What is a digital twin? | Jargon buster
What separates digital twins from any old 3D model? And why does real estate want or need them?
What is a digital twin?
A digital twin is a virtual representation of something in the physical world – in the case of real estate, a building, neighbourhood or city.
What makes it different from a 3D model is that it’s dynamic and flexible. A digital twin consumes data about the space it represents through things like building sensors, allowing it to continually update itself and remain accurate. As a building evolves and as its use changes, so does the digital twin.
The data they collect could include occupancy, air quality, temperature, lighting and so on – anything connected to a sensor. A digital twin needs to be able to collect all that data from potentially different types of sensors and bring it together in one place in a consistent format.
What are the benefits of using digital twins?
You can add functionality to a building – making it more intuitive or attractive to tenants – and you can better understand your space, allowing you to make decisions that cut costs, add value and lower emissions.
Because the digital twin tracks what goes on in a building, other tools can plug into it and make use of that data. For example, a room booking system would be able to know whether a booked room is actually being used and notify users that it’s available if it’s empty. If there are any problems with the room, it could direct them to the nearest empty room.
Analytics are potentially even more valuable. With the right data inputs, a digital twin can tell you what spaces people actually use and when. It can tell you where a building is wasting energy powering lights and equipment when they aren’t needed and track that data over time.
Those analytics can begin to predict future usage, allowing asset managers or occupiers optimise their spaces to suit their needs, recognising that building use is far from static.
Facilities management can respond more quickly to problems as they arise in, for example, the HVAC system, and can even rely on predictive maintenance to fix problems before they arise. The digital twin can monitor – and automate processes around – everything from the use of restricted spaces to indoor air quality and Legionella.
What questions should I ask digital twin providers?
As a term that’s entered buzzword territory, there is a chance you will come across digital twins that aren’t really digital twins.
Ask whether the system updates itself with up-to-date building data. Can it handle large amounts of data from lots of different sources? Does it standardise that data and allow other tools to plug into it?
How detailed and accurate are its analytics? How frequently does it update data?
To what extent can it automate everyday tasks in building management?
What are some examples of digital twins?
Smart Spaces: Software that allows you to connect to every operational part of a building, giving users real-time data, live visualisations and operational and maintenance tools. Read more
Spica: A workplace management platform that integrates with existing software and hardware in a building to offer analytics, compliance tools and more. Spica also has a workplace experience app called Luna that integrates with a building’s real-time sensor data. Read more
Cityzenith: A company working with cities like Las Vegas to either partly or entirely digitise their urban areas. These digital versions tap into city data and IoT devices to monitor and act on levels of air quality, pollution, emissions and more. Cityzenith claims to cut carbon emissions by between 50-100% with its SmartWorldOS platform. Read more