Knowledge Times Two:
Digital Twins and the Success of Environmental Projects
October 12, 2023
A Digital Twin is effectively a digital replica of an object, process or a system. I’ve spoken many times about the Digital Twin in the objective form — usually a construction asset that is real and tangible. For our discussion here, I’m going to consider the Twin as more of a system or a process for use in government, environment and infrastructure projects rather than in the typical physical model sense. Let’s get started.
General Digital Twin Applications
If we consider that a Digital Twin can assimilate an object, process or a system, then suffice to say that it can be used in myriad other applications. One of the first ground-breaking applications of a Digital Twin was by NASA for the Apollo 13 mission. Using simulators controlled by a network of digital computers, NASA was able to simulate live critical mission situations, assisting in a successful emergency rescue plan when a crucial oxygen tank explosion occurred.
In this spirit, the key to value in a Digital Twin is truly real-time data that can be acted upon. This information can then be used in design, construction, operations or for general future planning. These areas include:
- Design – Prove a design before you build it, and it is much cheaper to rectify a design that’s in digital form than when it is in the build phase.
- Construction – Where does the project build up to? Digitally showing stakeholders utilizing field capture (quantity complete as well as reality capture by drone) to reduce site visits can improve safety metrics.
- Operations – Measuring the efficiency and performance of equipment in utilities, whether water, power, mining or renewables, helps to proactively plan your maintenance.
- Future Planning – Enabling the planning of infrastructure — from roads and buildings, all the way through to complete cities — can be vastly improve outcomes.
This last example, future planning, is where I feel governments can, and already is in some cases, harnessing the power of Digital Twins to improve their infrastructure planning.
Digital Twins for Government
Many governments from all parts of the world are using the power of Digital Twin technology to improve decision making at a planning level. Digital Twin cities, for example, are being created as part of initiatives to improve areas, such as city planning, energy efficiency and traffic management. Consider some of the following concepts.
Larger, over-populated cities still need to construct new buildings. How does the government decide ‘where’ to build, ‘how’ to build, or ‘when’ to build? Imagine a Digital Twin of a city that shows population density and flow of people during specific times. This would help decide ‘when’ construction should take place, not to mention ‘how’ to get materials to site outside of the busiest periods.
A 3D visual model showing existing infrastructure, linked to times of the day and weather patterns, can also show what a new building might look like and how it will fit in with the current landscape.
Another example relates to how we are always building new road and rail infrastructures. It would be much better to utilize a Digital Twin to discover bottlenecks early, hypothesize new urban planning options, and then go and build it. After all, the amount of time that governments spend on planning and not knowing which is the best option, then discovering they have simply moved the issue instead of resolving it, is an all-too-common one.
Environmental Sustainability and Digital Twins
The amount of publicity and concern around climate crises, globally changing weather patterns and what the future holds for humanity is staggering. Digital Twins of cities that consider planetary temperature deviations could help predict issues generated by major weather events, as well as prompt us to ask crucial questions.
What would increasing temperatures mean for a city that is low lying, close to the ocean, and in danger of rising sea levels? Would the government still build infrastructure in these areas, or would they go to higher ground, even changing the style of building to suit the expected environment?
In Australia’s weather patterns, bushfires and flooding are becoming more common-place — not the hundred-year extreme events that they used to be. This means that governments now need to consider how to counteract these or at least deal with them, and the Digital Twin may well be an important part of the solution. How? A Twin that provides monitoring and evaluation of vegetation growth, historical events, temperatures, etc. could help predict and manage these events. We may not be able to stop these disasters out right, but we can at least prepare better.
In fact, there are plans now in the works turning to state-wide and country-wide Digital Twins to battle some of these potential life-changing events.
Further Benefits of the Digital Twin
The benefits of Digital Twins to government are immense, especially when we consider infrastructure planning, transport planning and climate change. These are all hot topics for most governments around the world as our population continues to grow. As the public and private sectors could also be brought into these Digital Twins, collaboration should always be paramount. Why? Because this would be a great way to bring all sectors together rather than continue the constant battle to outdo one another due to the lack of true transparency around what is happening.
Digital Twins of cities can deliver cost savings, improve planning, traffic flow, road safety and citizen experience. The application of Digital Twins in healthcare and emergency services is already saving lives. Surely these outcomes are better for everyone — governments and their constituents combined.
What Is Needed to Deliver Digital Twins for Government?
While there is a definite need and advantage in government to utilize Digital Twins, consideration must be given to the type of Digital Twin. What I mean by this is that designers and builders utilize model and data to build things. Governments therefore need the information to plan things. This means that there is a different level of data required for government — cities, states, countries, etc.
This level of data is not as detailed, but there is a requirement for ‘Connected Digital Twins’ to enable the government Twin to pull all the data together into one place. A lot of the data available in project Digital Twins currently being developed could be rolled up into the government version of the Digital Twin for a state or territory. Co-operation between all involved will be required to ensure the right data is available to the right parties.
Today, Digital Twins are already making a huge difference in how we live. With the right approach and understanding of their capabilities and even limitations, they will not only continue to make vital improvements to our collective futures, but could be said to help ensure those futures exist.
Ready to take a deeper dive? Schedule a one-on-one consultation to discover how InEight can help you succeed in your Digital Twin transformational journey.
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