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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Smart City Initiatives Using Digital Twins

December 13th, 2019 by Susan Smith

According to ABI Research, 500 smart cities will have digital twins by 2025. Currently the cities of Boston, New York, Singapore, Stockholm, Helsinki, Jaipur, Newcastle and Amaravati have deployed digital twins.

“Originally developed for industrial systems, the digital twin concept is now spreading to the smart cities environment,” said vice president for end markets at ABI Research, Dominique Bonte. “However, it won’t be a single Uber-like digital twin for an entire city but rather an aggregation and integration of domain-specific digital twins for systems like smart buildings, traffic infrastructure, energy grids and water management.”

According to Esri company materials, with its 3D and spatial analysis capabilities and the evolving integration of technologies such as building information model (BIM), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR), GIS offers tremendous benefits for modeling impacts and improving operations through the use of digital twins by government and industry for activities such as:

  • Viewshed delineation
  • Solar radiation assessment
  • Shadow modeling
  • Urban analytics
  • Modeling sea level rise
  • Space-time analysis

One city that has taken the digital twin model to heart is the city of Boston. In the 1980s, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) carved a wooden model of its downtown area. Perhaps that served as the precursor to the twin concept, yet wooden or plastic models do not have flexibility and can’t be manipulated to try out best case scenarios. Since then the BPDA has used a 3D digital model of the city to capture it in its entirety.

Boston Shadow Web Scene

ESRI GIS software and services were used to create the first 3D model for a digital twin that was used to examine shadows cast on Boston Common, pursuant to the Boston Common Shadow Law passed that limited the amount of time any new building could cast shadows on the park.

In 2016, a 775-foot parking garage project, Winthrop Square Tower, was proposed, that exceeded the Boston Common Shadow Law height restrictions. While shadow restrictions were subsequently lessened, the BPDA uses Boston’s digital twin to visualize and interact with the project and track its impact on the downtown area.

Clearly, the GIS 3D twin has gone beyond the shadow studies to provide quantitative and qualitative analysis workflows for the rest of the city. Much of the city’s geographic data is available to the public, such as open data for parcel ownership, zoning districts, historic landmarks and open space.

Boston is now looking into the effects of autonomous vehicles and ridesharing, connecting sensor feeds to maps and models for real-time awareness of available city services. Other areas of use may include analytics of extent of sea-level rise.

Chief Data Officer, Stefanie Costa Leabo spoke with GISCafe Voice on some of the ways Boston and other cities can incorporate smart city initiatives into their infrastructures. 

How is the City of Boston currently addressing the use of GIS for their smart city initiatives?

Almost everything a city does has a spatial component, which makes GIS critical for understanding, communication, and engagement around city services. We frequently map data as a starting point in our projects – it’s a very clear way to visualize the work that our colleagues are doing and potentially help them identify patterns that weren’t otherwise obvious. We build GIS apps for our colleagues to enable field work such as routing and data collection. We also use maps to communicate to and engage with our constituents. You’ll find lots of maps on that serve up valuable pieces of information to residents and visitors alike. And we’ve also developed interactive map applications that allow us to get feedback from constituents, such as our safety concerns map.

What challenges are you seeking to solve?

The Analytics Team works on a wide range of issue areas and we’ve found GIS to be particularly useful in our work on transportation. Boston is committed to making it easier for residents and visitors to move about the city, and to continue to do that well in a rapidly changing transportation environment requires a solid understanding of our built environment, which is often facilitated by GIS.

How would you recommend other older cities approach incorporating smart city initiatives into their existing infrastructure and/or: what do you feel are the most important factors in developing the smart city? 

I think all cities should be mindful about incorporating smart city initiatives into their existing infrastructure, regardless of how old the city is. To us in Boston, deciding to pursue a smart cities initiative is less about the pieces of physical hardware and much more about value and impact. We consider questions of data collection and privacy, the visual impact new technology might have on our streetscapes, and whether an initiative will enable us to make better decisions or deliver improved services. Those factors have very little to do with being an older city.

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Categories: 3D Cities, 9-1-1, air pollution, analytics, ArcGIS, ArcGIS Earth, ArcGIS Online, ArcPad, asset management, autonomous driving, autonomous vehicles, Big Data, Building Information Modeling, citizen science, cloud, cloud network analytics, data, developers, election maps, emergency response, Esri, field GIS, financial services, geocoding, geospatial, GIS, government, GPS, health, indoor location technology, indoor mapping, location based services, location intelligence, mapping, mobile, public safety, real estate, reality modeling, remote sensing, resilient cities, retail, sensors, situational intelligence, spatial data, subsurface utilities, survey, transportation, utilities

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