Digital Twin Talks: Concepts & Definitions Summary

Digital Twin Hub > Articles & Publications > Digital Twin Talks: Concepts & Definitions Summary

To explore how digital twins are defined and the overarching concepts around them, the DT Hub hosted a five-part talk series (available here).  

These talks were introduced by Sam Chorlton, chair of the Digital Twin Hub, who highlighted the fact that digital twin are not a new concept but rather that the technologies are now at a point where they can have a meaningful impact. With the national digital twin (NDT) programme leveraging now matured technologies and principles, these talks were aimed at exploring how they could be utilized within the built environment.  In each case, a video from the speaker was used to spark an online discussion involving a mix of stakeholders and experts from across the value chain. 

This first series of talks included: 

  • Olivier Thereaux (ODI), Towards a web of digital twins; 
  • Brian Matthews (DAFNI), Meeting the Digital Twin Challenge; 
  • Tanguy Coenen (IMEC), Urban Digital Twins; 
  • Neil Thompson (Akins), Twinfrastructure; and 
  • Simon Evans (Arup), Digital Roundtable.  

Towards a Web of Digital Twins 

Beginning the digital twin talk series, Olivier Thereaux from the Open Data Institute (ODI) considered the parallels between the world wide web and the need to connect digital twins to form a national digital twin.  By first citing the Gemini Principles and establishing what a digital twin is, Olivier articulated the rationale for their adoption by explaining the concept of digital twin as an approach to collect data to inform decision making within an interactive cycle. 

Olivier provided further detail about the need to both share and receive data from external datasets (e.g. weather data) and other related digital twins.  To enable this exchange, he proposed the need for data infrastructure such as standards and common taxonomies.  As these connections develop, Olivier foresees the development of a “network of twins” that regularly exchange data.  Scaling these networks, a national digital twin could be achieved. 

Responding to Olivier’s talk, DT Hub members and guests asked a wide range of questions including on the adherence of technologies to standards, with Olivier confirming the existing of suitable standards; and referring to the work done by W3C and others.  In addition, questions were posed around connecting twins that span cross-sectors and the need to ensure trust in data. 

The full Q&A discussion transcript can be found here

In addition, Olivier has also kindly produced an article on the topic of his talk, which can be found here

Meeting the Digital Twin Challenge 

Following Olivier, Dr. Brian Matthews from DAFNI presented on the DAFNI platform and the challenges related to developing an ecosystem of connected digital twins.  Citing Sir John Armitt and Data for the Public Good, Brian emphasized how data is now considered as important as concrete or steel in regard to UK national infrastructure.  Building on the digital twin definition given by Olivier, Brian proposed two types of digital twin:  

  • Reactive.  Dynamic model with input from live (near real time) data; and 
  • Predictive.  Static model with input from corporate systems. 

Linking to the Gemini Principles, Brian acknowledges that a single digit twin is impossible; requiring an ecosystem to achieve a national digital twin. Delving deeper, Brian looked at some of the associated technical challenges related to scaling and integration. He also talked about how the DAFNI platform can meet these challenges, by enabling connections between data and models, in support of the NDT programme.  

Responding to Brian’s talk, participants asked questions about whether “historic” could be considered an additional digital twin type with Brian confirming that historical are considered within the proposed types..  A lot of the discussion focused on data and data sets. This included the exchange data used by DAFNI with Brian confirming the use of a standardized dataset called DCAT which DAFNI are planning to publish. There were also questions to contextualize DAFNI within the NDT programme. 

The full Q&A discussion transcript can be found here

Urban Digital Twins 

Following Brian, Tanguy Coenen from IMEC presented on IMEC’s built environment digital twin (BuDi) as well as the idea of a city-scale digital twin.  Explaining BuDi’s role as a decision-marking tool informed by near real-time data via sensors and IoT devices, Tanguy articulated how BuDI can support several use cases.  In addition, Tanguy also considered digital twin use case types by considering: 

  • Yesterday: Historical 
  • Today: Realtime 
  • Tomorrow: Predictive 

Considering current smart cities as a set of silos, Tanguy expressed a desire for interoperability and data connectivity between these disparate datasets to form a urban digital twin what can support both public and private asset collections. 

Responding to Tanguy’s talk, questions were asked about terminology and the relationship to the ISO smart cities initiatives as well as the importance of standards around open data.  Tanguy confirmed IMECs desire to support and align with these efforts.  When asked about high-value use cases, Tanguy referred to: people flow, air quality and flooding as key urban-scale use cases. 

The full Q&A discussion transcript can be found here


Continuing the digital twin talk series, Neil Thompson from Atkins introduced the Commons workstream and the Glossary, a key mechanism to enable a common language to support the NDT programme.  Neil described the Commons mission to build capability through an evidence-based approach, and drew several parallels between the commons and the creation of the internet, including utilizing open and agile methodologies. As thinking develops, Neil sees the commons as the location for discussion and consensus gathering to support formal standardization once consensus had been achieved. 

Responding to Neil’s talk, questions were asked about where a similar approach to consensus building had taken place with Neil referring to examples such as GitHub and Stackoverflow.  Questions were also asked about the glossaries relationship to existing resources, with Neil referring to its ability to record whether an entry is a “shared” term. 

The full Q&A discussion transcript can be found here

In addition, the Glossary that Neil referred to can be found here

Digital Roundtable 

Finally, to conclude the digital twin talk series, Simon Evans from Arup moderated a round table discussion between the previous speakers.  Brian, Tanguy, Neil and Simon provided their reflections and insight and answered questions from the audience. 

The round table dealt with a wide array of topics such as: 

  • What makes digital twins different for the built environment compared to other sectors?  With the roundtable agreeing that the aspects that constitute a digital twin have been present in the built environment, but the use of the term demonstrates an evolution of thinking, the need for data connectivity, outcome focus, and a focus on data-driven decision making.   
  • How the NDT programme will address security and interoperability challenges? With the roundtable referring to the Information Management Framework Pathway and a future pathway related to security and security-mindedness.    
  • How might a digital twin support social distancing?  With the roundtable providing examples of using hydrodynamic modelling and occupant monitoring via camera data to monitor and support social distance policies. 

The videos of each of the talks as well as the round table discussion can be found here


And there we have it.  This series digital twin talks was developed to explore how digital twins are defined and the overarching concepts around them.  Thank you for contributing to the discussions.  Your level of engagement and willingness to share are what have made these talks a success.   

Please let me know what topics you would like future digital twin talks to address? If you have any suggestions on how to improve these talks? Or who you may want to hear a talk from in the future. 


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