Virtual Bradford

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Case Study Overview

Digital twins of cities are virtual replicas of physical urban environments that are created by integrating data from a variety of sources such as sensors, cameras, and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices. These digital twins provide a high-fidelity representation of the real city and enable users to monitor, model, and simulate urban systems in real-time.

Digital Twins of Cities

Digital twins of cities are virtual replicas of physical urban environments that are created by integrating data from a variety of sources such as sensors, cameras, and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices. These digital twins provide a high-fidelity representation of the real city and enable users to monitor, model, and simulate urban systems in real-time.

By combining data from multiple sources, digital twins can provide insights into how the city functions and how it can be optimised for efficiency, sustainability, and livability. Digital twins of cities are becoming increasingly popular as they offer a powerful tool for urban planners, policymakers, and other stakeholders to make more informed decisions about the design, management, and operation of urban environments. Thus, digital twins are helping to shape the future of our cities, making them more sustainable, resilient, and responsive to the needs of their inhabitants.

Virtual Bradford

The University of Bradford (UoB) and The City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council have joined forces to devise a ground-breaking methodology for creating and presenting the UK’s first high-resolution, 3D, online digital twin prototype that encompasses the entirety of the Bradford City Centre. Virtual Bradford is an open source digital twin in terms of the base model, making it accessible to anyone for any purpose.

The Bradford digital twin work is attracting funding from different sources (including EU, UK Research and Innovation), which brings opportunity in different ways. The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s work is funded as part of the PLACE Programme. Among other eight knowledge exchange projects, Virtual Bradford was funded explicitly to co-design and co-develop approaches that enable ways for place based research to connect with the value that comes from the arts and humanities. In this way, Virtual Bradford has an explicit focus on the World Heritage sites within the district and aims to connect with the younger generation in Bradford.

Building process

The task at hand involved the development of an open-source digital twin of Bradford that is free from copyright and can be maintained by the Council and other stakeholders. Essentially, this creates a 4D model of the city that can adapt to its constantly evolving nature. Additionally, the digital twin features its own data sharing platform, which is open source and available for download free of charge from GitHub. This approach ensures that the challenge of creating a digital twin can be replicated in other parts of the world.

The bespoke technology solution utilised to build the digital twin leverages a variety of conventional and immersive imaging capabilities to capture data from both aerial and ground perspectives, with precise georeferencing achieved through the use of mobile mapping and Global navigation satellite system (GNSS) positioning.

Imaging capabilities of Virtual Bradford

The process of developing Virtual Bradford was also informed by the expertise gained from Visual Heritage research, which involves creating models of endangered heritage sites from around the globe. By applying this knowledge to Bradford, UoB and the Bradford Council have devised an innovative approach for accurately capturing the city.

The initial phase of the project focused on the downtown area of the city, which can be utilised for various objectives, such as urban planning, tracking air pollution and traffic, and conducting historical tours to display the city’s past. Additionally, it can be employed for gaming and virtual commerce purposes. Future iterations of Virtual Bradford will enable the interrogation of urban settings, which will allow for a better understanding of the vegetation of the city, its lighting set up, and other ways to make the tool more dynamic.


The creation of Virtual Bradford offers a range of benefits that align with the strategic priorities of the Council. One potential application that the Council aims to explore immediately is to leverage the Digital Twin in their endeavour to become the country’s premier clean growth city district. Open-access to the digital twin stimulates growth, investment, regeneration, and innovation in Bradford, while also providing a tool for collaborative decision-making and improving citizen engagement. This digital twin of the city supports urban civic planning and improves traffic management. The tool also enables individuals to preview virtual reproductions of structures before their construction.

Furthermore, the platform allows businesses to open virtual shops and artists to display virtual exhibitions, transforming how people interact with the city. Thus, the development and adoption of Virtual Bradford is crucial to achieving local objectives such as encouraging public participation through visualisation for better democratic purposes and reducing social inequalities.

Virtual Bradford also contributes to net zero 2050 by modelling air quality, flood risk, and noise pollution. By monitoring real-time pollution levels, it helps in disaster management, reducing carbon emissions, and improving supply and transportation networks.

Air quality modelling

The digital replica of the city can also be used as an educational resource. The datasets obtained serve as the basis for future digital records of significant historical sites, structures, and objects, with the goal of showcasing Bradford’s heritage to a global audience. This is achieved through the development and promotion of virtual tourism, which not only explores the city’s cultural value but also connects the past with future generations. For instance, users are able to take tours of the city to witness what it resembled during the Victorian era. Such an initiative helps to create tourism resilience in the district and mitigate the risk of irreversible damage due to events such as fire.

Important lessons to be mindful of

Cross-organisational knowledge sharing

The collaboration between the two institutions showcases the benefits of knowledge sharing between two of the biggest and most prominent organisations in the district. By creating its own open source, copyright-free and maintainable digital twin, the council can promote reinvestment and expansion of Virtual Bradford. Moreover, the two organisations share similar desires and challenges related to the development of the project, which allowed them to produce a tool that is superior to anything that could have been built individually. The two organisations also complete each other’s gaps in terms of skills and knowledge required in the development process of the tool.

From the academic perspective, working with the council is pointing to the value for the population in Bradford and the fact that it is a metropolitan district that exists across a large area, much of which is rural. This presents Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) challenges that come from demographics, indices of deprivation, geography, or fabric in terms of housing. A bespoke approach to building the digital twin by utilising such resources could not have been realised without this partnership.

Connected smart cities

The Council is exploring collaborations with fifteen councils across the UK, which share similar challenges and issues. In spite of finding themselves at different stages in that journey, they share knowledge and learnings with one another. Such knowledge sharing initiatives represent the first steps in achieving a collective standard for developing digital twins of cities, which may potentially lead to digital twins that are not only interoperable but connected.

A connected network of digital twins of cities has the potential to revolutionise urban planning and management. By connecting these digital twins, city leaders and planners can gain a more comprehensive understanding of how different cities and regions interact with one another. This interconnectedness allows for better decision-making, resource allocation, and collaboration across city boundaries. Moreover, it can enable more efficient disaster management by providing real-time information to emergency responders. The use of digital twins also promotes transparency and public participation, giving citizens a voice in urban development and planning. Overall, a connected network of digital twins can lead to more sustainable, resilient, and liveable cities for all.