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Five cities pioneering digital twin technology

by Sion Geschwindt

Digital twin technology has enormous potential to make the operation, maintenance, and planning of our cities more sustainable and efficient.

But what exactly is a digital twin? 

Simply put, it is a highly complex virtual replica of a real world ‘thing’ or system.

The ‘thing’ could be a car, a building, a factory, or even an entire city. 

A digital twin is distinct from a standard 3D model because it constantly receives live data, allowing it to evolve in tandem with its real-world sibling.

But unlike the real world, in a ‘twin’ you can simulate events and predict future scenarios risk-free. 

Want to test whether a building can withstand a hurricane or how population growth will impact transport services? You can do that in a digital twin. The sky’s the limit.

In the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) sector for instance, digital twins are already facilitating improved ROI, energy savings, maintenance, and performance across the lifecycle of assets. 

And their use is expected to grow exponentially as a result.

One study predicts the market will skyrocket from £2.2bn in 2020 to £35bn by 2026.

This growth trend is driven by demand for the insights that digital twins provide and bolstered by the increasing availability of data and smart analytics from the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, and machine learning.  

ABI predicts that, by 2025, some 500 cities around the world will be using digital twin technology.

Here are five that are leading the way. 


Launched in 2014 and completed in 2018, ‘Virtual Singapore’ was the world’s first city-wide digital twin. 

Designed by Chinese software company 51World, the S$73m (c.£53m) project created a 3D replica of the city to help officials optimise urban planning decisions.   

The twin is a complete virtual world linked to a live stream of sensor data on bus positions, traffic, weather, noise, and more.

Today, Virtual Singapore is being used by civil servants, academics, and construction and planning professionals to improve operations, predict future risks, and optimise spending. 

For instance, the Housing Development Board recently used the twin to analyse the feasibility of specific neighbourhoods for the installation of solar roofs, water-retention features, and pneumatic waste systems. 

Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Europe’s largest port is also on track to be its smartest. 

The Port of Rotterdam has teamed up with IBM to automate its ship clearance operations with the goal of reducing berthing time and increasing ship holding capacity, all without any new infrastructure.  

IBM’s IoT sensors – which will continuously record data relating to water and weather, wind, temperature, visibility, ship movements, and free berths – are currently being installed across the 42-kilometer-long site.

IBM is in the process of constructing a digital twin of the port, which will be fully digitalised by 2025.   

This year, Rotterdam received the UNESCO Linking Cities Award, partly thanks to its rapid adoption of digital twin technology.

Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland’s award-winning ‘Safeswim’ programme provides residents with transparent and accurate information on water quality for more than a hundred local beaches.  

Global software company Mott Macdonald developed a large-scale predictive digital twin to map real-time data from the beaches.

The twin uses over eight billion data points, machine learning, and cloud analytics to understand the complex behaviour of the city’s wastewater network, storm drainage systems, and the natural environment to forecast water quality in real-time. 

The information is freely accessible to the public online and has empowered residents to make safe swimming choices. 

Las Vegas, USA

Las Vegas recently unveiled plans to create a digital twin of itself to give planners, building owners, and system operators better visibility into their assets’ operations to improve mobility, air quality, noise pollution, water management, and emissions.

Project partners Cityzenith and Terbine will bring together and contextualise IoT data from local government agencies, building operators, transportation systems, vehicle manufacturers, and more to provide the high volumes of sensor information needed by the urban digital twin.  

The project will initially provide a twin of a significant area of downtown but will eventually encompass the whole of Sin City.  

The partners will unveil the first iteration of the ‘Las Vegas Digital Twin’ at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2022.  

Valencia, Spain

Valencia’s water utility, Global Omnium, built a digital twin in 2014 with data collected from more than six billion data points across the city’s water network. 

Thanks to the digital twin, enabled by the utility’s GoAigua software, the City of Valencia has a nearly perfect view of pressure and flow in all 15,000 nodes of the network, helping them to automatically control pressure, minimize leaks, as well as improve customer experience in real time.

In just a few years, they have increased network efficiency by 40% and saved an average of 4.5bn litres of water annually.

As the twin receives more information, GoAigua’s machine learning algorithms become increasingly powerful at optimising efficiency and predicting future threats to the city’s water supply.

Main image: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Read next: Sinay and 3D CityScapes partner to create digital twins for seaports

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