Digital twin technology might be the future of urban planning

With cities struggling to keep up with the rapid expansion of the urban population, digital twin technology has emerged as a promising solution to a wide range of urban issues, from air pollution to traffic congestion.
Industries: Smart City
  • Using geospatial data to make cities more efficient
  • A 3D representation of the entire planet
  • A game changer for urban planning
  • Merging physical and digital infrastructures

As the world’s population continues to grow at a rapid pace, cities are facing significant challenges to keep up with their ongoing expansion. This issue is only expected to worsen in the years ahead, with the United Nations predicting that the proportion of the global population living in cities will grow from 50 per cent today to a staggering 70 per cent in 2050. However, with urban issues like air pollution, traffic congestion, and inequality having become increasingly prevalent in recent years, it seems that today’s cities were simply not designed to hold so many people. To keep up with the current rate of population growth, we’ll need to rethink how we design and manage our cities. Just as importantly, we’ll need to pay more attention to sustainability issues, which will take on added importance as we move forward. 

One promising solution that could help urban planners in this regard is the use of digital twins. Digital twins are virtual replicas of physical systems, processes, and products that can be used to simulate and test a wide range of real-world scenarios. In the case of urban planning, digital twins can help planners to better understand the issues that plague their cities and communities. By running simulations of policy scenarios in real time, urban planners can identify potential issues before they arise and develop strategies to mitigate them. Furthermore, digital twins can also be instrumental in designing and managing sustainable urban infrastructure. By simulating and testing different designs for buildings, transportation systems, and energy systems, planners can identify the most efficient and sustainable options and help cities reduce their carbon footprint and energy consumption, resulting in a more sustainable and livable urban environment.

Using geospatial data to make cities more efficient

California-based startup Hayden AI has developed a smart city digital twin solution called GeminAI that uses AI-powered cameras to capture all sorts of geospatial data. Installed on public vehicles like transit buses, school buses, street sweepers, and law enforcement vehicles, the cameras can scan entire road segments and recreate the scene in a virtual environment. The virtual representation offers a wide range of information about infrastructure, facilities, vehicles, and pedestrians, all of which is collected in accordance with global privacy regulations. Urban planners can use the digital twin to simulate new designs in a virtual environment first, experimenting with possible outcomes before committing to them in real life. Other possible applications of this technology include analysing the efficiency of public transit vehicles, predicting the maintenance of public infrastructure, examining pedestrian traffic patterns, and managing the time sharing of city assets. For example, government officials could use the platform to visualise bus lane violations, which could in turn reveal trends and patterns that may be present in certain areas. The platform can also record other parameters, such as bus speeds, travel times, and carbon dioxide emissions, providing urban planners and transit agencies with valuable real-time insights into the operation and performance of transit buses and allowing them to optimise traffic flows that will help make the city more sustainable.

A 3D representation of the entire planet

US-based provider of geospatial solutions, Maxar Technologies, recently unveiled “a high-performance, geotypical 3D representation of the entire planet” named Synth3D. The digital twin, which was created in a collaboration with, is designed for use in smart cities, simulations, virtual reality, and metaverse applications, and enables developers and creators to recreate various real-world locations in a virtual 3D environment. Synth3D is based on Maxar’s Vivid imagery basemap, which offers high-resolution, high-accuracy images of the Earth. then applied its patented generative artificial intelligence to these images to extract more than 1.4 billion buildings and generate them as 3D models. The geotypical textures applied to the buildings result in a lifelike model, where the appearance of the building height and façade accurately reflect regional archetypes, even if some buildings may look slightly different than they do in the real world. “Synth3D, created from Maxar’s Vivid basemap and’s patented technology, will revolutionise how various industries build and interact with VR environments”, says Dan Nord, senior vice president and general manager of enterprise earth intelligence at Maxar.

A game changer for urban planning

The Orlando Economic Partnership (OEP), an economic and community development organisation that operates in the Orlando region, recently announced plans to develop a 3D model of the city’s metro region — all 103.6 square kilometres of it. The model, which will be built by the gaming company Unity, will cover the area stretching from the city’s downtown core all the way to Space Coast, which is located on Central Florida’s eastern edge. The city plans to use the model as part of its wider strategy to turn Orlando into a tech hub by showcasing what it offers to potential investors. “It’ll be a circular room with LED screens kind of 180 degrees”, explains Tim Giuliani, OEP president and chief executive officer. “Then in the middle, we’re planning the holographic image, where the digital twin of the region will come to life”. Besides virtual tours, the city of Orlando will also use digital twin technology to evaluate the impact of planned investments on the built environment and the city’s residents. Similar projects are also in the works in several other cities across the United States. For example, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix have all signed up for the Clean Cities Clean Future campaign launched by the software company Cityzenith and are building digital twins that will be used to help them reduce building emissions.

“Tonomus’ immersive, augmented, 3D digital twin metaverse platform will safely and seamlessly merge digital and physical NEOM architectures to take our digital experiences to the next level and improve quality of life”.

Su Le, CEO of cognitive solutions at Tonomus

Merging physical and digital infrastructures

Of course, it’s not just US cities that are experimenting with digital twin technology. The Middle East region is widely recognised as a pioneer when it comes to the adoption of emerging technologies like AI, big data, blockchain, and smart mobility. It is, therefore, no surprise to see it embrace digital twins as well. Tonomus, the company behind Saudi Arabia’s NEOM, the world’s first cognitive city, has already invested more than a billion dollars in the development of an infrastructure of hyper-connected, autonomous solutions, where digital twin technology occupies a key role. “At the centre of this vision is Tonomus’ immersive, augmented, 3D digital twin metaverse platform, which will safely and seamlessly merge digital and physical NEOM architectures to take our digital experiences to the next level and improve quality of life”, says Su Le, chief digital strategy officer and CEO of cognitive solutions at Tonomus. Besides its applications in design and construction, the technology will also provide residents with gamified education, offer access to talent on demand, and may even revolutionise healthcare. It could also enable cities to respond to extreme weather events in real time and predict the impact of future climate emergencies on communities. What’s more, according to Tonomus, cities could use the platform to test various applications and services in a virtual environment before building them in real life. “It will allow us to de-risk physical build and other asset risk factors through low-cost feasibility studies and community pilots in the metaverse before starting construction”, adds Le.

In closing

The rapid expansion of the global population has put our cities under serious pressure, as evidenced by the growing prevalence of urban issues like air pollution, traffic congestion, and inequality. Unfortunately, with the population growth unlikely to slow down anytime soon, these issues are only going to worsen in the coming years, forcing us to rethink how we design and manage our cities. Digital twin technology could offer a helping hand in this regard, allowing urban planners to simulate and test different designs for buildings, transportation systems, and energy systems and identify the most efficient and sustainable options, resulting in a more livable and sustainable urban environment.

Industries: Smart City
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