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. However, there is a lot of cross-cutting work, which prevents 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 significantly in the last year and a half,’ says Wouter Heijnen, innovation advisor at VNG. Heijnen is also one of the driving forces of the Dutch digital twin community, which is driven by, among others, the IPO, Waterschapshuis and VNG Realisatie. ‘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 Geonovum. These often stem from a great need for digital support for sustainable area development and spatial planning by provinces, water boards and municipalities. They also see opportunities in real-time monitoring of the physical residential environment, among other things to handle crowds.

A few examples: the starting point for the municipality’s digital twin Alkmaar is the development of a new neighborhood 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 analysis using public data sources. And The Hague Municipality and the Police work together in a digital twin to streamline the flow of visitors in and around the 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 a difference in how the technology is talked about, especially because it consists of several 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.

Interchangeable key for upscaling

Municipalities that want to get started with a digital twin often get not only knowledge, but also technology from the market. Such programs and providers are often still in silos, and the programs can often read data in one way, making exchange between the twins difficult.

It is the biggest bottleneck in the technology, says Heijnen. He believes that area development with a digital twin benefits from being able to adopt the best applications from other municipalities.

Some municipalities work actively to enable interchangeability and reuse. 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 was to begin in January.

“We deliberately choose an outside-in perspective,” says Roland van der Heijden, Digital City program manager at 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 and the province of Utrecht are also working on such an initiative by developing a universal visualization layer with the party Unity. This should form the basis for the entire Netherlands based on open source and data. The municipalities of Eindhoven and Helmond will also present a plan for a similar Urban Data Platform at the end of this year.

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

Fixing the interchangeability of digital twins makes it possible to get more out of the technology, according to Heijnen: ‘We are all working in the community to ensure that an open platform with separate building blocks helps the more flexible use of digital twins. Imagine that the residents themselves can design an extension using a calculation model that is offered and send it to the municipality. Then they only have to test it remotely,’ says Heijnen.

The digital twin, as it is described as the ideal form of many municipalities, will ideally become a universal environment. Heijnen: ‘Smaller municipalities would do well to lean on the municipalities that are already further along in their own development process. For example, not all municipalities get a high bill for the actual invention of the digital twin technology’.

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