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.