Digital Twin Showcase: What is a Digital Twin?

Mark Hennen
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Sustainable infrastructure is a key component of climate change adaptation strategies; providing essential services, such as energy, water, transport, and communication to global populations, whilst aiming to limit the impact on the environment.

Experts believe a $90 trillion investment is required by 2030 to deliver sustainable infrastructure globally by 2040[1] [2].

However, investments are increasingly hard to secure due to volatile global economies, rising global populations, changing energy consumption patterns, and demand for social and environmental protection.

Limited time and fiscal resources provide fewer opportunities to recover from poor choices. For planners and policy makers, foresight is more critical than ever in deciphering the long-term impact of critical decisions.

Fortunately, as the globe continues to move towards digital, a flood of new data opportunities are coming online. When combined with ever-improving simulation techniques, we can find optimal solutions by realising an infinite number of decisions virtually, in a digital twin of our real environment.

In this first part of a four-blog series on digital twins, we discuss what a digital twin actually is, why their success is important, and how they are currently being used for business success and public good.

What is a Digital Twin?

Data on its own is impotent. To unlock its full potential, relevant data needs to be collected, combined, and assimilated in such a way that it can inform decisions. Digital twins represent a step change in making data work for the user. They are a virtual representation of a real-world physical counterpart (e.g., system, building, network, globe, etc.) described through the digital coupling of real-time data.

Digital twins use live data to continually monitor the state of critical components; producing a virtual representation that is functionally indistinguishable from the real thing and highlighting any potential faults in dependent systems.

Digital twins have the ability to embed insight into critical decision making. They use sophisticated models to accurately simulate changes within the system, using a virtual environment to test potential scenarios to find the optimal solution without ever altering the physical counterpart. These models are personalised through the collection of live data to the specific characteristics of that physical asset, making them more accurate than conventional models. Decisions understood virtually can then be implemented with confidence in the real-life asset.

Importantly, digital twins continually model the life cycle of any system, asset, or component.  By combining AI and machine learning techniques with live data, digital twins can automatically identify differences between modelled and real-life performance. This ability provides timely alerts to inefficiencies at the component level, helping the user to plan for, or prevent any issues before they occur.

Why are Digital Twins Important?

The digital twin market is booming; its current market share of USD 3.1 billion is expected to grow to USD 73.5 billion by 2027[3]. As the increasing adoption of digital and cloud technologies opens the door to digital twin solutions, growth is driven by a need for greater efficiency across all sectors.

The basic, fundamental structure of a digital twin lends itself to many use cases, at all scales. As such, an increasingly diverse range of industries look towards a digital twin future, including:

  • Infrastructure/built environment digital twins develop on existing building management and design software, such as, Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Buildings Information Management (BIM), to manage the life cycle of a building’s functionality. Continually monitoring and optimising energy efficiency, comfort, and productivity. Such digital twins have been expanded across towns and cities, incorporating transport and pollution management.
  • Manufacturing and Maintenance –from the domain of CAD for manufacturing design, component performance and process efficiency as well as managing supply chains and predicting consumer behaviours, (e.g. DHL Logisitcs Digital Twin, Airbus Skywise)
  • Agriculture – a more recent entrant to digital monitoring sees the analysis of growing patterns, changing climate, market demands, and driving collaboration on environmental protection policy.
  • Space industry – large potential for digital twins to enhance performance for the growing number of satellite and spacecraft missions, including spacecraft monitoring and maintenance, constellation management, and extracting the full potential from earth observation data.   

The benefits of digital twins are clear, and as more data and better data assimilation tools become available, new use cases and industries will inevitably benefit from digital twin technology.

“Relevant use cases can be found throughout the entire lifecycle [of a project]. The challenge is to identify the gaps which technology can fill, and then to iterate and integrate digital twin solutions to produce comprehensive and useful tools.” – Dr Michael Grieves (Chief Scientist Florida Institute of Technology)

Hidden in Plain Sight

Digital twin technologies can be found all around us if you know where to look. Did you ever wonder how your sat nav always seems to know exactly when you will arrive? Something as everyday as planning a journey using Google Maps uses a sophisticated digital twin, combining complex map routing algorithms with live data, including traffic flow and the users speed and position. From this, your sat nav can continually simulate your entire journey, provide optimised routes, and continually update you on your expected arrival time.

We even carry digital twins around with us in our pockets or even on our bodies, as smart watches and smart phones continually record data about our habits, which is then used to personalise our experience of social media, shopping, even optimise our exercise and diet.

Sim Cities

During the past few decades, populations have migrated on mass to cities. For the first time in human history, more people live in cities than rural areas[4]. Currently, the United Nations predicts that more than 55% of the World’s population live in cities, yet 1 in 3 people live in un-sustainable slum conditions[5].

With the trend of urbanisation looking to continue, key city infrastructure including assets for energy, water, transport, and sanitation are coming under increasing pressure. More and more, city planners are looking towards digital twins to plan sustainable futures.

As Singapore gained its independence in the 1960’s, it faced the undesirable tag as “one of the world’s worst slums”.  Yet today, Singapore is a world class city, deploying smart technologies to ensure a sustainable standard of living for each of its 6 million inhabitants.

Singapore’s success comes despite some specific challenges, linked with climate change and continual urbanisation. As a small, low-lying island nation with a large population density, threats such as rising sea levels, intense heat and pollution present a real risk to the sustainability of their built environment.

The Singapore government worked with Dassult Systemes to create a Virtual Singapore; one of first digital twins for an entire nation. Built around a central platform, Virtual Singapore allows disparate government agencies to model future planning holistically.

Visualised through a 3D digital model, the virtual city behaves just like the real thing. Data from Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensors, real-time traffic patterns, wind, and temperature measurements/forecasts, are assimilated alongside multiple geospatial datasets including population demographics, water and energy utilities, vegetation, and open water sources.

Together, these data enable the digital twin to both predict and continually monitor the impact of urban developments, meaning buildings and infrastructure are no longer designed in isolation.

Architects and planners have oversight of all systems; embedding knowledge in the design phase so factors such as increased traffic, pollution, and noise from developments such as a new highway or shopping mall can be planned for and mitigated against.

Virtual Singapore has already helped identify sustainable solutions (e.g., Greenprint project), upgrading neighbourhoods to better manage the new state of things – be that more efficient public transport, implementation of green spaces, or better insulated building materials.

Virtual Singapore has been followed by many other digital twin cities, there are now entirely new towns being constructed around a centralised digital network, with a functional digital twin at its core (e.g., Nava Raipur, developed with AVEVA Group).

For Public and Environmental Good

Fujitsu has developed a tsunami warning application for mobile devices. When a tsunami alert is triggered, the app combines real-time tidal data with sophisticated flooding models to identify areas most at risk from flooding. It alerts those users most at risk, using their positional data to advise the best evacuation routes, and subsequently inform rescue workers where to direct efforts.

Climate change will continue to affect our environment; the challenge is to attempt to understand the impact given the many complex inter-dependencies. Furthermore, as humans continue to change the natural environment, irreparable ecosystem destruction will prevail if left unchecked.

To address these challenges, The Global Future Council on Space recognises the urgency and calls for a ‘Mission Control’ for Earth. This is looking to pool the vast amounts of information, including the increasing array Earth observation (EO) data to monitor each of the Earth’s critical systems within a digital twin framework[6].


Digital twins continue to drive innovation across many industries by providing a realistic virtual environment from which to monitor, predict and change our real environment. Digital Twins are an extremely powerful tool to drive innovation, enhance efficiency and boost profitability.

Importantly, the power of digital twins is being harnessed for public good, informing decisions that improve our wellbeing, while increasing the sustainability of our investments and developments.

Want to Learn More?

Presented by the Satellite Applications Catapult, please follow our new series of blogs about digital twins. As the digital twin market booms, this series aims to uncover how digital twins and the space sector benefit one another, and what role the UK space industry plays in driving innovation in this area. As you follow this series, try to think how your company could benefit from digital twin technology, or if a digital twin enhanced with space technology could drive innovation within your industry? We would love to hear from you as we promote digital twins in space.


[2] Global Infrastructure Outlook: – Accessed 08/01/2022

[3] Markets and Markets – accessed 01/11/2022

[4] Ourworldindata

[5] Global share of urban population living in slums

[6] Global Future Council on Space: Space for Net Zero – World Economic Forum