The digital twin has become a holy grail for the smart city. A virtual model of a city, or a digital replica of the physical world, digital twins allow the simulation of plans before implementing them, exposing problems before they become a reality. From urban planning to land-use optimization, digital twins have the power to govern the city in a much more effective manner. Cities are large and complex environments, however, and while we have been talking about digital twins for almost 20 years, we are still not there yet. Innovative new integrations may soon change that and bring about the digital twin to enable truly smart cities.
“Only with a digital twin in place, can government agencies effectively analyze what can be done with the data and improve citizen living, create economic opportunity and revitalize a closer community,” says Thomas Pramotedham, CEO of Esri Singapore. Last year, a partnership between Esri and design software pioneer Autodesk was developed to bring together two powerful tools — Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Geographic Information System (GIS) with the aim of enabling the digital twin for smart cities.
As a result of the partnership, Autodesk released its Civil 3D 2020.1 to better integrate BIM and GIS through a connector called ArcGIS. The connector enables designers to produce open ArcGIS data layers that contain points, lines, polygons, feature lines, gravity pipes, parcels, or structures, then pull them directly into Civil 3D drawings. By bringing in each layer, designers can specify what type of Civil 3D objects to create, thereby more efficiently replicating the existing conditions in a wide variety of urban settings. The advancement could be foundational for the development of digital twins and smart cities.
Reaching this point has been a long-term objective for Esri’s global CEO Jack Dangermond, who has long touted openness for the products his company makes. Originally established as the nonprofit Environmental Systems Research Institute in Redlands, California, Esri is now the world’s largest GIS software provider, overseeing the now widely used mapping standard ArcGIS. Dangermond believes that introducing GIS data directly into construction not only advances the smart city but could also help the environment by creating efficiencies needed to combat climate change.
“It’s not about the open data, it’s about connecting tools to tools at the data level so that, bang! It just changes things,” Dangermond said during a media Q&A at Autodesk University last year. “There’s a GIS view of the world and there’s the whole engineering, construction, design, build view of the world. The GIS view, for those who don’t know it, is we measure things and we visualize things. Then we do analytics and we support design tools and then people take it to action,” he said.
Numerous other firms are also involved in this technological evolution. At November’s GIS Software Technology Conference 2019 in Beijing, Chinese firm SuperMap released a series of products under the SuperMap GIS 10i and established a New 3D GIS technology system. In the past few years, due to cross-border cooperation and many other factors, the SuperMap 3D technology has achieved a number of breakthroughs and witnessed international-level advancements.
The new generation 3D GIS technology system by SuperMap is based on the integration of 2D and 3D technologies which expands the full spatial data model and strengthens analysis and computing capabilities. SuperMap has also developed a full range of 3D GIS platform software products of Cloud and various terminals, which have achieved the 2D and 3D integration, ground and underground integration, indoor and outdoor integration, macro and micro integration. It is believed that these results will open a new chapter for 3D GIS applications.
“SuperMap demonstrates its great strengths in 3D GIS technology innovation and 3D GIS application development. With quick growth in the last two decades, SuperMap Software now is the biggest Chinese GIS supplier, and the third-largest share in the GIS market (ARC Market Analysis 2019). We are looking forward to seeing more advantages and innovations of SuperMap 3D technology and more cross-border applications,” states Daniel, General Manager of Geoespaco, in an article on Geospatial World.
The integration of 3D BIM and GIS is not the end of the digital twin story, however. Through the continuous evolution of the various technologies involved, we will gain greater and greater efficiencies as well as new features that will make the digital twin more effective and more functional for its various users. Infrastructure and Engineering Software and Solution provider Bentley Systems, for example, is now working to develop 4D digital twins through the introduction of a fourth dimension, time. Incorporating lifecycle concepts synchronize changes over time to open up “dark” engineering data for immersive visualization and visibility of analytics.
“We’ll always be talking about going digital, not a digital transformation that we’ll go through one time and have it behind us. We’ll always be connecting, further automating and improving digital workflows,” said Bentley Systems CEO, Greg Bentley. The integration of 3D BIM and GIS is a big step for the digital twin but by no means the ultimate goal, the industry will have many more big steps to bring about more accurate digital twins on the long journey towards smart cities.