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Advancing adoption of digital twin technology

Sponsored by FIWARE

Digital twins are one of smart cities most valuable technologies so long as they can be sufficiently maximised.


Written by: Albert H Seubers, Global Strategy Director Smart X, Atos, and Val De Oliveira, FIWARE Foundation


It seems digital twin is the new buzzword, even though the concept has existed for several years. Looking back, we saw the first digital twin concepts being deployed in manufacturing to fulfil the needs of service engineers to possess adequate information on an entire product or parts of a product for maintenance.


As practical examples, French navy ships developed in the last decade would only set sail once the digital twin was completed. Airplanes are documented according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) specifications to support maintenance and repairs by engineers with basic training.


Today we see digital twins in the industry being used to test and research parts that are not even produced but only exist in a digital design format.


Is it a bird? Is it a plane?


What then is the modern-day digital twin? Is it simply an administrative representation of all elements of a designed and constructed part of equipment, such as a ship or car? Even a building could be classified as equipment for a digital twin, which in this case would consist of a data model.


We feel that definition is outdated, given the requirements from a digital twin. Capturing a city by using this technology is far more complicated. After all, a city is a living ecosystem with many different aspects coming together that are in constant flux.


In broader terms, currently we see digital twins as a tool to aid engineers and operators to come to grips with not only how products perform, but how they may do so in the near future. Combined with other sources of information, the analysis of the data coming from sensors ensures that such predictions are possible.

Simulating the impact of city infrastructure changes, such as new skyscraper developments or the expansion of green spaces, are just some examples of how a digital twin can lend a helping hand

Changes – and their potential impact – to the production process can be better executed based on digital twin simulations than simply relying on extensive reports. Especially for cities, this is an important addition as they will be able to take advantage of such analytical models and also share city plans and its impacts with a wider audience, including their citizens, in a more visual manner.


Simulating the impact of city infrastructure changes, such as new skyscraper developments or the expansion of green spaces, are just some examples of how a digital twin can lend a helping hand. Even more complex modelling on social impact of changes in a city can be simulated, if the right analytic models are available, using a digital twin.


Fostering digital twin tech from Canada to the Netherlands


Digital twins support different levels of visualising outcomes based on the level of sophistication of the solution. Putting data in the correct context is critical for the digital twin use cases:

  1. Business intelligence dashboard representation supporting descriptive analytics, where interaction – presented in 2D or 3D – is limited to selecting areas of a city, type of data and level of detail to support an analytical view on defined topics.
  2. Interactive representation of a city providing a real-time overview of data from the urban data platform supporting diagnostic analytics on different domains in the city. Here representation of information can be done using multiple technologies for different user types.
  3. Services representation supporting predictive analytics providing added value for businesses, citizens and government. Here is where one can find city mobility plans requiring impact analysis and interactive visualisation.
  4. As-built representation: full digital twin of physical environments means businesses, citizens, government and academia, as we as the environment – as part of the Quintuple Helix innovation model – can benefit from it. This supports prescriptive analytics using academic models to fully understand the impact of changes. To give an example of an interactive representation, PS-Crimson – a collaboration between six academic and industry partners from Canada and the Netherlands – has developed a 3D smart digital model combining gathered data on a common platform. A digital twin was created and used in public safety, allowing interaction between city data and real-time data through surveillance cameras onto a smartphone or tablet.

The aim was to support officers on the ground with more information when responding to incidents. Throughout the project, Atos – a FIWARE Foundation founding and platinum member – has worked on smart cities projects with multiple partners and cities in the Netherlands, where the PS-Crimson platform first came to life.


The need for a digital twin is not only to support impact analysis, but also the implementation of shared experience (shared XR). In current times, we are witnessing that remote working is a necessity and long-distance collaboration is the new normal. This, however, drives the need for support that goes beyond video conferencing.


For instance, when supported by a digital twin – remotely accessed – discussing city planning with citizens, city staff, architects and developers will bring much more value toward explaining and discussing such plans and the expected outcomes. Shared XR also provides the possibility to present and share the impact of city planning and improve collaboration between a city, citizens, local business and city service providers.


Digital twins Consortium and FIWARE: driving technological progress


In May 2020, the Digital Twins Consortium was founded in collaboration with Ansys, Lendlease, Microsoft, GE Digital, Autodesk, Northrup Grumman, Bentley, and Dell, to develop standard terminology and reference architectures around digital twin technology, in addition to sharing use cases across industries. Together, these organisations are contributing to best practices and sharing digital twin models.


Built upon open partnerships and open ecosystems, more than 250 members (companies, government agencies, and academia) have already joined the consortium to drive consistency in the dialogue, architecture, security, and compatibility of digital twin technology as it is being used across industries.


That means that anyone can benefit from a collective pool of industry standardised models and from this accelerate their digital twin journey. FIWARE joined earlier in 2021 and will collaborate on influencing digital twin standards and the open-source implementation of jointly identified standards.

Guided by a growing need for agility and responsiveness, organisations and individuals need solution providers and app developers that go beyond simply using state-of-the-art tech

The aim is to accelerate the development, deployment, and wide-scale adoption of open digital twin technologies, spanning many sectors and industries. If anything, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that structures able to respond quickly to emerging challenges and opportunities clearly have an advantage. Open standards, open-source architecture and data models are key elements in supporting the representation of a city within a digital twin.


“We are excited about our collaboration with FIWARE Foundation," said Dan Isaacs, chief technical officer, Digital Twin Consortium. "Their knowledge and experience in contributing to the definition of open standards across industries, following an implementation-driven open-source approach, will be invaluable as we work together to advance the adoption of digital twin technology.”


Guided by a growing need for agility and responsiveness, organisations and individuals need solution providers and app developers that go beyond simply using state-of-the-art tech, but who also consider how such solutions will navigate complex landscapes and interact with diverse environments comprising people and places.


This new holistic perspective allows one to identify relationships between subsystems, which then map out the new building blocks of a sustainable smart future. This connected subsystem allows civic planners to imagine big, and then achieve this incrementally.


Sponsored by FIWARE
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