Cities are a complex system of numerous moving parts, including transportation, manufacturing, urban development and more, that require massive resources to manage. Visualising how all these parts fit and work together is daunting, even for the most well-resourced municipalities. But the latest technology allows authorities to create an AI-enabled digital model of the city or the so-called digital twins.
A digital city is a virtual model that accurately reflects the physical urban environment. The virtual city can run simulations, study performance issues and generate possible improvements. The insights generated can then be applied back to the original physical environment. For example, planners might use a digital twin to predict transit times between two areas within a city coupled with socioeconomic data to determine optimal locations for public services to accommodate underserved residents better.
While still nascent, digital cities are emerging as the foundation of the smart city. Applied at scale, digital cities can help address the challenges that plague urban centres, including congestion, pollution, and pressure on resources, especially water and energy. Cities represent 54 per cent of the world’s population today, which will grow to 70 per cent by 2050. Cities also account for 75 per cent of global energy consumption and 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The GCC is one of the most highly urbanised parts of the world, with 85 per cent of the population living in cities today, expected to rise to 90 per cent by 2050.
Data is the linchpin of the digital city. Sensors collect data on infrastructure, processes and operations such as utilities, mobility and infrastructure which can then be exposed to advanced analytics platforms. This data can better manage resources, assets and services and improve operations. Ultimately, the insights afforded by this data help cities realise specific initiatives and improve the lives of their citizens. The McKinsey Global Institute found smart city technology can improve essential quality of life indicators – the cost of living, safety, time, jobs, connectedness, environment, and health – by 10 to 30 per cent.
A vital component of the digital city is the Smart Grid Digital Twin, a simulation of the electricity generation and transmission system. The Smart Grid Digital Twin reflects the entire life cycle process of the smart grid by mapping it in the virtual space. Power grid transmission lines are expanding as populations increase, coupled with frequent natural disasters and equipment deterioration, resulting in increased pressure on power grid line inspections. Current line inspections mainly rely on manual processes that are inefficient and result in inspection blind spots. Digital twin smart grid technology can realise real-time assessment, fault analysis, and report the results, thereby significantly reducing labour costs.
Traffic congestion is almost an inevitable part of urban living. But gigabits of data on travel are generated in cities every day from mobile maps, surveillance camera videos, taxis, buses and subways. Intelligent traffic management based on the digital twin can use this information and historical data to accurately evaluate road congestion levels in real-time, major event security, real-time navigation and congestion event playback. All these functions allow decision makers to relieve and clear traffic congestion using smart technologies. These are just two examples of digital cities’ potential to change how we live, work and play. Increasingly, regional leaders are turning to innovative technologies to future-proof their cities against current and future shocks. Abu Dhabi and Dubai were ranked as the smartest cities in the Middle East and North Africa region in the ‘Smart City Index 2021’. Masdar City in Abu Dhabi represents the first attempt in the Middle East to build a smart, sustainable city.
Masdar City aims to reduce the use of energy, water and generation of waste using a combination of technology, architectural designs and solar power. For example, the use of low-flow showers and smart water metres ensures the reduction of water wastage. The architecture ensures that streets and houses are cooler than they would be otherwise. The world will only get more urbanised. Smart cities built on digital twin platforms can help address current challenges, predict future occurrences and proactively resolve them, while creating new socioeconomic models for the benefit of communities and the planet.