Urban India’s 3D digital twins are on their way to be born

Cities such as Dubai have already built their digital twins.  (Photo: AFP)
Cities such as Dubai have already built their digital twins. (Photo: AFP)

Summary

A Digital Twin is a three-dimensional (3D) virtual representation of an object or system that deliver real-time insights into the performance, operation, or profitability of a physical object—even a city.

BENGALURU : India may soon join the ranks of cities and countries such as Singapore, Yingtan in China, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Auckland, Helinski, and US states such as Boston, Colarado and Orlando that have built digital twins to enhance their efficiency, coordination and governance.

Amaravati, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, too, is already being built as a digital twin. Mumbai-based Genesys International, a geospatial products and solutions firm that announced plans to create a Digital Twin of India’s top 100 cities about 18 months ago, hopes to complete 20 digital twins by the end of 2024. CE Infosystems, better known as MapmyIndia, too is working on a 3D digital twin in India.

A Digital Twin is a three-dimensional (3D) virtual representation of an object or system that deliver real-time insights into the performance, operation, or profitability of a physical object—even a city.

The digital twin of a city, thus, can help policymakers improve city governance and the urban ecosystem by enabling better planning of infrastructure at lower costs.

Sajid Malik, chairman and managing director of Genesys, said his company plans to cover “the top 20 cities of India in the next 12-18 months. These are the bigger areas from a geographic coverage point of view—the other cities are smaller. Our progress has also been made possible due to India’s new geospatial policy (National Geospatial Policy 2022), which now allows us to collect and create content."

In December 2021, Genesys launched a programme that envisaged providing 3D data for the top 100 cities in the country with the aim to develop applications that could solve multiple problems facing urban India. In July 2022, it partnered with Esri India, a Geographic Information System (GIS) software and solutions provider, to help it provide a technology platform for 3D modelling and analysis of the data.

Two months later, Genesys also announced a partnership with infrastructure engineering software company Bentley Systems. The idea, according to Malik, was to add engineering and application data layers to the 3D digital twins of each city to enable local governments to improve public services including urban governance, disaster management, emergency response, and tourism.

But developing a 3D digital twin of a city is an onerous task. Genesys International is already working with Google Street View for street imagery and hopes to collect around 1 million kilometres of images of towns and cities by the end of this year.

“This is a high-definition engineering grade map where every inch of the city is brought within a GIS system," said Malik. To create a digital twin, one needs multiple layers of data. “So, we have to collect aerial data and obliques (sides of buildings), etc., to create a 360 degree, immersive experience of every part of the city. Street imagery implies that we also capture all the street furniture, the road information, stores, storefront data, etc.," explained Malik.

To achieve this objective, Genesys has five survey airplanes that typically fly at around 4,000 feet, hundreds of sensors that are fused with the LIDARs (Light Detection and Ranging) that use pulsed laser to detect nearby objects and cater to specific applications (eg. land tilting), mobile imaging systems that allow it to capture this data at scale, street imaging vans, backpacks, and drones -- "and whatever else it takes to get these images", according to Malik.

According to Malik, the 3D digital twin has applications (ranging from climate-smart cities or green infrastructure, better healthcare, green environment, smart education, and smart agriculture) with which you can measure any part of the city with five-centimetre level accuracy. For instance, one can simulate the installation of mobile networks on specific rooftops and identify the obstructions within the specified parameters, thus saving time and costs. Using a digital twin, hence, one can also design an entire solar infrastructure.

CE Infosystems, better known as MapmyIndia, began work on a 3D digital twin in the country five years back. Rohan Verma, now CEO and executive director of MapmyIndia, had then announced that his company was "building of the first Digital Map Twin of the Real World". This March, CE Infosystems partnered with Dassault Systemes to create a "virtual twin" for India’s digital urban infrastructure development.

“MapmyIndia Mappls Maps are ready for Virtual Twin technology and use cases with the most comprehensive, and high-definition, geospatial coverage in 2D, 3D, 4D, HD and 360 degree, captured through advanced sensors, on-ground through moving vehicles and in the sky, including from drones, and processed, productized and published in near-real time using cutting-edge AI/ML, computer vision, data analytics and geospatial technologies," said Rohan Verma, CEO and Executive Director, MapmyIndia Mappls. According to Verma, Dassault Systemes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform and MapmyIndia Mappls’ integrated platform of Virtual Twin-ready maps, technologies, solutions and services will help in city planning by helping scenarios to be modelled before they are deployed in the real world.

Malik, on his part, did not disclose the cost involved in building these digital twins. "Suffice to say that we are we are we are creating this site in a fairly economical manner". And Malik plans to sell this content to individual users as a "pay-per-use model" and as "content as a platform" for industries. He is targeting cities, utilities (telecom, city, gas, power, etc.), sectors like automotive, real estate, e-commerce, etc., and building partnerships with “big tech companies like Google, Apple, etc.".

That said, according to PwC's 'How digital twins can make smart cities better' 2022 report, countries will need a "robust accountability framework" to encourage data sharing, while offering sufficient protection to those parties doing so, and also establish "consistent data standards and rules" for collecting data. The consultancy firm also underscores the need to "have a systematic updating mechanism to constantly update static objects and scan new objects to ensure the accuracy of digital twins in real-world representations", to ensure accurate decision-making.

Malik, on his part, assures that "all this data is kept secured within the Indian geographical boundaries." Genesys International also has its own data centre since such an exercise requires storing "massive amounts of data". "We are helping create an angiography of the city because the moment you understand, for instance, the traffic data in your city, you will know where the blockages are, and what can be done. As we experience the uncertainties of climate change, global warming, resource depletion, and rapid urbanization, the real-world 3D virtual model of Digital GeoTwin is the answer to these," he concluded.

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