We usually think of digital twins in the Industry 4.0 frame. Basically, they are digital representations of a physical objects, which are outfitted with various sensors related to relevant features or areas of functionality. Sensors allow to collect data such as energy output, temperature, operating conditions, and more. These pieces of information are applied to the digital copy to run simulations, analyze performance issues, and define possible solutions, all with the goal of generating valuable insights to improve the original physical object.

While digital twins are somehow mature in the smart manufacturing world, they are increasingly used to replicate entire buildings, cities, and even larger areas. Latvia has recently launched an initiative to develop a digital replica of the Baltic Sea to mitigate the impact of climate change. Among the most polluted marine environments in the world, the Baltic Sea urgently needs to be regenerated, so its digital twin will provide a simulated environment to model human activities and look for innovations to fight negative side effects.

Cities are mostly using digital twins to reduce their environmental footprint and direct sustainability investments. According to ABI Research, cities are expected to save $280 billion by 2030 for more efficient urban planning via digital twins.

In the US, an interesting experience is being made by the City of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Partnering with researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the city succeeded in building a virtual model by integrating data from 500 different sources, including traffic cameras, radar detectors, weather stations, and emergency services. The digital twin enabled traffic congestion experiments – for instance, researchers found that more than 90% of cars got stopped by red lights during the midday rush on Shallowford Road and they decided to recompute the timing for traffic signals. As reported by Smart Cities Dive, signaling patterns are now changed every four minutes based on traffic conditions, and this improved traffic flows up to 30%, also resulting in greater energy efficiency.

The City of Las Vegas set up a virtual replica of buildings, transportation systems, and downtown infrastructure. Leveraging IoT sensors and a 5G network, the city aims at using the digital twin to improve mobility, air quality, noise pollution, water management, and emissions from major buildings. The initiative may ultimately encompass the larger Valley area and become more sophisticated over time thanks to machine learning-based permissions model.

Digital twins are rapidly becoming vital to how cities are run. Now in Las Vegas we will have a city-scale digital twin that is driven by the physical environment, and ultimately letting us control key systems through it,” said Michael Sherwood, CIO at Las Vegas to Cities Today. “The bottom line is that digital twins are going to be the future of how cities are managed and how they’re operated.”