Singapore's First Country-Scale Digital Twin and The Future of Digital Open Data
It's no secret that the construction industry has been slower than many other industries to adopt digital technology, but there is increasing recognition of the benefits that digitalization can bring. Digital tools and technologies can increase efficiency and productivity, reduce costs, improve safety, and enable better collaboration and communication among stakeholders in the construction process.
The construction industry, which contributes 13% to the global GDP and is responsible for roughly one-third of global CO2 emissions, has close connections and implications with various activities such as logistics, mechanics, and land management. Furthermore, it is an integral part of our daily lives, and its significance should not be underestimated. The construction sector plays a crucial role in shaping our surroundings, including streets, parks, highways, airports, homes, and schools, and also influences the quality of the air we breathe.
The digitization of this industry can help address sustainability challenges that are sure to progress unless something is done. For example, digital tools can help optimize building design and energy use, reduce waste and material consumption, and improve the monitoring and maintenance of buildings over their lifecycle. Digital technologies can also support the adoption of circular economy principles, which prioritize the reuse and recycling of materials and resources.
One remarkable example of how digitization can transform the way we understand and interact with our physical environment is the recent unveiling of the digital twin of Singapore. By creating a detailed 3D model of the entire nation, Singapore has provided a platform for developing and testing new technologies and urban planning strategies in a virtual environment.
Bentley Systems' tools, along with other technologies such as GIS, lidar, and imagery data, were instrumental in the creation of this digital twin. The process of transforming raw data into reality mesh, building, and transportation models was accelerated, allowing for the efficient creation of a comprehensive and detailed model of the country.
The potential applications of this digital twin are vast, ranging from urban planning and transportation to emergency response and disaster management. It can be used to simulate and test different scenarios and strategies, allowing for more informed decision-making and better outcomes.
Moreover, the digital twin of Singapore could be a significant step towards the development of the metaverse - a virtual world that merges with the physical world. By providing a detailed and accurate representation of Singapore, the digital twin could serve as a starting point for the creation of a larger, interconnected virtual world that spans multiple nations and regions.
Singapore, being an island nation, faces significant challenges from rising sea levels due to climate change. However, the country is leveraging its integrated digital twin infrastructure to mitigate these challenges. By providing a single, accurate, reliable, and consistent terrain model, the infrastructure is supporting the national water agency in resource management, planning, and coastal protection efforts.
The benefits of the digital twin infrastructure extend beyond climate change response, as it is also aiding in the rollout of renewable energy. Through the use of an integrated source of building model data, the infrastructure has helped craft a solar photovoltaic (PV) roadmap to meet the government's commitment of deploying two gigawatts peak (GWp) of solar energy by 2030.
One significant advantage of a digital twin over a traditional map is its ability to be constantly updated with new data. However, achieving this requires a sophisticated data management platform capable of collecting and updating data collected from different sources to represent the city's separate yet interconnected digital twins. According to Hui Ying Teo, a senior principal surveyor at the Singapore Land Authority, for a digital twin to achieve its full potential, it should represent not only the physical space but also the legal space, such as cadaster maps of property rights, and the design space, such as planning models like building information modeling (BIM).
City and national governments face the challenge of converting individual data silos containing geographic, infrastructure, and ownership records into unified digital twins. However, this is a daunting task due to the differences in data capture methods, file formats, and data quality and accuracy. Governments must also create digital twins while respecting the privacy of citizens, confidentiality of enterprise data IP, and security of the underlying data. To overcome these challenges, governments must explore various strategies to transform data silos into unified digital twins.
In Singapore, government agencies previously conducted their own topographical surveys to aid in planning decisions, leading to duplicate efforts due to differing timelines. To address this issue, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) partnered with Bentley Systems to implement a "capture once, use by many" strategy. The SLA used lidar and automated image capture techniques to rapidly map the nation, reducing costs from SGD 35 million to 6 million and time from two years to eight months. This approach enabled the creation of an open-source 3D national map that can be used by various government agencies, authorities, and consultants.
Over a period of forty-one days, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) successfully captured over 160,000 high-resolution aerial images, which were then transformed into a 0.1-meter accurate 3D reality mesh covering the entire country. The SLA utilized Bentley's ContextCapture tools to create this mesh. Additionally, the SLA employed Bentley's Orbit 3DM tool to convert over twenty-five terabytes of local street data into the digital twin. To ensure data standardization, the team used LAS and LAZ for point cloud data, GeoTIFF to align imagery with physical spaces, and CityGML to support vector models and surfaces.
The implementation of a digital twin city offers numerous benefits for both citizens and urban planners. It allows for the simulation and visualization of urban development scenarios, which can facilitate evidence-based decision-making, reduce costs, and optimize resource allocation. A digital twin city also has the potential to improve the quality of life for residents by enhancing infrastructure, and public services, promoting sustainable development, and creating more efficient and livable urban environments. Furthermore, the data collected from a digital twin city can provide insights for scientific research, urban innovation, and policy-making. As technology advances and cities become more complex, the implementation of digital twin cities is becoming increasingly important to help us better understand, manage, and improve the urban environment. Ultimately, access to digital open data can help create a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous society, where innovation and creativity can thrive.
Singapore's implementation of digital geospatial and construction data in a digital city model is just the beginning. Civils.ai is making the lives of Geotechnical Engineers easier by utilizing open data. Introducing their new product George, the AI borehole log digitizer, which automates the usually boring and tedious task of reading and transcribing information from geotechnical reports. With their advanced technology, civils.ai is helping to extract data directly from PDF site investigation reports and turn them into digital files. They’ve been hard at work digitizing the publicly available data across London and have already digitized almost 20% of the city's geology. They are now offering out their tool to allow you to digitize your own private reports and store your digitized files in your own private repository, making manually transcribing from PDFs a task of the past. Maybe London will soon have an underground digital twin thanks to civils.ai!