To take on challenges in the physical world, imec investigates the possibilities of a digital decision support tool: the digital twin.
We’re facing considerable societal and economical challenges. Moreover, just about every problem we face – from road safety to climate change – requires a complex approach, even spanning several domains.
Do you close a road to increase its safety? Then you might make the surrounding streets less safe. But you might also improve the air quality in a nearby park. And what’s the most sustainable way to transport a shipment? An electric van, or a freight vessel that runs on gasoline? The answer depends on the cargo, distance, desired delivery speed, and the actual traffic situation.
Therefore, policy-making is often a question of seeking balances. Acting, observing, adjusting. But if you do that in the real world, you’re bound to cause inconveniences. And those lead to frustration and resistance. That’s why a digital twin is a useful instrument. Such an accurate simulation tool allows policy makers, domain experts, businesses and knowledge institutes to do a risk-free valuation of interventions. And therefore to improve decision-making.
Imec has been conducting research on digital twins for years. And launched a first test version of the city of Antwerp, fed by sensor data from the Antwerp Smart Zone, amongst other sensor data. We use these research insights throughout collaborations with Flanders and Europe. All to further explore the potential of digital twins.
The imec showcase demo gives you a sneak preview. Try out one of the scenarios yourself via the link below.
To reliably bridge the digital and the real world, a digital twin needs to provide up-to-date insights. It therefore contains realtime data, for example from sensors. This data is combined with existing and historical data. Finally, calculation models are unleashed to do their magic.
Take note that a digital twin is not restricted to a single domain. Instead, it combines several dimensions, such as traffic, air quality and noise pollution. Therein lies its power as a policy support tool: it provides clarity to a complex reality.
A digital twin is more than a 3D representation of reality. Ultimately, it’s a tool to make simulations and predictions. And eventually to do real-world interventions without human involvement.
But we’re not there yet. To make these simulations, we need sophisticated models. And quality data to nourish those models. That’s what imec researchers are striving for today.
It all starts from the data. We need to move from big data to smart data. From unstructured data to useful information that is FAIR: findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. On top of that, we need to smash data silos. Because today, most data are locked in. And we don’t fully exploit their value. We need to release them to open the door to innovation and a new data economy.
But how to improve the availability of data without compromising accuracy, controllability, and transparency? Imec is conducting research into data spaces in various projects. Their goal is to enable the easy and safe sharing of data through standards, protocols and agreements.
“By using a digital twin of the city, we can simulate the effect of certain decisions. If they don’t work, we can undo them with one push of a button.” - Minou Esquenet, municipal councilor responsible for smart city, city of Bruges
Imec expands its knowledge of digital twins by contributing to a series of test cases in domains that struggle with complex decision-making processes.
In an open innovation project with the city of Bruges, we unveil several data sources pertaining to air quality and traffic streams. We collect them on one single dashboard for policy makers who want to make predictions within their domains. For instance, to compare the traffic situation before and after a particular intervention. Imec and the city of Bruges seek collaboration with industrial actors, domain and experts and other cities. With the shared goal of accelerating the development of digital twins in Flanders through open data.
Another example is Physical Internet Living Labs – or PILL. In this project, the digital twin is the brain of a system designed to run complex logistic processes more efficiently. That’s explored through test cases in close collaboration with the Flemish harbors and the logistics sector.
Imec also examines the possibilities of digital twins through European research projects.
Within DUET, we team up with Digitaal Vlaanderen to develop a scalable digital twin framework for European cities and regions. This research project was granted the Best Enabling Technology Award.
Furthermore, URBANAGE investigates how to use technology to make cities more age-friendly. And PRECINCT looks into the use of digital twins for critical infrastructures. In Antwerp, for example, that pertains to the connection of water and transport infrastructures to facilitate the decisions of police and emergency services.
PIONEERS aims to make the European harbors more sustainable. The Port of Antwerp-Bruges coordinates this project and called in imec’s help for the development of a digital twin to untangle logistical knots.
If other interested parties, cities and municipalities want to explore the concept of a digital twin, they can come to imec. We make our knowledge and code available to them through an open source framework.
“Imec takes on the role of catalyst and accelerator. And we provide our knowledge and code to develop an open source framework with commercial parties. It’s an open way of working that also helps other cities that want to set up a digital twin.”
- Jan Adriaenssens, director public technology at imec
We bundled our first insights into digital twins in a white paper. It presents specific possibilities for applications, types of end users, system architecture, other technological design avenues, and much more.