Digital twins summit makes the connection

Over 900 guests joined the Connected Digital Twins Summit either in person or online to hear industry specialists discuss latest developments, new technologies and next steps.

Connected digital twins offer excellent opportunities to improve the delivery of infrastructure construction and maintenance through a variety of technology platforms, an event heard the other week. But they also promise improved interactions between industry stakeholders and a better chance of engaging with the public positively over new proposals. 

“By placing people at the centre, we can design and optimise systems to meet the needs of the individual,” said Dr Alison Vincent, the Chair of the Digital Twin Hub’s Strategic Board and a Non-Executive Director of Connected Places Catapult, in a keynote address to delegates at the Connected Digital Twins Summit. 

“The result is a more open and collaborative digital twin ecosystem for the good of everyone, helping to improve health and wellbeing, mobility, access to essential resources, and economic opportunity.” 

Platforms like the Digital Twin Hub, continued Alison, “have a role to play in bringing together people and expertise to focus on connecting digital twins, and to make sure the latest tools, guidance and programmes meet the needs of our communities.

“We are driven by our motto ‘learning through sharing and progressing by doing’ and our desire is to be the worldleading, go-to resource on digital twins. We aim to boost the strength of understanding and knowhow in the community with the drive and passion to innovate.”
Dr Alison Vincent, the Chair of the Digital Twin Hub’s Strategic Board and a Non-Executive Director of Connected Places Catapult

The Connected Digital Twins Summit was opened by Transport Technology and Decarbonisation Minister, Jesse Norman who launched the Transport Research and Innovation Board online Transport Digital Twin Vision and Roadmap to 2035. 

In addition, a new partnership with Cranfield University was announced to launch a CPD course in digital twin skills in October. 

Providing the public with compelling stories 

Several speakers throughout the day echoed the sentiments of Dr Alison Vincent around the need to use digital twins to bring people together. 

Janet Greenwood, the Director of KPMG’s Infrastructure Advisory Group said that digital twins “have a massive role to play, particularly around storytelling” when it comes to explaining new proposals for the built environment for the benefit of the general public. 

“What we are facing in the future are massive environmental and social changes. Being able to articulate a future vision and set out possible interventions to mitigate risks and make the most of opportunities are where digital twins have a key role.” 

Janet later said that digital twins can help people to imagine what a future vision for an infrastructure development would look like, adding: “It is incumbent upon us as industry experts to be able to articulate a future vision.”

During a later session on digital skills and building capability within the DT Hub Working Group, Anglian Water Services’ Chief Data Officer, Matt Edwards spoke of the need to better communicate digital goals within organisations. 

“Storytelling is such an important skill in our world, to help build business cases,” he said. “What we would really like to do is create guidance that helps any number of organisations learn how to become more comfortable communicating about opportunities through digital twins.” 

Effective communication around the importance of using digital twins, he added, can help to “drive digital investment and engage the workforce at all levels. It is our job as leaders to make it happen. 

“We are missing a trick if we aren’t showing business communities the art of the possible and showing them a window on the future.” Digital twin storytelling, added Matt, is about “making the narrative and the technologies accessible”. 

Another advocate of promoting digital twins more thoroughly was Melissa Zanocco OBE of the Infrastructure Client Group and Co-Chair of the DT Hub Community Council. She told the Summit: “The power of storytelling is just as important as the digital skills. It is about being able to win hearts and minds and put everything into a language that others can understand.” 

She added that digital professionals need to ensure they can “talk boardroom language, so that board-level people have the right information to make the decisions they need.” 

Digital Twin Hub Director, Justin Anderson spoke of the group “fostering a collaborative space for members to exchange knowledge about digital twins and creating safe spaces to share knowledge about digital twins. 

“Our role involves chronicling insights from various sources like community calls, work groups and panel discussions,” he said. “All of these insights are freely distributed among our members, creating a well-stocked repository of valuable resources.” 

World Bank Senior Consultant and GeoEnable Director, Steven Eglinton agreed. “Communication is absolutely the single biggest thing for me.” People, he added, have varied skill sets and expertise about how to implement digital technology for infrastructure. “How we use digital twins incrementally will be the challenging part.” Connecting digital twins together, Steven added, promises to bring people together too. 

Delegates to the Summit also heard from Innovate UK’s Head of Digital Twins, Simon Hart who spoke about six new cyber-physical infrastructure projects to accelerate innovation in the UK. He encouraged SMEs to engage with Innovate UK’s new ‘Innovation Hub’ and a newly launched ‘Moonshots for the UK’ initiative. Simon asked the audience to submit ideas for ‘moonshot’ projects that could help to accelerate research and development in the UK around digital twins. “We want to hear from the public if they have identified any gaps,” he said. 

Transparency is the new gold 

During another session on unleashing the power of connected twins, Kjell Eriksson of DNV remarked that while many people see ‘data as the new gold’, “maybe moving forwards transparency is the new gold”. In future, he added, “there will be increased demand for sharing what is going on”. 

Fujitsu UK’s Centre for Cognitive Advanced Technologies’ Managing Director, Keith Dear remarked that digital twins could become “as profound a revolution as to how we interact with information as the introduction of the internet, and that will need a business model that doesn’t yet exist”. 

Also at the event, Sarah Hayes, Engagement Lead for the Climate Resilience Demonstrator digital twin project CReDo remarked that climate change is the biggest challenge we face, but that we are not ready for extreme weather events caused by climate change. 

However, she said that sharing data and collaboration across sectors will help to increase the resilience of critical infrastructure in response to climate change. 

Sarah set out three industry challenges: the co-ordinated understanding of infrastructure interdependencies; data sharing across sectors; and co-ordinated strategic resilience planning and investment. 

“This is all part of our journey towards connected digital twins, so we can share data through some sort of ecosystem distributed architecture we all need to develop,” she said. 


Showcasing the Climate Resilience Demonstrator (CReDo) Webinar

Increasing climate resilience through cross-sector data sharing in a connected digital twin.

When and where?

7th March 2023
10:00am - 12:00pm


This event is now complete

We would be delighted if you could join us for the CReDo conference and webinar “Showcasing the Climate Resilience Demonstrator (CReDo) – Increasing climate resilience through cross-sector data sharing in a connected digital twin” on Tuesday 7 March 2023 from 10:00-12.00 to find out about progress in Phase 2 of the Climate Resilience Demonstrator (CReDo) project led by Connected Places Catapult. This event runs in place of the usual Digital Twin Hub Gemini Call.

Digital twins and data sharing initiatives can face many challenges. We will be looking at:

How to break down data siloes for cross-sector data sharing and bring the data together in a way that is scalable and extensible to other organisations, sectors, and regions
How to unlock the strategic use case for planning and investment in climate resilient infrastructure.
We will also be running a live demo of the latest version of CReDo and showing clips of the new CReDo Phase 2 film. The CReDo team will be on hand to answer your questions.

Register to hear more about the CReDo project and join us in spreading the word on how collaboration through connected digital twins can help take us on the path to net zero and adapt to climate change.


A Digital Twin Hub Fireside Chat: A deep dive into the financial intricacies of digital twins

Join us on Friday the 27th of January for a deep dive into the financial intricacies of Digital Twins.

When and where?

27th January 2023
3:30pm - 4:00pm


This event is now complete

The Digital Twin Hub and Connected Places Catapult is presenting a 30 minute virtual panel discussion into the intricacies and the financial challenges and opportunities that accompany digital twins creation and implementation. The panel will be hosted by digital twin enthusiast Henry Fenby-Taylor, with DT Hub Strategic Board members Mark Coates, of Bentley Systems, and Paul Lam, of TuSimple, as panellists.

Henry Fenby-Taylor
Digital Twin Fan Club podcast
Mark Coates
International Director of Public Policy and Advocacy
Bentley Systems
Paul Lam, Director
Corporate Development & Strategy
Tu Simple

Developing use cases for digital twins – Application Guidance and FAQs


Innovating for a pandemic resilient public transport system

What would a pandemic resilient public transport system look like for the UK, and what steps can the public transport ecosystem take to get there by 2030?

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted the United Kingdom’s (UK) public transport system. As the industry starts to consider its priorities for transport post-COVID-19, learnings made during the present pandemic must be embedded into longer-term plans.

In January 2022, market leaders and experts came together to envisage what pandemic resilience looks like for the UK’s future public transport system. Using that vision as a guiding light, ecosystem stakeholders then identified what innovations can help the industry reach the vision and how industry and government can work together to make the innovation process easier.

The future vision presented in this report constitutes one small step towards a more joined-up and integrated approach to pandemic resilience for the UK’s public transport system. The vision of a 2030 pandemic resilient UK public transport system was co-created with 39 market leaders and experts, while another 31 innovators and experts helped us identify innovation and intervention areas.

In this report, we have summarised the outputs of that work, including:

• The six fundamental elements of the future vision

• How the current transport system fares in terms of pandemic resilience

• Key barriers hindering progress

• ‘Softer’ interventions to tackle the obstacles that are standing in the way of greater pandemic resilience

• Areas where innovation may help bring us closer to the vision

We recommend that the learnings made during the Innovating for a Pandemic Resilient Public Transport project feed into the design and development of a testbed where public transport innovators can test and trial promising new solutions. More broadly, we hope this work will contribute to ongoing discussions about how the UK’s public transport system can develop greater resilience to future pandemics.

Innovating for a pandemic resilient public transport system
File Type: pdfFile size: 17.3MB

MK Accelerator Cohort Booklet


Bristol Temple Meads to become testbed for passenger tech

A multi-million pound programme will turn Bristol Temple Meads into the UK’s first ‘Station Innovation Zone’, trialling new technologies designed to upgrade passengers’ experience.

Connected Places Catapult, the UK’s innovation accelerator for cities, transport, and place leadership, and Network Rail, have announced today (Monday 17 October 2022) that Bristol’s iconic train station is to host trials of innovative passenger technologies thanks to a new partnership between Network Rail and Connected Places Catapult.

The programme is selecting start-ups aiming to test new ways to improve various aspects of the passenger experience: from making journeys smoother with smarter ticketing, to making stations more accessible with wayfinding apps; from using AI to improve people flow, to designing better facilities using human-centred design principles.

The Catapult is directing millions of pounds of Innovate UK funding into the programme, which sees Bristol Temple Meads named as the UK’s first Station Innovation Zone. The five-year programme will pioneer the approach and plans are in place to roll out the model to other stations as it succeeds.

“We’re delighted to be partnering with Connected Places Catapult on this new programme which will provide SMEs with crucial funding opportunities and Network Rail with new, innovative ideas on how to further enhance the experience of our passengers.”

“We are committed to developing Bristol Temple Meads into a world class transport hub for the benefit of our passengers, the city of Bristol and wider West of England region, so it is fitting Bristol Temple Meads has been chosen as the UK’s first Station Innovation Zone.”
Francis McGarry, Network Rail Wales & Western region Investment Director
“Innovate UK is strongly committed to partnerships to deliver future transport systems that are connected, accessible, sustainable, and safe. So, we see this partnership between our Connected Places Catapult and Network Rail as an important step to support delivery of passenger technology for the future.”
Indro Mukerjee, CEO, Innovate UK
“Innovation is tough in any industry and rail is especially hard because of the number of assessments and permissions required. The net effect is that it takes too much time and costs too much for most small businesses to engage. Partnering with Network Rail to create a multi-year Station Innovation Zone in Bristol’s vibrant Temple Quarter will enable us to support numerous small companies in navigating these challenges and benefit passengers’ experience of the station.”
Nicola Yates OBE, CEO, Connected Places Catapult

Applications opened today for start-ups with ideas that could be trialled in the Station Innovation Zone. Passengers are likely to see the first trials beginning early next year.

This announcement of the Station Innovation Zone follows the Government’s levelling-up announcement of £95m for the Bristol Temple Quarter regeneration programme and the Catapult funding will complement the ongoing revitalisation of the station. Around £60m of the funding from Government will enable improvements in and around Bristol Temple Meads Station, including three new entrances to the station, as well as infrastructure works and new public spaces nearby.

“We are delighted that Connected Places Catapult and Innovate UK have chosen Bristol Temple Meads as the country’s first Station Innovation Zone. Temple Meads is at the heart of Temple Quarter, and the innovation funding from the Catapult, combined with recent funding of £95million Bristol secured from Government, matches our commitment to making Temple Meads and its surrounding area a world-class gateway to the city region. This is an exciting new chapter for Brunel’s iconic train station as we prepare for new sustainable homes, quality jobs and inclusive opportunities in Bristol.”
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol

The University of Bristol is developing its presence in Temple Quarter near the station, recently opening the Temple Quarter Research Hub, housing the Bristol Digital Futures Institute with a large scale data-center and a sector agnostic digital twin.

“Bristol Digital Futures institute is a cross-disciplinary research institute driving digital innovation with a focus on inclusion, prosperity and sustainability.  We look forward to working with Connected Places Catapult on the Station Innovation Zone to transform the way digital technologies are created, deployed and consumed by transport hubs such as our own railway station at Temple Meads.”
Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Co-Director of Bristol Digital Futures Institute

Connected Places Catapult’s new Digital Twin Hub Strategic Board packed with industry leaders

Connected Places Catapult, the UK’s innovation accelerator for cities, transport and place leadership announced today the inaugural members of the new DT Hub Strategic Board.

Dr Alison Vincent, new chair of the Board, announced the 15 Board members, selected from over 100 applicants, who will steer the DT Hub and help build its community, at the Hub’s weekly stand-up Gemini call with the digital twin community.  She also outlined her vision for the DT Hub.

“The board’s strength and value will grow with the connections we make and the collaborations we facilitate to move the community forward. Our aim is to deliver a purposeful, mission-driven voice for industry, engaging with new sectors, accelerating standards and enabling interoperability. The need for connected digital twins to meet the challenges of this changing world has never been greater and we want to make sure we lead the way.”
Dr. Alison Vincent, Chair of the DT Hub Board

Together with Alison and vice chair Mark Enzer, the Board comprises:

  • Benjamin Ford (Network Rail),
  • Charles Kennelly (Chief Technology Officer at Esri UK),
  • Cristina Data (Director of Policy and Analysis at Ofcom),
  • Davin Crowley-Sweet (National Highways),
  • Harkirat Singh (Technical Director, Public Sector at Palantir Technologies UK),
  • Johnny Furlong (BIM Strategy Lead at L&Q),
  • Liz St Louis (Assistant Director, Smart Cities at Sunderland City Council),
  • Mark Coates (International Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at Bentley Systems),
  • Mark Girolami (Chief Scientist at The Alan Turing Institute),
  • Matt Edwards (Chief Data Officer at Anglian Water Services),
  • Melissa Zanocco (Head of Programmes at the Infrastructure Client Group),
  • Paul Lam (Strategy and Policy Officer for Digital and Technology at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank),
  • Peter van Manen (Principal Consultant at Frazer-Nash Consultancy) and
  • Simon Evans (Global Digital Energy Leader and Global Digital Twin Leader at Arup).

The Digital Twin Hub sits at the heart of the UK’s digital twin community, shaping and promoting the development and use of this technology motivated by complex challenges that require a connected collaborative approach.

Visit the Strategic Board page and read the biographies in full.


About the Digital Twin Hub

The Digital Twin (DT) Hub was created by the Centre for Digital Britain at the University of Cambridge as part of the UK government’s National Digital Twin programme. In 2022, the DT Hub transitioned to a multi-sector Industry and Catapult Network partnership housed at the Connected Places Catapult (CPC).

Digital twins and interoperable, connected digital twins, are significant tools for fighting global systemic challenges like pandemics, climate change and resilience. They are key enablers for ensuring better outcomes for people and nature through aiding a collaborative and co-ordinated approach to problem-solving.

The DT Hub is a network for finding partners and collaborators. It is a place for learning and sharing experiences; for driving innovation, developing expertise and for showing the art of the possible with digital twin technology. It identifies good practice, produces guidance and shapes standards on data sharing as well as showcasing the benefits of collaborative, connected digital twins.

The DT Hub is funded by CPC and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy via Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation.


Dr Alison Vincent to chair Digital Twin Hub

Connected Places Catapult, the UK’s innovation accelerator for cities, transport, and place leadership, announced today that IT industry leader Dr Alison Vincent PhD, FREng, FBCS, FIET has been appointed as the Chair of a new board that is being established to oversee the UK’s Digital Twin Hub. She will be joined by Mark Enzer OBE, FREng, who takes up the role of Vice Chair.

The Digital Twin (DT) Hub recently transferred from the University of Cambridge to its new home at Connected Places Catapult in a move designed to deliver stronger engagement with multi-sector industries and improve access to expertise across Innovate UK’s Catapult Network. The DT Hub is a place for learning and sharing experiences; for driving innovation, developing expertise and advancing the state of the art for digital twins. It identifies good practice, develops guidance and shapes standards on data sharing as well as showcasing the benefits of collaborative, connected digital twins.

Dr Alison Vincent sits as a non-exec director and technical advisor to multiple private and public companies. She has previously held senior technical positions at organisations including Cisco, HSBC and IBM. Her roles have spanned cyber security, research and development, strategy execution, product management and business development. She has particular expertise in digital strategy, innovation and mergers and acquisitions. She is an ambassador for women in science and engineering, and is a passionate supporter of the STEM agenda in schools. She has a PhD in cryptography from London University and is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Computing Society and the Institution of Engineering and Technology. She is also a non-exec director on the Board of Connected Places Catapult.

Mark Enzer is the form head of the National Digital Twin programme. He served as Mott MacDonald’s Chief Technical Officer for five years and now acts as Strategic Advisor to Mott MacDonald’s digital advisory business. He is a keen champion of innovation through collaboration and is particularly interested in the transformation of the built environment and the infrastructure industry.

“I am thrilled to be joining the Digital Twin Hub at such an important time in the development of digital twin technology in the UK and around the world. Digital twins are already helping to find the best solar panel locations in Singapore, manage people flow at train stations in London, and simulate the impact of natural disasters in Seoul. Ultimately, digital twins and connected digital twins will give us a clear advantage in fighting global, systemic challenges like pandemics, climate change and inequality. The Digital Twin Hub is a key player in the world of digitisation a vehicle to help the UK digitse at speed.”
Dr Alison Vincent, newly appointed Chair of the Board at the Digital Twin Hub
“I’m really delighted to congratulate Dr Alison Vincent and Mark Enzer OBE on their appointments to head up the board of the Digital Twin Hub. Connected Places Catapult recognises the immense opportunities presented by digital twins in better understanding our built environment, mobility systems, and decarbonisations pathways; enabling the creation of digital twin ecosystems for public good. With Alison and Mark at the helm, I am confident that the Digital Twin Hub will accelerate forwards in providing the community with a network to learn from, resources to draw from, and opportunities to work collaboratively to take these technologies to the next level.”
Prof Greg Clark CBE, Chair of the Board at Connected Places Catapult

The board that Dr Vincent will chair has been selected from over 100 applicants working at the forefront of technology and the built environments sectors. The full list of board members will be announced towards the end of July.


Digital twins are finding their place

Digital twins are realistic virtual representations of physical assets, processes, and even people, generating insights and interventions which ultimately result in financial savings, improved performance and services, and greater resilience. 

This article features in the first edition of Connected Places magazine.

A report by global tech market advisory firm ABI Research finds that digital twins could save cities $280 billion by 2030 through more efficient urban planning. 

“Digital twins will become the ultimate tool for city governments to design, plan and manage their connected infrastructure and assets in an efficient and cost-effective way,” says Dominique Bonte, Vice President, End Markets at ABI Research. 

The analyst company also notes a growing role for technology such as digital twins in ‘microcities’, including the areas in and around large airports, ports, international rail stations, venues, office parks, shopping centres, and corporate and university campuses, which are focal points of economic and social activity.  

There are several trends driving the growth in place-based digital twins in particular, such as an increased focus on collaborative efforts to tackle challenges like the climate crisis, traffic congestion and energy management. Alongside this, there has been a huge increase in the amount of data harnessed within organisations and a shift to data-driven decision-making. And advances in technologies such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and edge computing are making digital twins more accessible, scalable, and affordable.

Anatomy of a digital twin

Digital twins vary based on their providers and the use case but, fundamentally, they have the ability to ingest real-world operational and environmental data and aggregate and combine it with other relevant data. The data is modelled and analysed through algorithmic simulations and visualisation to produce insights. Actions from the digital twin to the physical infrastructure or process can be through actuators or via human intervention. 

Digital twins offer a wide range of applications for place-based organisations, including strategic planning, operational planning, and active 

operations management. While most organisations will begin their digital twin journey with a specific project or goal, it’s important to choose technology that is future ready to support a wide range of use cases, from real-time vehicle management to improving the design of future air mobility vehicles and dynamic grid load balancing. 

Core capabilities to consider include the ability to ingest and fuse data from different sources, including real-time data, and the scope to scale the digital twin to more use cases and add extra functionality over time. Another key consideration is the ability to run and optimise multiple scenarios. 

Informed decisions, living twins

Cities outside the UK are already extolling the benefits of digital twins. Virtual Singapore, a dynamic 3D city model and collaborative platform, brings together data from various public agencies and other sources and includes static, dynamic, and real-time data and information such as demographics, movement and climate.  

According to Singapore’s National Research Foundation: “By leveraging the big data environment and aggregating information from the public and private sector, the potential uses of Virtual Singapore in tackling liveability issues are limitless.” 

For example, urban planners can visualise the effects of constructing new buildings or installing green roofs and understand the impact on the temperature and light intensity in the area. They can also overlay heat and noise maps for simulation and modelling of the most comfortable and cool living environments. 

Virtual Singapore also helps to prioritise buildings for solar panel installation, based on interlinked data such as the height of buildings, surface of the rooftops and amount of sunlight. Further analysis can allow planners to estimate how much solar energy can be generated on a typical day, as well as the energy and cost savings. By cross-referencing with the historical data collected from neighbouring buildings, this analysis can be validated and seasonally adjusted to reflect an even more accurate and granular projection.  

Another pioneering example, due to its scale, is the City of Seoul’s S-Map digital twin which includes street topography, underground infrastructure, subway routes, real-time information on road traffic, and even street views of small marketplaces and alleys. 

“It’s the first of its kind in that although there have been 3D maps in Sejong, Busan and Jeonju, they didn’t cover the whole area of the city,” Seoul city government said in a statement last year. “This digital twin of the city will allow us to make simulations online to predict the impact of disasters and accidents, such as wildfires, and predict how new buildings and structures built in the city could interfere with the wind patterns of the area and possibly worsen fine dust pollution.” 

Operational efficiency

Through digital twins, organisations can do more with their data by gleaning actionable insights from it. A key benefit is operational efficiency. 

Linda Wade, Co-founder and CEO of digital twin start-up Spinview, says: “As human beings we’re visual and we are built to understand information spatially. Visual recreation is a way of translating all the data from a space into something that is usable and manageable by every employee. 

“Quite often, data sits in silos from the top teams and the engineering teams and if you make it available in a format that everyone can use, you can drive efficiencies that previously weren’t possible at scale.” 

Transport for London (TfL) is using a digital twin from Spinview as part of its Piccadilly line upgrade which will see the introduction of 94 new trains, more capacity with a more frequent service, and reduced energy consumption.  

“A huge amount of the work is actually in readying the infrastructure for those new trains,” says Robert Frith, Head of Engineering for the Piccadilly line upgrade at TfL. “There’s a full end-to-end infrastructure upgrade that is linked to the new trains coming into service.” 

This includes considerations related to the size and the shape of the tunnels, as well as about power assets, platforms and more. Differing levels of data for different types of assets throughout the line was causing complexity. 

“With the digital twin, we wanted an environment that we can work within that’s consistent for the whole line, and that is able to present the data,” adds Frith. 

The project will initially focus on creating a digital replica of the Piccadilly line, which is part of the ‘deep-level’ Tube network with track in some locations as far as 30 metres below ground.  

Spinview’s Deep Rail Sensor (DRS) device, attached to a train, will capture the geometry of the space and measures environmental pollutants as well as noise and heat. 

The digital twin could be used throughout the lifecycle of project delivery – from surveying, planning, designing, and upgrading, to virtual approvals from TfL’s senior managers. The initiative also aims to help TfL better manage assets and support Mayor Sadiq Khan’s goal of a zero-carbon rail system by 2030. 

Importantly, TfL staff will no longer be restricted to physically inspecting and surveying assets below ground during engineering hours from 1am to 5am – they will be able to conduct surveys, assess locations and make decisions at any time via the digital twin. 

Wade says the digital twin will also reveal information that may have previously been “hidden from the human eye,” such as faults, and heat and noise hotspots. This data could then be used by TfL to make targeted improvements to the Tube network. 

She comments: “By establishing a visually intelligent ecosystem for TfL, Spinview hopes to not only help TfL in tracking its environmental goals, but also to support in facilitating better decision-making, driving forward business efficiencies, saving costs and future-proofing the network in the long-term.” 

Visualisation is also becoming an increasingly important aspect in resident engagement – to enable planners and space owners to bring more residents and customers into the conversation about the future development of the places they live.  

Tallinn in Estonia, for example, has announced a new hub in the city centre which will use digital twins and virtual reality to foster more input on urban development, transport planning and city greenery, including the ability for citizens to simulate various scenarios. 

People at the centre

With this in mind, people are becoming central to place-based digital twins, in an evolution from their predominantly asset-based roots. This approach will help to ensure that people have great experiences in complex places, and will also inform better infrastructure investment decisions.

With a decades-long background in using digital replicas in the automotive industry and then crowd simulation tools in rail infrastructure projects, Nicolas Le Glatin went on to bring these together through his start-up OpenSpace. The company is using its passenger flow digital twin technology to bring the customer experience into large-scale architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) projects.

“Cities are a series of experiences that fundamentally deliver the fabric of life or society, but engineers still tend to think about pouring concrete and moving cars and trains,” says Le Glatin.

“OpenSpace is trying to deliver the AEC industry some new tools to express the performance of the design and the operations from a people-centric perspective.”

This approach is important given the ‘passenger first’ mandate of organisations such as Great British Railways, the new public body that will oversee rail transport in Britain from 2023, as well as the wider push to encourage people back to public transport and to choose mass transit over the private car.

The OpenSpace platform analyses historic, real-time and predictive data on people movement, fusing new and existing data sources such as 3D lidar asset scans and passenger flow from computer vision, with train timetable feeds and Wi-Fi analytics as well as other information related to managing the customer experience. At St Pancras, this includes data from escalator company Schindler and contract cleaning firm Churchill.

“Companies like HS1 are really in the business of monetising the movement of people by train but also leveraging the quite remarkable retail opportunities,” says Le Glatin. “A digital twin is a means of enabling them to continuously optimise against a set of objectives.”

Following the development of a people-flow-management digital twin for St Pancras International station in 2020, which was later adapted to help manage social distancing, OpenSpace has been contracted to expand its digital twin infrastructure to all four HS1 stations: Stratford International, Ebbsfleet International, and Ashford International, alongside St Pancras. It has also been selected as part of the HS2 innovation programme and is delivering a ‘living lab’ at Euston station where HS2 is looking at how to design stations around the movement of people with real-time data.

This includes the configuration of buildings, the design and scheduling of services, and other real-time decisions which help to maximise revenue while minimising operating costs. The tool can, for example, guide when an escalator could be switched off to save energy and enable predictive maintenance based on footfall, or inform the facilities cleaning schedule on a weekly or daily basis.

“People are the common denominator between all the contributors of the built nvironment so a digital twin for managing people flow does more than making great decisions; it brings people together,” adds Le Glatin.

“It is astonishing how people are engaged or willing to be part of it and want to share data when you say we are going to optimise the end-to-end journey of their customers by collaborating with other rail operators.”

Future focus

These collaborative examples point towards an emerging trend – the need for individual digital twins to be interoperable and ‘talk’ to each other to meet the integrated needs of places.

This is something that will continue to be a focus for the Digital Twin Hub which from 1 April will transition from its current home at the Centre for Digital Built Britain to Connected Places Catapult, offering new opportunities for place-based organisations and supporting companies to launch projects focused on digital twins.

Tamar Loach, Technology Initiative Director at Connected Places Catapult, points to a pioneering digital twin example in the Climate Resilience Demonstrator (CReDo), which is a particularly important project in the light of a spate of extreme weather events around the world and warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that these will get worse.

The initial one-year phase of CReDo focused on proof of concept and showing how data from energy, water and telecoms networks can be connected up in one secure digital twin. It demonstrated the use of synthetic data, legal and data-sharing agreements, and the development of initial multi-level ontologies and an information management framework to enable data to interoperate.

“It’s bringing together different sectors that haven’t historically worked together,” says Loach. “They’re actually working together, sharing data, and therefore they’re able to look at their own systems and the investment needed to reinforce those systems so that they’re robust and resilient. And they’re able to look at that in the context of the systems that are affected and affecting each other.”

Getting digital-twin ready

While there is a lot of excitement around digital twins, the featured projects also highlight the practical groundwork still to do to unleash their true power in cities and spaces.

Research commissioned by Connected Places Catapult outlined key competencies that place-based organisations need to develop to overcome barriers to adopting digital twins, such as lack of buy-in from the top, skills gaps, and limited data availability and quality.

Digital twins can’t be bought off the shelf ready to go; they are dependent on and powered by data, so this starts with developing a data culture and treating data as an asset.

The report advocates a range of practical steps including identifying and sharing successful digital twin case studies, facilitating partnership building, and growing digital operations competencies.

Loach says: “Finance and advertising, for example, are much more advanced in how they make use of data in a joined-up way. And the opportunity for places to take advantage of data and interoperable digital tools is huge, but there’s quite a long way to go and we can’t underestimate the digital maturity aspect.”

To gain confidence and demonstrate the value of a digital twin, experts urge place-based organisations to avoid the data-lake approach and instead pick a use case, gather specific data, evaluate results and scale from there. The right technology partners, large and small, will also bring technical best practices and skills to help projects succeed.

Data economy

In their initial phases, digital twins are a good way to enable connected places to increase the return on investment for their existing data, and break down silos within the organisation.

To really get the most from the technology, though, they require data from an ecosystem of providers – increasingly this is a mix of internal departments, public sector organisations, the private sector and, with adequate permissions and privacy in place, citizens themselves.

This is seeing organisations at the early stages of exploring various aspects of the ‘data economy’, starting with driving awareness of the value of sharing data.

“With Schindler and Churchill at the moment, we’re exchanging data for the benefit of both parties and also the benefit of HS1, our client,” says OpenSpace’s Le Glatin. “Where we all are as an industry is understanding how to monetise datasets, and how each dataset contributes to unlocking value [for others]. That, I think, is going to take some time for everybody.”

Projects such as CReDo also highlight the growing need for a ‘shared language’.

To be able to create models of complex scenarios that involve multiple systems, Loach says we can learn from best practices in information management, such as using shared ontologies and striving for semantic precision, as well as principles from software engineering relating to modularity, interoperability and automated testing. Methods from data science around statistical validation and reproducibility of results will also help.

“Combining a multidisciplinary approach to technical development plus putting subject matter experts at the centre of use case creation, and user-centred design at the heart of the front end for digital twins will make them a success,” Loach comments.

The good news is that work to create these building blocks is underway.

Learn about the latest cross-industry business applications for connected digital twins at the Connected Digital Twins Summit on 22 June.

Sarah Wray is Editor of Cities Today and a specialist in the impact of technology in cities, particularly data, digitalisation and transport innovation.

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