Digital twin helps design ideal city, but “beware tunnel vision”

Rotterdam in Digitwin by developer Argaleo. Photo: Argaleo

Governments are very excited about digital twins. They are digital representations of the physical living environment, which must help to streamline urban processes and area development. A lot of work is done in parallel, which discourages large-scale use in the future. ‘The art becomes arranging interchangeability, in data sources and calculation models.’

“The demand for knowledge about digital twins has increased sharply in the last year and a half,” says Wouter Heijnen, innovation advisor at VNG. ‘Municipalities are wondering what exactly they can do with the technology and what the influence is on their work processes.’

More than a hundred digital twin projects are currently underway in the Netherlands, according to a tally by the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG). These often stem from a great need for digital support for sustainable area development and spatial planning. Many municipalities, provinces and water boards also see opportunities in real-time monitoring of the physical residential environment, among other things to deal with congestion.

A few examples: the starting point for the municipality’s digital twin Alkmaar is the development of a new district with 15,000 homes. In Nijmegen, a platform was sought to prepare large events such as the Nijmegen Four Days Marches together with organizers. In Rotterdam, the digital twin is used as a means for residents and entrepreneurs to perform their own analyzes with public data sources. And The Hague Municipality and the Police work together in a digital twin to improve visitor flows in and around Scheveningen city boulevard. to monitor and even predictable.

Definition Digital Twin
There is general consensus among the municipalities on what exactly a digital twin is: a 3D representation of the physical living environment. And yet there can be differences in where the technology is discussed, primarily because it consists of multiple components. For one municipality the ‘viewer’ (dashboard) is the digital dwin, for other municipalities the applications and the various data layers are several digital twins.

Interchangeability inhibits innovation

Municipalities that want to work with a digital twin often choose their own working method and 3D programs. The programs can often read data in one way and exchange between the twins is therefore difficult. This is the biggest bottleneck with technology, says Heijnen. According to him, area development with a digital twin benefits from being able to adopt the best applications from other municipalities.

Some municipalities work actively with this. Rotterdam, among others, is leading the way. The city is working on an Urban Data Platform, a marketplace for data sources, calculation models and tools. The intention is that users and administrators of digital twins are not dependent on one party. This is called a supplier lock-in. In Rotterdam, the municipality has chosen to put the platform in the hands of a market party on the basis of clear data agreements. Construction is to start in January.

‘We consciously choose a perspective from the outside and the inside,’ says Roland van der Heijden, program manager for Digital City in the municipality of Rotterdam. The shared and sharable version of Rotterdam should not only invite the municipality, but above all residents and market parties to think about the possibilities in Maasstad. ‘This makes the digital twin not only something for municipal departments, but also a powerful instrument for resident participation.’

‘Submit’ your own extension

In addition to Rotterdam, the municipalities of Utrecht and Amsterdam are also working on such an initiative by developing a universal visualization layer with the Unity party. At the end of this year, the municipalities of Eindhoven and Helmond will also come up with a plan for a similar Urban Data Platform.

Last week it was also announced that Rijkswaterstaat also wants to take control of the interoperability between digital twin building blocks. She brought one vision and roadmap which describes a Basic Feature 3D.

Fixing the interchangeability between digital twins makes it possible to get more out of the technology, according to Heijnen: ‘At VNG, we imagine that an open platform with separate building blocks will help with the more flexible use of digital twins. Imagine that the residents themselves can design an extension using a calculation model on offer and send it to the municipality. Then they only have to test it remotely’, says Heijnen.

The digital twin, which is described by many municipalities as an ideal form, will ideally become a universal environment. Heijnen: ‘Smaller municipalities would do well to rely in their own development process on the municipalities that are more advanced in this respect. For example, not all municipalities get a high bill for inventing the digital twin technology themselves’.

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