How Digital Twins Impact Smart City Design

October 13

Digital twin technology empowers future innovations by allowing systems to be simulated and tested long before a physical prototype has been built. When it comes to creating a city, advancements in building information modeling (BIM) tools for design and construction can recreate urban environments that include buildings, terrain, infrastructure, landscapes, vegetation, and landmarks. The latest BIM modeling tools, coupled with historical data sets and simple IoT solutions, are being used to build today's smart cities.

As cities desire more intelligent infrastructure, the adoption of digital twin technology is on the rise. The demand for flexible digital building models emerged in the 1960s, and by 2004, designers, builders, engineers, and owners were able to work collaboratively on one dynamically updated project. Today, BIM models allow objects and shapes to have fully embedded metadata, which allows each part to understand its relationship to one another and the building as a whole. This major feature enables engineers to catch issues within the BIM model, which significantly reduces the number of change orders during construction.

Advancements in BIM modeling have been so successful that it has changed the way people plan, design, construct, and operate buildings and infrastructure on a global scale. In 2016 the UK mandated BIM use for all publicly funded building projects, and Germany is looking to require use for all transportation projects by the end of 2020. Enhanced with detailed layers of technical information and data, having a virtual representation of a city creates a time-efficient and cost-optimized solution for city planning and management.

Why Create A Virtual City

Through observation and analysis of 3D rendered calculations and projections via BIM models, smart cities can have intelligently planned urban living environments that account for safety and quality of life. As part of its Smart Nation effort, Singapore worked with Dassault Systems to develop a digital twin of their city in a virtual environment. Within this virtual city, current and future infrastructure projects could have their lifecycle examined and assessed against multiple scenarios.

Virtual Experimentation

  • Examine coverage areas for services to gain a realistic view of poor coverage areas and highlight areas needing improvement.

Virtual Test-Bedding

  • Examine 3D models of entertainment venues to simulate crowd dispersion and establish evacuation procedures during an emergency.

Planning and Decision-Making

  • Applications using sensor data from an IoT device can analyze traffic flow and pedestrian movements.

Benefits for the Community

Open access to data is an important aspect of a smart city, including its digital twin. The use of information-rich BIM files enables various users to access information while incorporating real-time dynamic updates from multiple stakeholders. From academia to public agencies, the research community, and private citizens, people have the opportunity to take advantage of the system capabilities for policy, business analysis, community collaboration, and more.


  • A city's digital twin can be a critical enabler for enhancing smart city initiatives around municipal services, maps, and sensor networks.

Citizens and Residents

  • Citizens can use the virtual platform to connect and create awareness around services that enrich their community.


  • Businesses can use the wealth of data and information within the virtual city for business analytics, resource planning, energy management, and specialized services.

Research Community

  • Creates space for technological innovation within public/private collaborations and partnerships that can create value for the city.

How to Use a Digital Twin

Several global cities are already using BIM technology to foster sustainability in expanding urban environments. The ability to visualize current and future problems on a 3D map makes it much easier to decide where and what solutions to implement. By leveraging big data and aggregate information from the public and private sectors, builders and city planners can increase the accuracy of targeting seen and unforeseen challenges in urban planning.

Collaboration and Decision Making

  • Visualizing existing landscapes against ongoing and future renovation projects allows multiple agencies to collaborate and harmonize their respective projects.


  • Virtual cities provide a convenient platform for citizens to visualize upgrades to their local communities.

Improved Accessibility

  • Virtual city models can be used to identify and create barrier-free routes for the disabled and elderly.

Urban Planning

  • With the help of virtual cities, urban planners can visualize the effects of new building construction on the surrounding area.

Analysis for Solar Energy Production

  • Building data concerning the surface area of rooftops and available sunlight give urban planners the ability to analyze which building has the highest potential for solar energy production and would be the best suited for installing solar panels.


A catalyst for smart building projects, creating a BIM model of a city or a building is essential when planning for long-term sustainability. Once constructed, data from IoT sensors can measure movement, ambient temperatures, or energy usage patterns to help reduce costs and increase efficiency. Additional data enables the digital twin to receive advanced notice of potential damage to building systems like HVAC and plumbing and detect wear and tear on roadways and infrastructure. When analyzed, these outputs can enable data-driven decision-making for managing building operations or future projects.

Through collaboration, city and building managers can efficiently tackle issues around livability in urban environments. Most importantly, beyond dense connectivity and technological advancement, smart cities have the potential to become elegantly designed ecosystems that account for essential human needs around safety, security, and comfort.

Curious about more smart city technologies on the horizon? Join our webinar, "Simple IoT for Smart Cities," on Thursday, November 12, 2020, at 11AM CT.

Jennifer Davis

About the author

As a highly-skilled technical writer, Jennifer brings practical knowledge and experience communicating solutions around green tech, aerospace, blockchain, LPWA, and Mobile IoT applications in a variety of industries and vertical markets. Prior to branching into technology, she gained over a decade of experience developing creative content for print and digital media.


BIM, Collaboration, design, digitaltransformation, digitaltwins, efficiency, energy, engineering, leanconstruction, materials, prefabrication, projectmanagement, smartcities, smartcity, sustainability, virtualcity

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