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Real-time, bi-directional data can help cities determine not just what residents are doing – but why, according to the Smart Cities Council.
Before smart cities explore digital twin capabilities, they must figure out how to treat their data as a citywide asset, one expert says.
“Many [cities] forget that the foundations of a smart city are energy, communications and data,” Philip Bane, managing director of the Smart Cities Council, said in a webinar hosted by the Digital Twin Consortium.
Besides collecting data on buildings’ internal conditions such as lighting, air quality or temperature, cities should evaluate data on the activity between buildings. They can use 5G and artificial intelligence at the network edge to collect real-time, bi-directional data to gain insights for prioritizing programs and optimizing services, Bane said. For a tourism hotspot like Orange County, Florida, for instance, leveraging information on how people move about the area, what businesses they visit and how they interact with their environment is more actionable, he said.
“The focus currently is on physical infrastructure. What is missing is direct [data] about how humans use that infrastructure,” Bane said in an email. “You can determine what they do; but not why. Nor can you predict what they will do with passive infrastructure-based sensors.”
Government leaders should widen their data scope to include emotional data to understand why people behave the way they do, Bane said. Emotional data “combines movement data with social media and requires vetted algorithms and good data (synthetic or otherwise for machine learning.)”
Over the last decade, sensors have advanced from passively collecting ambient data to incorporating switches and actuators that enable real-time, bi-directional data collection that is critical for digital twins’ functionality, he said. They allow larger amounts of data to be collected quicker, which can improve analytics and other outcomes.
“A smart city’s most precious resource is the data it produces,” Bane said in the webcast. Siloed operations prevent data sharing among departments, he said, so government leaders should prioritize data federation to improve the analysis and decision-making behind digital twins’ functionality.
Smart cities are exploring digital twins to improve their operations, but limited knowledge about the technology and required data stand in their way, Bane said. Cities should seek out companies that provide best-of-breed solutions that “make it easy to discover their offerings and provide a lot of different entry points,” he added in an email.
Identifying the city’s needs and potential use cases for digital twins is the first step when working with solutions providers. For example, the Orlando Economic Partnership – an economic and community development organization including Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and Volusia Counties – wanted to create a digital twin to guide economic development.
The municipal leaders worked with the software development company Unity on a digital twin that presents a 3D map of the Orlando region constructed from various public- and private-sector datasets, officials said in an announcement.
The map enables decision-makers to see the outcomes of economic plans relating to infrastructure, business development and other matters. Unity also made the digital twin accessible in virtual reality, which users could explore with a headset.
“What in 2012 was called ‘command and control’ but now acknowledges that the city owns and controls the data, adds datasets as needed … and uses multiple solution providers,” Bane said. Digital twins become much more [than] asset management or analytics, he said. “I see digital twins as the future platform for city decision-making.”
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