The just out August/September issue of Position takes a deep dive into a technology that is making waves in the industry – Digital Twins. As part of that coverage, we sat down with Euclideon’s Steve Amor, following the recent release of the firm’s udStream product, offering free and unlimited streaming and storage capacity for massive 3D datasets.
Position: Steve, thanks for your time today. In your view, what is the core promise of a digital twin that sets it apart from other spatial modelling and simulation techniques?
SA: Whilst there are similarities, BIM tends to focus on the design and construct phase of a project, whereas a digital twin is used more for ongoing engagement, exploration and visualisation by the communities, governments and all users of the city (or entity that is being ‘twinned’). A BIM model is quite rigid in its use due to its establishment right at the very beginning of the design stage – possibly many years prior. A digital twin, on the other hand, is more like a living document that is more flexible, accessible and useable in an unlimited array of use cases/situations. For example, no one would have considered the ‘social distancing’ that comes about with COVID-19 when the BIM models were designed. So their usefulness is probably limited. Digital twins, on the other hand, could help a building owner visualise implementation of social distancing restrictions to ensure compliance by being able to show crowd/line-up simulation and density of people within buildings.
Position: The phrase is heard often in our industry, but a view I’ve heard from experts is that active examples of fully-featured digital twins in our region are fairly thin on the ground at present. What’s your take on this?
SA: We have seen many photogrammetry and LiDAR models being captured every day, but it is true that not many are yet being turned into a true digital twin. I think the terminology has not yet made it to the average person. Certainly, there is not a good understanding of the difference between a standard 3D model, BIM and digital twin.
Position: Can you walk us through any exemplary projects you’re involved with? What defines a digital twin to you?
SA: Euclideon has previously been involved in a number of digital twin projects, where we have used our rendering technology to help model owners to make better use of their models. For example, the virtual Singapore project, which provided an amazing level of detail right across Singapore – and we additionally built a proof-of-concept based around emergency service scenarios. The digital twin model allowed emergency services from different agencies to be able to cooperate in real-time to manage the situation with the best preparation and knowledge of the locations involved. I’ve also seen some great models from around the world – particularly South East Asia – that whole region seems to be a great support of innovation in this area. A digital twin obviously needs to be an accurate representation, it must include a variety of non-visual attributes but at the same time, it should be visually appealing (and actually look like it does in real life). For me, the thing that most defines a great Digital Twin though is its’ flexibility – as I said before, the flexibility to be used for any number of unknown scenarios in the future.
Position: What do you think are key barriers to increasing uptake at present? What are factors that might influence this in the near future?
SA: The key barrier at the moment is that people don’t realise that they can digital twin an entire city or even country – for too long access to a 3D city model has been restricted to engineers working on an expensive desktop computer using a very complex project file of just one single building/location. Recent growth of photogrammetry and LIDAR capturing companies have caused us to see a huge upsurge in the number of Digital Twin models and the owners (usually city governments or municipalities) are seeking our assistance to make use of the models they have. Typically a city-sized digital twin model can be terabytes (or more) in file size – making it almost impossible to load quickly and be accessible remotely – this is one of the problems that our udStream service solves.
As more people see how easy it can be and how valuable it is to access a digital twin, then I feel there will be an even greater uptake– we are actively working to remove the barrier of entry to access these digital twins.
Position: I’ve heard a view that digital twins may have a ‘levelling’ or ‘democratising’ influence on the construction sector once they proliferate further – that the tech may be accessible to smaller players than say, BIM tools may be. Do you agree with this? Why/why not, and what are the factors that are driving this if so [e.g. open standards, accessibility]?
SA: Previously you had to have a really expensive desktop computer, with very expensive software for a very defined specialised task. Even then, you needed access to the models – which were probably stored on a huge hard drive and access was limited to the office. Thus, it was practically impossible for anyone but a few select specialist engineers to access these models. Now, with solutions such as udStream, those massive models can be hosted in the cloud and accessed anywhere in the world using only a standard browser – there is no need to install specialist software, no need to purchase dedicated storage hardware and the solution is free.
This is being driven partly by a drive towards cloud storage platforms, but also the industry is slowly moving towards a greater acceptance of data sharing. We’ve witnessed some governments even releasing datasets of their entire country as open data – something we at Euclideon are very supportive of.
Position: Digital twins are proliferating most in planning and construction, utilities and extractive industries at present, but the promise associated with them as a business transformation tool seems applicable to almost any industry. What are some other sectors that you see as well-placed in terms of awareness and adoption?
SA: We are well past digital twins only being relevant to those core industries. These days our biggest users are in the Rail and Main Roads sectors, actually. If you expand your definition of ‘digital twin’ slightly, how is it different to geological modelling already being done in the resources sector, land planning by agriculture or battle simulations by the military. We have even started to see people think about ‘digital twinning’ under the oceans. It’s an exciting time for this technology and I’m thrilled to be at the forefront.
Position: Many thanks for your time, Steve.
This interview and more can be found in the August/September edition of Position magazine – subscribe here.