22 March 2023

Can you use digital twinning to solve urban issues?

Digital twinning is the technology of creating virtual representations of an object, which are then directly linked. It is a technology, which especially in combination with virtual reality, artificial intelligence and data visualisation, offers a lot of potential for production, design, maintenance and analysis. Within the Digital Twin Academy project, Fontys ICT is exploring the possibilities, also for cities. What can you do with digital twins for the Smart City of the future? Simona Orzan, lecturer-researcher at Fontys ICT, investigates.

Smart City Twin

A virtual form of a city is not new. Indeed, there has been previous research on the potential of simulation games like Cities: Skylines to simulate real interventions. But, as anyone who has ever played Sim City or a variant can attest, the problem with such a virtual representation is often that they are incomplete. This is also where the problem lies for a digital twin of a city: "A digital twin of a machine in a controlled environment works very well, you oversee all the details. With a city, which is a very complex, dynamic and open system, creating and maintaining a fully up-to-date digital model is expensive and challenging. Several cities already use a Digital Twin for urban planning and asset management, for example, but the extent to which the benefits outweigh the costs is still being explored. So if we want to deploy digital twinning at the city level, we need to think differently about what digital twinning is and how to deploy it."

Applied twinning

If we let go of the ambition of exact representation, the digital twinning approach can still be extremely useful for urban issues. We work with "imperfect" demand-driven city twins. For a Smart City Twin, it is precisely important to start from the issue, Orzan argues: "When you look at the information you need for your stated problem, it quickly becomes clear how detailed your twin needs to be. This became very clear in a project with AiREAS around air quality in the city centre. So much data was available that a 2d representation was all we needed to answer the question. Another issue, also involving air quality, related to the Grey General in Woensel. Then, of course, you don't need to recreate the whole city." So digital twinning, in the context of urban issues, is mainly a game between data, practical demand and modelling. Based on need, in other words.

Student projects
To explore this further, a number of student projects are now underway that explore this avenue of approach. For example, a project which visualises particulate matter in the air based on real-time data in an AR setting. Orzan: "What you then get is an AR app that shows a hugely zoomed-in version of the sky based on data. You then see all the dust particles in the air through your smartphone. Although you don't put down a concrete twin then, you do create a kind of abstract twin based on data that does reflect reality. These are the kinds of projects our students work on, exploring the concept of a city's digital twin."

Digital Twin Academy

Digital City Twin is a pilot project within Digital Twin Academy. Within this larger project, digital twins are being unlocked for SMEs and applications of the technology explored in a number of projects. More information via the project website.

On 1 June 2023, there will also be a webinar on the topic of Digital City Twins, titled; Tiny City Digital Twins for Big Real Problems. The webinar will be held at the Fontys ICT InnovationLab from 1pm to 2.30pm. More information and registration can be found here.

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