During the ARC Industry Forum in Orlando last month, ARC’s Jim Frazer, Vice President, Infrastructure and Smart Cities interviewed Bob Mankowski, Vice President, Digital Cities at Bentley Systems. What followed was an interesting discussion on the current hot topic – digital twins. This blog captures some of the key points and quotes of their discussion. You can view the entire interview here at the ARC YouTube Channel.
Understanding the Importance of the Digital Twin
Bob explained that although the term digital twins has been around for quite some time in other industries, in the public sector it's a fairly new concept. “The idea of a digital twin is to have a virtual representation of an infrastructure asset, or a process (e.g. construction process) or systems - water systems, energy systems, and transportation systems. So you have a virtual replica of this physical asset that combines the engineering and information technologies, geospatial information, and operational technologies such as SCADA and IoT. A digital twin brings all of that information together into sort of a living, breathing, up-to-date representation of the physical world in the digital world,” said Bob. This is important because digital representation can be used to make better-informed decisions, ultimately leading to better outcomes such as improved efficiencies, reduced costs, reduced risks, de-carbonization, and less congestion.
Digital Twins for Public Infrastructure
“A city is really a system of systems - there's water systems, electrical systems, transport systems, etc. but they interact in different ways,” said Bob. All these are for public infrastructure, but the systems are owned and operated by individual departments or even other organizations. One of the things that the digital twin enables is visibility across this broad spectrum of information that's being gathered and created by these individual departments. However, this should be done in a very secure manner using cloud infrastructure to federate these different data sources together so that, again, they can be used to make better-informed decisions.
In this context, he spoke about urban planning and cities that are constantly undergoing changes. There's always development activity and stakeholders who want to know what is happening and have a voice in the urban planning process. By using digital twins in urban planning, it makes it a more participatory process across a broader range of stakeholders.
Building a Digital Twin
“To build a digital twin, a digital context (geometric and visual) representation of the asset is required. For instance, in the case of a city, that would include the cityscape. So this geometric and visual representation can be built from photographs. Over the last decade or so, technologies have developed and advanced to the point where you can recreate 3D scenes, 3D city models from plain photographs,” explained Bob.
Applications of Digital Twins
Bob deliberately used the term digital twins in plural because the expectation is that there will be multiple twins representing different aspects of the city at different levels of granularity and different levels of detail for different use cases. He gave the example of a water system digital twin deployed in the city of Porto, second largest city in Portugal – it helps visualize the entire hydrologic cycle from the rainfall and runoff response to the storm sewer collection, the sanitary sewer collection, water distribution, water quality in the river and the coastal area. It is used on a daily basis to improve their operations, make the system more reliable, reduce leaks, and reduce costs.
“Digital twins also help in understanding the risk profile of cities in the event of floods. There's a need to understand what's at risk in terms of the critical infrastructure in a city and then to mitigate that risk. And using digital twins and flood simulations together is a great way to assess that information,” he added.
Digital Twins for all Stakeholders
In conclusion, Bob said that a digital twin provides a 3D canvas of the city and the infrastructure systems and helps communicate what changes you're anticipating. “It is a great platform for engaging with different stakeholder communities. Everyone can participate in the conversation and urban planning can be both a top-down process and a bottom-up process, engaging all of these different stakeholder communities.”