The city of Newcastle has become the first city to use technology to recreate the entire city digitally to help planners stress test the city’s infrastructure in response to climate change and population growth.
The ‘digital twin’ is a virtual model of the real-world city, combining geospatial and performance data overlaid with operational data to produce a model that can be tested under various scenarios.
Digital testing in this format has already been used by Formula One teams, which allow teams to test new cars without having to building prototypes of every iteration. However the technology has never been used on a city-wide scale before, claim developers.
The system is capable of visualising changes in real time, allowing researchers to examine the impact of environmental and human changes. For example, the system could be used to visualise the routes people would use to escape in the event of a flood.
Northumbrian Water’s research and development manager Chris Jones said the model allows for new infrastructure systems to be analysed and tested before a “brick is laid, or a hole is dug”.
“The twinning of the virtual and physical worlds allows analysis of data and for systems to be tested before a brick is laid or a hole is dug,” he said.
“We’ll be able to identify problems before they happen and it’ll massively help us in making better decisions, plan for the future, and will lead to lots of brand-new opportunities.”
Work to create the digital twin comes from a partnership between Northumbria Water and Newcastle University, which started at the Northumbria Water Innovation Festival in the summer.
The data for the project is mostly being supplied by Newcastle University’s Urban Observatory, which has sensors deployed all over the city, collecting 50 types of data including air quality, human traffic and water levels along the River Tyne.
Newcastle University professor of hydrology and climate change Chris Kilsby said that developments in cloud computing and big data were the driving progress in creating the digital twin.
“We have reached a very exciting place in our research, with several new developments coming together at just the right time. Our Urban Observatory is delivering the largest set of publicly available real time urban data in the UK. We are using this data, and other hydrological measurements, in a new generation of simulation models of cities, water infrastructure and rivers, and all of this is only possible with our new Big Data and Cloud technologies.”
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