Government & Public

Building smarter cities and industries with digital twins

The U.S. Apollo space programme pioneered physical models of their spacecraft as far back as the 1960s. But it wasn’t till the 2010s when a name was tagged onto the concept: “digital twins”.

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There are a few situations where the virtual trumps the physical.

You might want to test a billion-dollar machine to failure, without damaging the machine in question or injuring its operators.

Or you might want to assess certain variables within an operating environment, without bringing operations to a halt. In either case, you’ll need an equivalent of your test subject which minutely replicates its real-world counterpart.

This isn’t a new idea: the U.S. Apollo space programme pioneered physical models of their spacecraft as far back as the 1960s. But it wasn’t till the 2010s when a name was tagged onto the concept: “digital twins”.

These virtual models recreate physical objects or systems almost identically, letting users visualise scenarios and run simulations virtually, while leaving the actual physical object or system intact.

Governments worldwide use digital twins for tasks like urban planning, traffic management, and fire prevention. A clone of Singapore, for instance, is considered to be one of the world’s most advanced 3D virtual models to date, composed of more than 100 terabytes of data and millions of images recreating everything from the city state’s tree cover to its infrastructure and individual buildings.

This digital twin helps civil servants understand issues better and craft sound policies.

Enterprises leverage this technology, too, allowing them to streamline processes, boost productivity and efficiency, and improve decision-making, among other things.

From 2020 to 2025, the manufacturing, automotive, and aviation sectors are expected to lead the growth of the digital twin market. And with the global digital twin market set to grow at a compound annual rate of 40.6% — from USD 8.88 billion in 2022 to USD 96.49 billion in 2029 — this may be one of the more exciting technology trends to watch in the coming years.

The tech behind digital twins

The idea was said to have been introduced by David Gelernter in 1991 in Mirror Worlds, but its first known application was in manufacturing in 2002 by Dr. Michael Grieves of the University of Michigan.

The term “digital twin” was eventually coined by John Vickers of NASA in 2010.

Four core technologies make digital twins possible:

  • Internet of Things (IoT): this powers the sensors measuring the physical object under study.
  • Cloud: this enables real-time data.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): this provides deep insights from large amounts of data.
  • Extended Reality (or XR, an umbrella term for augmented reality, virtual reality, and other immersive technologies): this builds a truly interactive virtual environment.

The object or system being modelled is fitted with various networked sensors.

The data collected is processed and applied to the digital twin, which can then be subjected to various simulations, monitored for performance issues, and analysed to develop possible optimisations. These insights can then be applied back to the original object.

From real estate to pharma and retail: digital twins across industries

On an enterprise level, digital twin technology can cut costs, facilitate collaboration, and reduce manual maintenance and workforce requirements in smart buildings and factories.

For instance, in real estate, EY reports that digital twins can help reduce operating costs by up to 35%, lower carbon emissions, improve user experience, and create healthier workplaces.

They allow engineers, builders, and property managers to simulate, predict, and optimise every aspect of a facility, and enable automated progress monitoring, resource planning and logistics, and quality assessments.

Similarly, facility management and construction can tap the technology to enhance record-keeping, and performance testing and monitoring.

For example, on Temasek Polytechnic’s campus, a digital twin is set to be deployed to pinpoint faults, anticipate risks, and forecast facility conditions. This will come in the form of a digitally integrated facilities management services platform with 3,000 sensors providing real-time data to the copy.

In retail, the technology can improve the customer experience through better security, in-store planning, and energy management. It can also help retailers explore the interaction of different store layouts, customer journeys, schedules, and team movements.

The pharmaceutical industry also uses the technology to simulate, test, and optimise manufacturing processes. For instance, a digital twin created by Siemens, Atos, and GlaxoSmithKline that models a pharmaceutical process reduces time to market, cuts costs by 20% through waste reduction and increases product margins by up to 10% by improving product quality.

Elsewhere in the manufacturing industry, digital twins help keep equipment in optimal working condition, allowing for real-time monitoring and data collection and comparisons between actual versus expected performance.

Building smarter, more sustainable cities

On a bigger scale, digital twins can also significantly impact smart city planning, helping steer cities towards more sustainable living.

Cities like Singapore, Paris, and Helsinki are tapping the technology for smart city development.

For Singapore, technologies such as this are crucial to attaining its Smart Nation vision — and keeping its status as the world’s smartest city for the third year in a row, besting Zurich and Oslo.

While the country’s S$73 million digital replica was designed to be a central platform to help civil servants draft policies, the Building and Construction Authority has also developed an Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) plan to improve the construction and engineering sector using technology.

The IDD leverages Building Information Modelling (BIM), a software modelling process and internationally recognised standard used by architects, developers, governments, planners, and regulators.

From design to operation and maintenance stages, the model can shed light on various optimisations. In the long run, real-time insight into a structure’s performance can facilitate preventative maintenance and support its overall sustainability.

More immersive experiences with integrated 3D virtual tours

When implemented as immersive and integrated virtual tours, digital twin technology can help users experience, understand and envision the full potential of any space throughout every stage of its lifecycle.

Companies like Matterport help businesses to create 3D virtual tours using digital twins, enabling their customers to better conceptualise, build, operate, promote, and maintain facilities.

Companies that tap Matterport’s all-in-one 3D data platform have gotten design work done 50% faster, cut site survey costs by 50%, and reduced by 50% the time a home spends on the market. In fact, 95% of property viewers are more likely to call about properties with 3D virtual tours.

Experience a virtual office tour

Preview a virtual tour of our offices in Switzerland and Singapore, captured using Matterport’s digital twin technology.

singapore office

What’s next for digital twins?

Immersive and integrated virtual tours, smart cities and buildings, smart factories, smart retail, and smart real estate and facilities management are just some of the many use cases for digital twin technology.

As technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, Extended Reality, and the Cloud continue to advance, more possibilities will open up for digital twin applications, especially in the metaverse world.

When implemented well, governments and enterprises can reap the benefits, and customers can enjoy better experiences.

Keen to learn more about how your business can leverage digital twins and other cutting-edge technologies? Speak to our experts below.