UK urged to build digital twin of its infrastructure

Posted on 5 Jan 2018 by Jonny Williamson

A digital twin of the UK's infrastructure should be created to allow virtual projections to be carried out into future capacity needs, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has said.

A digital twin of the UK’s infrastructure should be created to allow virtual projections to be carried out into future capacity needs – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Using the power of big data and AI, it may be possible in the future to determine what changes need to be made to the way the public uses transport if the population on London were to increase by 50% by 2050, for example, the NIC said in a new report.

The NIC stated that a digital twin model could provide insights beyond what is currently seen with existing infrastructure models and could be used as a tool to aid decision making.

According to the report, this twin would capture data on infrastructure, which could be augmented with models, predictive asset management approaches and advanced data science to optimise the performance of infrastructure systems.”

Digital twin to facilitate UK roads maintenance

A digital twin model could facilitate the planning of maintenance works on UK roads and railways in a way which minimised disruption to consumers, or allow those planning to install new infrastructure to virtually “overlay” their plans onto existing infrastructure “to show interdependencies and evaluate the optimal timing of investment”.

The digital twin could also be used to identify efficiencies in energy use which can be tested across different sectors through simulations.

The NIC said: “Through the input of verified data to these digital twin models it will be possible to develop a richer understanding of the way the infrastructure system works. Applying deep learning techniques may offer extended predictive capabilities.”

According to the report, a six-month pilot initiative should be carried out “to explore and experiment with the benefits of building a digital twin of a specific geographical area.”

The Centre for Digital-Built Britain (CDBB), Alan Turing Institute (ATI) and the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) should all have roles in the pilot, the report suggested.

Pilot to be completed by October 2018

A review of the pilot should be completed by October 2018 and lessons from it used to inform “any future development of larger-scale or more complex digital twins, and the most effective institutional structures to support continuing progress in this area.”

As reported, the pilot scheme should look at issues such as security and data protection, and comprise collaboration between the public sector, businesses and academia.

The NIC said: “A successful digital twin pilot project will demonstrate the value of better coordinating and sharing data about infrastructure assets.

“A digital twin will be able to offer solutions to difficult decisions arising from population growth, congestion, climate change and the development of new technologies.

“Collaboration across academia, the technology industry, network operators, utilities, relevant public-sector bodies and consumers will be key to making a digital twin pilot project work.”