizing digital twins to make life easier for citizens
What do Squid Games, K-Pop, and digital twins have all in common? Well, if you’re paying close attention to what’s coming out of South Korea then you’ll have your answer.
The city of Seoul released an interactive 3D map of the region for smartphones and tablets late October. The map can deliver real-time information like traffic conditions and real estate info at any time, reports Aju Business Daily. The “Digital Twin S-Map” is a mobile-friendly version of its S-Map digital twin that the city released back in April 2021 and offers the same top-down perspective for users.
It’s the latest digital twin from South Korea and comes after a successful 2019 partnership between cellular provider SK Telecom and the country’s nuclear power plant operator, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, to build digital twins of nuclear power plants to help improve the facilities’ energy efficiency and durability.
Here are seven other cities that have become examples of how digital twins can help citizens.
1. Auckland, New Zealand
The city of Auckland partnered with consultancy firm Mott McDonald to build its Safeswim program. The app displays information from monitors installed at 10 points across the city’s wastewater network. Combined with real-time tidal, river hydraulic and weather data, the app is able to predict when sewage overflow can make swimming unsafe at the city’s 80+ beaches. Users can then see which beaches are okay to visit before heading out via the app.
The program has become so successful it’s getting exported to other cities as part of a multi-million dollar joint venture between the city and Mott McDonald, the New Zealand Herald reports.
2. Carson City, Nevada, United States
Carson City, located about 32km south of Reno, Nev., has had something of a drought problem for the last few years. With more water shortages looming, the city turned to a software company, Aveva, to roll out a digital twin of the city’s water system.
By training city workers on how to view the twin on iPads, they were able to run simulations of peak water usage and see how that would impact the city’s water supply levels. In the end, the city was able to make informed decisions on rebalancing the water usage across transportation, landfill, fleet, environmental, renewable power, and waster-water systems across three counties. In the end, they were able to find a 15 percent reduction in staff’s hours, thanks to saved drive time.
3. Valencia, Spain
Global Omnium, Valencia’s water utility company, teamed up with smart water technology company GoAigua to build a digital twin of the city’s water network in 2009 and the city has been reaping the benefits of it ever since.
The system serves the city’s 1.7 million residents and has boosted customer satisfaction by 60 percent; saved 15 percent of the energy needed for water treatment; and saved one billion gallons of water a year through a 20 percent reduction in maintenance operation expenses.
The digital twin technology shined again during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, playing a vital role in reducing preventable malfunctions, according to Pilar Conejos, Head of Network Control and Regulation for Valencia Metropolitan Area at Global Omnium.
“GoAigua’s Digital Twin makes it possible to prevent problems and determine the measures required to avoid the appearance of contingencies or minimize their consequences,” said Conejos in an internal interview. “This is very important in situations such as the present one, where travel and fieldwork are very limited, and where it is also necessary to minimize breakdowns or interruptions in service as much as possible.”
4. Maracaibo, Venezuela
Maracaibo is Venezuela’s second-largest city but its digital twin is one of the earliest in Latin America. The project comes courtesy of a partnership with Esri Venezuela and the University of Zulia, mapping 100,000 buildings spread over 22,000 hectares of urban sprawl. The twin offers a robust display of information like power usage, mobility patterns and gives good insight into zoning and regulation information for specific properties and developments, notes ArcGIS.
The twin has since been used for government policy planning like evaluating future development projects based on their proximity to medical services and public parks, according to Esri Canada.
5. Helsinki, Finland
The Finnish capital has not one but two digital twins. Virtual Helsinki was created in partnership with Zoan and Epic to create a virtual reality tour of the city through all four seasons of the year using the Unreal engine.
Users begin at the empire-style senate square and the white church, journeying to the home of architect Alvar Aalto, known for his contributions to Nordic design, before journeying to Lonna Island and gazing at the city skyline.
Helsinki’s second digital twin focuses on the neighbourhood of Kalasatama and was completed at the end of January 2019 after eight months of development. The purpose was to build a digital twin so the city could test and plan initiatives digitally first before rolling them out in real life.
Success with the Kalasatama digital twin has already spun off a city Energy and Climate Atlas where residents can see building-specific information like energy certification, heating systems, energy consumption and the potential for solar energy.
6. New York City, New York, United States
The Vision Zero task force came together in 2014 with the goal of curbing preventable traffic fatalities in the city. The group brought together members from 15 different groups and agencies and also birthed a dashboard that tracks the key metrics on pedestrian safety.
It’s powered by Internet of Things sensors to track pedestrian and vehicle traffic along with cameras. Data is collected on a monthly basis and collisions are mapped to the nearest intersection. This gives decision makers the power to monitor real-time traffic flow, collisions and allow for predictive analysis to manage congestion and help keep pedestrians safe.
You can’t talk about digital twins of cities and not bring up Singapore. The Asian city launched its plans to build a digital twin of their entire city in 2014 and rolled it out in 2018 with an estimated price tag of $73M. The project had buy-in from four government agencies: The National Research Foundation (NRF), Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) and makes it unique in that it didn’t begin with any outside partnerships.
The twin was created with four goals in mind: Research and development, virtual test-bedding, planning and decision making. It has since gone on to be used to improve accessibility for the elderly and those with disabilities by highlighting convenient routes and sheltered pathways to public transit stations.
Are there any examples of cities using digital twins that we missed? Let us know in the comments below.
5 Real-World Examples of Digital Twins
From virtual hearts to Formula 1 racecars, these industries are showing off the potential of digital twins.
You might think of digital twins as a recent innovation of information technology meeting 3D visualization but the concept actually dates back to 1960 thanks to NASA.
The U.S. space agency created one of the first examples of a digital twin when it cloned systems on the ground level to mirror what was happening aboard their shuttles in space. A notable example of this was during the Apollo 13 space mission in 1970 when mission control used digital twins to run through simulations on Earth in order to safely bring back three astronauts from orbit following an oxygen tank explosion.
Digital twins have since seen a gradual adoption in the last 50 or so years thanks to advancements in data collection and industry adoption in these fields:
Healthcare: Be Still My Beating Heart
French company Dassault Systèmes has been developing a digital twin of the human heart since 2013 as part of its “Living Heart Project.” They released their first iteration in 2015 where the program turns a 2D scan of a person’s heart into a 3D model made up of 208,561 miniature digital tetrahedrons, according to Slate.
Today, the digital twin has evolved into a Living Heart Human Model that mimics a healthy four-chamber human heart, complete with bio-electrical, structural, and fluid flow physics. The twin allows doctors to study general heart defects, heart diseases and even run simulations on how the heart takes to medical devices like pacemakers or annuloplasty rings.
Aerospace: Ready For Takeoff
You’d be forgiven if wheels are the last thing you’re thinking about when boarding a plane. But consider for a second how they’re actually a crucial mechanism for taking off, braking, and landing. They’re also one of the more complex sections of a passenger plane that digital twins can help simplify.
That’s the approach Safran Landing Systems, a world leader in design, development, manufacturing, and support of landing gear systems, adopted when it comes to designing their systems. From the get-go, engineers create digital twins of their processes – from the landing gear structure, wheels, brakes and system equipment – to test and modify design choices in a more efficient manner.
“Virtual integration through the digital twin makes it possible to anticipate the commissioning of our products very early on, even well before the production of the first components, said Jérome Fraval, Systems Modeling and Simulation Method Leader at Safran Landing Systems in an interview with Engineer innovation. “[This] makes it possible to observe sometimes complex physical phenomena and to adjust, if needed, the product design.”
Automotive: Need For Speed
There are a lot of factors that can make or break winning a Formula 1 race. The engineering of the car, drivers’ skill levels or preparation, and the pit crew are all obvious factors. A relatively unknown element? Simulator analytics.
For Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, digital simulations are the “unsung hero” in winning a race. The German racing team teamed up with Tibico, a software company, to break down all the data connected to the racing team’s simulators. By using a driving simulator, Motorsport subjected their drivers and the cars through various situations to mimic real-world track conditions. Meanwhile, engineers would collect data – sometimes more than half a week’s worth – to determine the optimal set-up for race day.
“We can apply predictive algorithms to understand what changes we made at previous events to learn and predict what we’ll do at future events. Using similar examples we’ve come across in previous seasons or circuits gives us direction,” said Michael Sansoni, senior performance and simulation engineer for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport.
Energy: Going Where The Wind Blows
When it comes to digital twins in the energy sector, General Electric has been applying the concept to its windmills since 2018. The U.S. conglomerate built a digital twin of the Haliade 150-6 wind turbine’s yaw motors used in their windmills across France.
By using sensors embedded in the turbines, workers are able to monitor the internal current to see how hot the engines would run. By tracking this data, engineers could evaluate the machine’s efficiency and determine when it was best to push engine speeds or to pull back.
“The better you monitor the temperature, the better you know the impact of the way you are using it,” says Hervé Sabot, engineering director at GE’s Digital Foundry in Paris. “The challenge here is to boost the capacity of our customer’s assets to avoid outages and have them perform as fast as possible.”
The company has since been applying its knowledge of data collection to create an app to allow for monitoring of all the company’s jet, gas, and locomotive engines.
Urban Planning: Welcome To Carson City, Nevada
Carson City, Nev. has been monitoring drought levels since 2000 but over the last few years it’s been hit with water shortages during peak periods, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company. To help mitigate this, the city enlisted the help of Aveva, a software company, to roll out a digital twin of the city’s shared water system.
Infrastructure workers used that twin to run simulations of potential scenarios of peak usage to see how that would impact water supply levels. In the end, that led to decisions to help rebalance water usage across transportation, landfill, fleet, environmental, renewable power, and waste-water systems across three counties and led to a 15 percent reduction in operation’s staff hours due to saved “drive time”.
What other industries do you think could benefit from adopting digital twin technology? Sound off in the comments below.
Metaverses vs. Digital Twins: Here are the differences between the two
Facebook’s discussed name change could signal a focus on creating a metaverse
There’s a lot of talk about the metaverse these days thanks to an impending rebrand from social media juggernaut, Facebook. According to the Verge, the company could announce a new name for itself by the end of October and that move could be tied towards its focus on building a metaverse.
But what is a metaverse, exactly?
Well, that’s a little hard to pin down as it’s not something owned or operated by a single company (for now, at least). That said, current visions for metaverses revolve around a digital space where users enter to interact with other people virtually. That’s pretty true to author Neal Stephenson’s vision of a metaverse that he first coined in 1992 with his novel, Snow Crash.
Fast-forward to today and the closest examples of metaverses include video games like Roblox, where players can craft virtual avatars of themselves and interact with others, Minecraft where users can create open-world environments other participants can join in on, and Fortnite where players can battle to the death of custom-built islands or chill out and watch virtual concerts.
If that level of world-building sounds a bit like a digital twin, that’s because they share some similarities. Like Fortnite, 3D Cityscapes’ digital twins are also powered by EPIC Games’ Unreal Engine. But broadly speaking, a digital twin is “the connection between a physical asset and its virtual counterpart. By using IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, data connect the two to allow for real-time monitoring and can help run simulations,” says Alex Ramirez, an associate professor of information systems at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business in Ottawa.
Ramirez is also part of Imagining Canada’s Digital Twin, a federally funded project with Carleton University investigating what it would take to build a national digital twin of Canada.
Much like metaverses, it’s possible to build entire worlds and populate them with avatars within digital twins. Both can scale and grow as developers see fit but there are some limitations.
For starters, metaverses can be created from the ground up since they don’t need to be tied to any physically existing asset. Digital twins, on the other hand, require an object or process to mirror and that has to do with sensors.
This brings us to our next difference-maker: data. Digital twins live and die by data integration. By utilizing sensors attached to a real-world asset, real-time data forms that bridge connecting it to its virtual counterpart. Metaverses don’t necessarily need sensor data to exist on their own, though the potential to connect with real-time data could be down the road.
There is another aspect that separates metaverses from digital twins, according to Ramirez.
“Metaverses require a level of immersion that digital twins do not.”
While digital twins can be utilized by anyone in the real world, metaverses typically ask users to immerse themselves by entering a virtual space. That also means there is a certain level of accessibility separating the two. While a digital twin can be viewed on a tablet, phone, or computer, immersive metaverses often require a virtual reality (VR)or augmented reality (AR) headset.
Given that Facebook purchased Oculus, a company specializing in VR back in 2014, that could hint at the direction the company will take when it comes to building their own metaverse.
The metaverse is “going to be a big focus, and I think that this is just going to be a big part of the next chapter for the way that the internet evolves after the mobile internet,” Zuckerberg told The Verge’s Casey Newton earlier in the summer. “And I think it’s going to be the next big chapter for our company too, really doubling down in this area.”
Facebook is expected to announce more at their Connect Conference on Oct.28.
What makes you more excited for the future of visualization: metaverses or digital twins? Let us know in the comments below.
What’s Powering 3D CityScapes’ Digital Twins?
Unreal Engine, sensors, and a heck of a lotta data
In their simplest form, digital twins are virtual counterparts of real-world assets and processes that are connected by real-time data.
But what goes into building digital twins is a bit more complex. Over at 3D CityScapes, a Canadian tech startup specializing in building digital twins, the award-winning 3D visualization models are rendered in Unreal Engine by a team of seasoned developers and brought alive via real-time data integration.
Data (and lots of it)
What makes a digital twin different from any other 3D model is its integration with data sets. Any good model will offer a snapshot of an object at any given time. But by pairing it with a cloud-based system, digital twins are able to pull information from application programming interfaces (APIs) and display real-time conditions in and around an asset.
The result is a living, breathing interactive 3D rendering that visually communicates complex data to its users. This allows users to see, understand, and proactively use the data available to increase efficiency, reduce risks, and monitor the status of any given asset. And even if the data doesn’t exist (yet), digital twins allow for modelling of hypothetical scenarios. Now with the cloud-streaming features, end users can access the digital twin application from anywhere, on any device with an internet connection.
Speaking of data, that’s largely collected by IoT (Internet of Things) sensors. At its core, IoT sensors are devices connected to the internet for easy collection, processing, and dissemination of information. 3D CityScapes doesn’t collect data itself but instead partners with groups like Sinay, a maritime data solutions company,to use their sensor networks. By teaming up, we’re able to visualize information like noise pollution, water contamination levels, and the movements of vessels and containers, adding a layer of value within our digital twins of smart seaports.
This partnership allows pockets of information that would usually sit siloed from each other to now be visualized together in a way that allows for predictive modelling, historical tracking, or real-time analysis.
A POWERFUL RENDERING ENGINE
3D CityScapes’ digital twins are distinct due to their photorealistic look. That’s thanks in part to the rendering software of choice, Unreal Engine 4. By using a proprietary mix of plug-ins, 3D CityScapes’ developers are able to use the engine to compile different images and data, and stitch them together in Unreal with ease and efficiency.
If you’re a gamer, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Epic’s Unreal 4 as the engine powering games like Fortnite, Gears of War 5, or Kingdom Hearts 3. But the crossover from gaming to 3D visualization is more natural than you might think, according to David Weir-McCall, business development manager for architecture, engineering and construction at Epic.
“With digital twins, it’s really again about creating that thing people have been doing for many decades in the games industry, which is crafting a story,” said Weir-McCall.
He likens it to communicating large volumes of data that might be dense for anyone not from an architecture background through a visual medium.
“It’s what we like to call digital storytelling in a sense that we’re able to custom create your own user experience through your design or through your building.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Unreal engine makes things easy on the eyes.
“New features like ray tracing and path tracing help add to the realism, giving our version of Unreal a long stride ahead of any other rendering system,” said Francesco Guido, 3D CityScapes’ lead developer. “With a large list of benefits like the engine being open-source, an extensive list of documentation, a huge community, and a great profiler for developers, it was the best choice to kick off all our new projects with.”
The results are digital twins that stand out for two reasons, for David Weir-McCall.
“There are a couple of aspects to them that are really unique for us. Firstly, the size and scale you guys are working with and then the level of fidelity that we see coming from you guys as well,” said Weir-McCall.
A TERRIFIC TEAM
Data and powerful visualization software are great items to have, but at the heart of it all, is 3D CityScapes’ team of developers who take the two and marry them together. Schedule a meeting with 3D CityScapes to start a conversation via the booking button below.
What industries do you think digital twins could have the most impact on?
3D Visualization and Air Travel: Meet the Airports Embracing Digital Twins
Airports in Vancouver, Singapore, and Amsterdam have taken off with creative applications of 3D visualization
As international and domestic air travel ramps up to pre-pandemic levels, airports represent a ripe opportunity to become smarter and more efficient for everyone coming and going.
That’s largely thanks to advancements in 3D visualization, particularly with digital twins — virtual and interactive models of buildings and infrastructure next brought alive through real-time data.
Here are three airports that’ve committed to 3D technology and how it’s helped their business.
Like just about any organization around the world, the Vancouver Airport Authority had to pivot when the pandemic shut down travel in 2020. It opened up a technology testbed, partnering with the British Columbia Institute of Technology as a lab for Internet of Things initiatives (IoT).
Other partnerships include a collaboration with Unity Technology and GeoSim Cities to create a digital twin of YVR in order to better plan for the future, according to Vancouver Airport Authority President and CEO, Tamara Vrooman.
“This work presents a broad range of future possibilities, from assessing how we could adjust terminal layouts to account for COVID-19 rapid testing, to testing the effectiveness of accessibility features and optimizing our airfield movements to reduce greenhouse gases,” said Vroonman in a release.
When it comes to collecting geographic information system (GIS) data, Schiphol Airport has been in the game since 1985. Using its trove of spatial and geographical data, the airport rolled out a multi-year renovation project in 2017. Part of that included a digital twin of the airport.
“The airport’s digital asset twin provides the opportunity to run simulations on potential operational failures throughout the entire complex, which saves us both time and money,” Kees van ’t Hoog, head of the Development Operations team at Schiphol Airport, told ESRI writer Jim Baumann.
The digital twin helps tracks more than 80,000 assets found inside and outside the airport. Sensors collect information on networks, runways, lighting systems, information booths and down to fire extinguishers.
They’ve since built on the twin with aggregated passenger tracking data. In 2018, AMS partnered with Veovo, a tech company specializing in operations optimization to monitor indoor foot traffic. Sensors detect passengers’ wireless devices, giving them a unique I.D. that’s encrypted and time-stamped. The system then measures travel time and movement patterns to help make decisions about queue lengths and traffic flow.
When you’ve built a digital twin of your entire city, building a digital twin of your airport sounds like a no-brainer.
In 2014, Singapore’s federal government announced its plans to digitalize the entire country. The goal? To have a virtual and interactive model in 3D to aid in planning and decision making, virtual test-bedding and experimentation, along with research and development.
Vouse was at the Singapore Airshow 2020!
We were proud to unveil the Smart City Solutions interactive display for our client.
The real-time simulation is a city-building game. It let users upgrade the city using our client's urban & infra facilities & see the city transform! pic.twitter.com/aMhpluKGn0
— Vouse (@VouseSG) March 18, 2020
The city’s Changi Airport had similar ideas in mind when they teamed up with local 3D design consultancy Vouse to create a digital twin of Terminals 1 to 4. By melding architectural blueprints with data collected on site, airport authorities could test certain decisions before committing to them in real life. One example includes trialing the visibility of road signage in a driving simulator to see how it would help visitors navigate around the airport.
SIN’s twin now has the potential to integrate with real-time flight data and ground traffic information to help with travellers better plan their trips.
How would you like to see a digital twin improve your local airport? Sound off in the comments below.
Preventing the Next Shipping Container Cargo Crunch with 3D Imaging Tech
Visualization software can help smooth out kinks in supply chain management
If the shelves at your favourite stores are looking a little bare or you’re encountering sticker shock over your latest grocery bills then you’re not alone. A global supply chain crunch is making delivering imports tougher than usual and driving up costs of certain goods higher for anyone lucky enough to find what they need.
A perfect storm of COVID-19 outbreaks and labour shortages going back to the summer has resulted in shipping container delays and rising costs in major ports in the U.S. and China. Ningbo-Zhoushan Port, located south of Shanghai, shut down for two weeks in August 11 after a dock worker tested positive for COVID-19. It’s the world’s third-largest shipping container port with a volume of 27.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), according to Shipa Freight.
This is likely to be felt via rising prices and continuing shortages of certain goods, including in the Christmas trade.
In Southern California, a 73-boat backlog has popped up due to a lack of dock workers able to unload cargo containers. Cargo ships have been stuck outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for up to three weeks just to upload their goods, reports the Wall Street Journal. A lack of storage space has prompted shipping companies to jack up the prices, leaving shoppers footing the bill in the end.
“The terminal closures in China are leaving their mark and dampening the exchange of goods,” said Vincent Stamer, head of Kiel Trade Indicator, a German think tank.
“There are no signs of a sustained easing of the situation, which clouds the outlook for international trade. This is likely to be felt via rising prices and continuing shortages of certain goods, including in the Christmas trade.”
Exposing The ‘Frailty’ of the system
While cargo ship jams and closed ports are recent examples of the supply chain crunch, the root causes can be traced back to the early days of the pandemic, according to M. Johnny Rungtusanatham, the Canada Research Chair in Supply Chain Management and a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University.
“The pandemic stifled demand for certain goods and as we are coming out of the pandemic, we’re seeing demand peak… a lot of the manufacturing capacity that was already tight before has become tighter and there are new shocks in the system,” said Rungtusanatham.
Rungtusanatham points to a myriad of factors behind the stress in the supply chain, such as an energy crisis in China, labour strikes at ports, a pivot to creating personal protective equipment and government financial assistance funding people’s spending habits.
“It’s a confluence of factors that have exposed the frailty of supply chains and supply chains are very long and are a small number of critically placed nodes. That’s the situation we’re in right now.”
How 3d Technology Can Help
We can increase our resiliency to such supply chain disruptions if we leverage technology better.
While there aren’t many quick fixes to getting the supply chain running back up to pre-COVID-19 levels, visualization technology, when paired with the right data, can help avoid future headaches, according to Raza Jafri, CEO and founder of 3D CityScapes.
“Whether it’s a seaport, airport, manufacturing facility, or the entire supply chain, visualizing can greatly and effectively help you make better decisions around the movement of goods and services,” said Jafri.
“We can increase our resiliency to such supply chain disruptions if we leverage technology better. 3D CityScapes creates a front-end visualization to decipher this information in the most meaningful, efficient, effective, and clean way possible.”
Some of that information is readily available. When it comes to keeping seaport and terminals operational, workers collect data like the number of boats approaching and leaving the port, loading and unloading operations, customs and port call administration, along with surrounding road and railway traffic.
But even with all that information, seaport and shipping authorities are still operating with an incomplete picture, according to some marine data specialists.
“Ports are often relying their activities on geographical based software (GIS). However, these technologies only provide 2D visualization with limited possibility to see three-dimensional data such as bathymetry (seabed depth),” said Marie Besson-Leaud and Jacques Everwyn with Sinay Maritime Data Solutions. (Disclaimer: Sinay is one of 3D CityScapes clients.)
“It is common for port authorities to have [an incomplete] awareness on their environment in relation with their activities.”
What Needs To Come Next
Besson-Leaud and Everwyn say companies looking to avoid future cargo shipping jams like the one in California should focus on vessel visibility by paying closer attention to collecting and tracking automatic identification system (AIS) and the prediction of estimate time of arrivals and departures.
With global shipping traffic expected to grow anywhere between 240 per cent and 1209 per cent by 2050, depending on the country, digitization will be become increasingly crucial.
Once that information is collected, it can then connect to a digital twin of a seaport that allows owners to monitor the situation but more importantly, predict and simulate operations in a worst-case scenario.
In the meantime, the worst-case scenario shoppers can expect is having to pay more at the stores this holiday season, according to Professor Rungtusanatham.
“Things are going to get a little more expensive because the cost of bringing goods to the shelves is going up.”
What items have you noticed gone up in prices lately? Have your deliveries been delayed more frequently? Let us know in the comments below.
3D CityScapes Teams Up with Sinay to Breathe New Life into Seaports
A new age of digitalization for ports is here
By combining Sinay’s Artificial intelligence algorithms, expertise in data and sensor information, and maritime industry knowledge with 3D CityScape’s visualization prowess, seaports are about to be brought into a new era of digitalization.
For years, Sinay has helped the maritime industry make smarter decisions by collecting and analyzing data to help clients find efficiencies and minimize environmental impacts. 3D CityScapes specializes in turning data into visuals using cutting-edge technology used in game development.
“We are excited about this partnership with 3DCityScapes which will allow us to combine our expertise in maritime data management with an extraordinary 3D visualization tool, thus providing seaports and maritime actors with a competitive operational solution.” –David Lelouvier, Managing Director at Sinay
By integrating with Sinay’s data, 3D CityScapes will now build Digital Twins – interactive and immersive virtual representations – of seaports, smart cities, smart buildings, and more, which mirrors their real-world counterparts at any given time.
“Creating a real-time digital twin means you have accurate forecasting. Seeing data in real time – seeing where ships are coming in, where people are going around, where containers are at – opens up a bunch of possibilities that can help you manage the port better.” – Founder and COO James Borst
The result means seaports will have their own visual platform to monitor their facilities and surrounding environments in real-time, providing them with a powerful tool to save time, reduce costs and better respond to environmental changes.
“This partnership will create living, breathing digital ports.” – Director of Digital Experience Salman Hussain
For more on this exciting new partnership, check out the video here.