Driving the next generation of digital twins in architecture

Image: © Image courtesy of 51World

Real-time 3D platforms like Unreal Engine make it easier than ever to create digital twins in architecture

The idea of ​​the digital twin is still a niche concept in the world of AEC, but more and more industry leaders are beginning to explore its benefits. A digital twin is a virtual 3D clone of a real-world entity, such as a building or a city, but with the added benefits of live, real-time data.

Feeding live data from the physical world into the digital replica allows you to analyze and optimize the structure, which is incredibly useful in various aspects of the AEC pipeline, especially for real estate developers, building owners and town planners. Having a digital twin that moves and operates like a real device provides instant feedback on your processes, whether you’re looking at power consumption, speed, or efficiency.

Until recently, the main obstacle to creating digital twins in architecture was complexity itself. Just five years ago you would have needed a full stack developer to build a digital twin, but now it can be done by anyone with just a small amount of computer knowledge. Real-time 3D platforms like Epic Games’ Unreal Engine use data visualization to make the whole process more accessible.

digital twins in architecture
Image: © Image courtesy of WSP

Data visualization is at the heart of the digital twin, giving context to complex data in a spatial environment. Unreal Engine acts as a digital window onto a complex back-end database, creating an immersive, interactive, and user-friendly interface. This means that the data can be easily viewed and understood by anyone.

Digital twins enable real-time information

The ability to glean real-time insights into the performance of a building, city, or other structure is the primary benefit of creating a digital twin. Currently, there is a visibility gap between having a space you operate and accurately understanding how your assets are performing.

Digital twins fill this gap, giving you a real-time window into exactly how space is being used. This enables real-time decisions that can have a positive impact on performance, whether it’s fuel efficiency, passenger flow, or the ease with which employees do their jobs.

digital twins in architecture
Image: © Image courtesy of Vouse

A digital twin can be used to either look up historical data to see how a space has performed in the past, or view current data to see how a space is currently operated. This is extremely useful in many different use cases, from on-site safety management to locating machinery that is broken down and needs replacement. The next step for digital twins is predictive simulation, where information can reveal how a facility might perform in the future, based on historical and current data from the twin’s real-world counterpart.

There are already a number of organizations using digital twins powered by Unreal Engine. One example comes from Buildmedia, which created a virtual lookalike for Wellington City Council to provide the authority with insight into its citywide assets. The interactive twin city uses real-time data to provide transportation statistics, air traffic visualizations, bike sensor data and parking availability. This helps decision makers visualize future buildings and infrastructure and how they will function within a realistic city model.

Another project with a slightly more specific focus is 51 World’s digital twin at Wuyi Square Subway Station. With an average of 280,000 visitors per day, Wuyi Square is the busiest station in Changsha, the capital of central China’s Hunan province. The station’s digital twin helps optimize and direct traffic during peak hours, using motion sensors to quantify passenger flow. This means that real-time decisions can be made about how space is used and how commuters are routed through the station. Additionally, crowd simulations can be used to test different scenarios, such as emergency situations.

digital twins in architecture
Image: © Image courtesy of Buildmedia

Digital twins in the transport sector

Also in the field of transport, a digital twin of Changi Airport in Singapore has been created by local cross-technology design firm Vouse. The goal here was to bring the ability to simulate and visualize real-time information, including traffic flow and congestion around terminals, to improve navigation, safety and efficiency. Using the digital clone, architects and planners are able to visualize the impact of large-scale changes in the virtual world before implementing changes in the real world.

These examples offer just a small glimpse of how Unreal Engine is helping shape the next generation of digital twins in the AEC industry by making it easier than ever to get started.

Want to learn more about the role Unreal Engine can play or discuss your own digital twin implementation? Contact us to start the conversation.

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