- Published: 16 May 2023
Digital twins, centered on several core pieces of technology, including the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, are making a critical difference locally and nationally in the government technology landscape.
Imagine having the capability to virtually visualize a world or concept before it exists, say simulating the impacts of new construction, changes to a core IT system or health-care design. For some government entities across the U.S., that time is now, and many believe that digital twins are the answer.
A so-called digital twin offers this capability with a virtual replica of a physical object, system or process designed to simulate the real-world behavior and characteristics of the physical entity it represents. Digital twins center on several core pieces of technology: the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, extended reality (XR) and the cloud. It's created by collecting data from sensors and other sources in the physical world and inputting them into a computer model, which then uses the data to create a virtual replica that can be manipulated and analyzed in real time.
Orlando, Fla., is home to a first-of-its-scale regional digital twin — covering an 800-square-mile region — and operating real-time 3D (RT3D) content. The tool is currently deployed from a digital marketing center at the Orlando Economic Partnership’s headquarters in downtown Orlando, with an online version set for launch soon.
In Orlando's case, the digital twin incorporates various data sets and allows companies, local governments and nonprofits to visualize how certain plans will impact the region.
Tim Giuliani, president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership, explained that the use of digital twin technology has been critical in shaping economic development strategies in the region.
“We wanted to showcase the strength of the region’s innovation ecosystem, create an immersive way to engage developers in Orlando’s story and highlight the features that establish the region as a business destination,” Giuliani told Government Technology. “We made the decision to create a high-tech marketing center in our new downtown Orlando office and deliver an immersive experience for business leaders interested in Orlando as a business location via a digital twin.”
The city partnered with Unity, a software development company, to bring the project to life due to its large presence in Orlando and long-term vision of creating 3D digital representations, having built digital twins for other organizations, including the Tyndall Air Force Base.
“The result is that together we’ve created a digital twin that is unlike any other; we’re the only group in the country using a digital twin for economic development,” Giuliani added.
Since Orlando’s digital twin was unveiled in October 2022, it’s been used in nearly 100 demonstrations for executives, consultants, community partners and organizations, according to Giuliani.
As the functionality continues to evolve, those in the city’s economic sector hope that the tech’s progression can eventually lead to climate resiliency solutions in addition to infrastructure planning.
“Moving forward, our vision is for the digital twin to serve as a critical resource for decision-makers in the area and play a vital role in Orlando’s economic future and smart city planning. For example, stakeholders could use the digital twin to simulate climate change mitigation projects based on historical rainfall totals and flooding patterns,” Giuliani stated. “Decision-makers could predict traffic bottlenecks using sensor data from stoplights and highways, informing transportation planning. City planners could use historical population data to predict future density for use in transit mapping, housing development and power grid expansion.”
Orlando is currently on track to meet these goals. While other cities’ digital twins have trended toward singular applications across smaller areas, the technology for the Orlando region has many uses. The city's economic developers can show CEOs interested in making the city their home available land and real estate, as well as areas of interest for different industries, infrastructure connectivity and talent availability all while saving drive time.
“We’re getting great feedback from our presentations using the digital twin. It’s allowing company executives and site selectors to really see how a building would fit in a particular location,” Giuliani revealed. “It also allows us to showcase several locations in a short time frame, as opposed to having to drive to multiple locations.”
However, it’s not an easy feat to create an 800-square-mile digital twin or facilitate maintenance for the new tech. There were hurdles to overcome when undertaking the project, according to Giuliani.
“One of the biggest challenges is the sheer size of the area we’re mapping — 800 square miles. The other is the scope of the project because most digital twins have a singular focus, but the Orlando Regional Digital Twin was created for an unlimited number of applications,” he said.
Yet the city has tackled any hindrances head-on by continually expanding the capability of its digital twin and finding new ways to maneuver the tech effectively.
“Orlando’s digital twin currently incorporates operational and sensory data, with future versions including scenario mapping and machine learning. Plans also call for the twin to be stored in the cloud, allowing for access from outside the marketing center,” Giuliani shared. “The possibilities are endless, and the applications will keep evolving as we add more partners with new and unique data sets.”
A BROADER SCOPE
Digital twin technology is not only shaping state and local government entities but also creating opportunities on a federal scale, being utilized for everything from fighting wildfires to digitally designing aircraft for NASA.
A 2021 survey conducted by the Accenture Federal Technology Vision found that 24 percent of federal executives said their organization was experimenting with digital twin technology, while 63 percent expected their organization’s investment in intelligent digital twins to increase over the following years.
For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs is leveraging digital twins in infrastructure modernization by developing simulations and digital blueprints of health-care facilities to test structural layouts before physical construction begins.
The VA’s Simulation Learning, Evaluation, Assessment and Research Network (SimLEARN), a program for ideating and measuring simulation technology in health-care training, is creating a digital twin application to enhance best practices for the VA’s facility designs. The application will use AI-driven modeling for rapidly iterative simulations of real-life scenarios to expand the testing of possible solutions to a given challenge.
“SimLEARN is serving as a testbed for asset tagging and tracking of resources for utilization, location-finding and maintenance with a goal of building and integrating AI-driven decision-making support into our current resources,” Joseph Williams, public affairs specialist for the Department of Veteran Affairs, told Government Technology. “By automating reminders, data collection/analysis and maintenance, humans are removed from robotic work.”
The VA is also utilizing AI programs stemming from digital twin technology to provide health-care screening solutions, adding another layer of preventative care tools for those they serve.
“We’re using FDA-approved AI solutions to further increase our capacity to provide the best care possible to our veterans,” Williams said. “This includes the AI-Assisted Colorectal Cancer Screening (GI Genius) from Medtronic that uses AI to assist in the detection of pre-cancerous polyps during colonoscopies, which is being deployed in several locations including Richmond, Albuquerque, Tucson, Hudson Valley and Iron Mountain.”
Whether it's optimizing economic development planning, streamlining health-care options or enhancing traffic response, digital twin technology has the potential to transform the way we plan, manage and operate our cities and communities.
As CEO Giuliani told Government Technology, with the current, rapid pace of advancements in technology, “Soon there will be future uses [for digital twins and similar technologies] that we can’t even fathom today.”
Autor(en)/Author(s): Ashley Silver
Quelle/Source: Government Technology, 08.05.2023