How Cities Are Using Digital Twins Like a SimCity for Policymakers

Article by Linda Poon: “The entire 40-square-mile metro region of Orlando, Florida, may soon live virtually inside the offices of the Orlando Economic Partnership (OEP). The group has partnered with the gaming company Unity to develop a 3-D model of the area — from its downtown core all the way out to Space Coast on the eastern edge of central Florida — that the city can show off to potential investors in its bid to grow as a tech hub.

“It’ll be a circular room with LED screens kind of 180 degrees,” says OEP President and Chief Executive Officer Tim Giuliani.“Then in the middle, we’re planning the holographic image, where the digital twin of the region will come to life.” 

Orlando’s planned showcase is one of the flashier uses of a new technology that’s being lauded as a potential game changer for urban planning. Like a SimCity for policymakers, digital twins allow cities not just to create virtual models, but to run simulations of new policies or infrastructure projects and preview their potential impacts before making a decision in the real world. 

They may be also one of the more tangible opportunities for cities in the race for the so-called metaverse, an immersive network of virtual worlds that some leaders believe to be the future of urban living. Using 3-D mapping and analysis of static and real-time data, municipalities and businesses are increasingly adopting digital twin technology — although many of its potential uses remain aspirational thus far. 

Orlando expects to use its digital twin technology for more than virtual tours. It also hopes to preview how different investments, like a transit system upgrade, might affect the built environment and its residents. Several other U.S. cities are building replicas to model traffic congestion strategies and drive net-zero climate goals. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York and Phoenix are all building out digital twins to lower building emissions as part of the Clean Cities Clean Future campaign from the software company Cityzenith. Globally, cities from Singapore to Helsinki and Dubai are also investing in the technology, with goals ranging from driving sustainability to promoting virtual tourism. 

The technology could help officials cut operating costs and carbon emissions of new construction, and avoid costly modifications after a project is completed. Amid an ever-looming climate crisis facing urban areas, it could enable cities to test the effectiveness of various measures against rising sea levels and urban heat. By one estimate, digital twins could save cities some $280 billion by 2030….(More)”