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Digital Twin versus Evil Twin

Can digital twins of the built environment be evil or is it only our fears and misunderstanding? Is it possible that the environmental, social and economic challenges we're currently facing, as well as the problems we're working to solve, lead us to choose the easy way, ignoring severe threats to both individuals and society? The solution to the environmental problems lies in finding a way to truly work integrated within each and every project, to overcome the preconditions of the construction industry. The question is, how can digitalization support us?

What are digital twins and why can they become evil?

What is a digital twin?

A digital twin is a virtual copy of a physical asset, process, or system. It can be a digital representation of a building and even an entire city. The real and virtual worlds are connected through the combined use of Building Information Modeling (BIM), Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies. Real-time sensor data, such as temperature, moisture, and sound, are automatically analyzed and visualized in the BIM model.

Can digital twins become evil?

What do we mean by evil? A tool, technical or mechanical, is in itself not evil. Of course, some tools are easier to misuse than others.

Countries and organizations that are good at collecting data are not always known to be big on privacy. Does it feel good to have cameras everywhere to see how a building is used and how people are keeping their distance? What could they be misused for?

Data is typically being copied multiple times and located on several servers, yet it can be challenging to find the data you’re looking for. Is it a good thing that new data centers are needed everywhere in order to keep up with the increase in saved data? And in the end, what will we do with all this data? Will we ever dare to delete it?

How they become good

Collaborating and learning from each other's successes and mistakes means that we need to open up and share our data in a secure and integrous way, so that we can mix gut driven solutions with trusted data. Technical solutions can help us create the digital twins needed to fulfill clear and sustainable purposes, instead of creating overwhelming amounts of data and monitoring workers and occupants for the sheer sake of technology use. It is, after all, quite a big shift in the way we collect data about the built environment we live, work and play in.

What’s in it for us?

Environmental, social and economic sustainability

Digital Twins can assist in designing, constructing and operating buildings and cities more effectively as well as reducing their impact on the environment. The integrated workflow built around the BIM model has the potential to drastically increase the efficiency of the design and construction processes, lower construction waste and reduce the risk of construction errors. In the operation phase, digital twins can be used to monitor, simulate and control buildings or cities, improving their performance. Ultimately, the goal is to decrease the life cycle costs and environmental impact as much as possible while maintaining an effective utilization of the building and a high-quality user experience.

Safety onsite and during the building’s lifecycle

Through the use of digital twin technology, real-world situations can be simulated, identifying risks in early project stages. All construction projects involve some dangers for onsite workers, neighbors and users of the future building. To minimize the dangers, simulations can be performed, analyzed and discussed in e.g. safety workshops.

Another aspect is to take measures in protecting the health and safety of the workers as well as the environment. IoT devices, such as smart helmets, support and promote healthier and safer construction sites and contribute to more effective processes. They enable fall and hit detection and danger zones by localization technology, and add data, such as temperature and moisture, to the digital twin, which is analyzed and visualized in the BIM model.

The discussion we need now

Open source versus ownership of data

We, at Scharc, want to encourage a discussion about the importance of data storage. What data should be saved and where? A single source solution that collects all information in one place sounds promising.

But should all project information be there? Consider what you want to add to the digital twin and what it should do for you and your organisation or project. The actual question is should we talk about saving information or should we instead think about finding information? Or even better connecting information? What do you want to achieve?

Can shared file systems where everyone owns and controls their data be part of the solution? You can link your model, collaborate with text-based descriptions which all project stakeholders can access, and when the construction is done, ownership can go over the project or building owner.

Sharing of ideas and solutions

Learning from each other

Why do we need to redraw everything over and over again? Why are we so afraid of transparency, which enables us to help each other?

At Scharc we want to take responsibility and share the source code of our ideas, designs or building elements. When we share, we can focus on improving what we already have, creating more valuable designs and ensuring that the money we save in the process can be better invested into more sustainable buildings.

A building-centric workflow

If the project-based workflow of constantly changing teams prohibits us from improving, then we need to ensure the center of the future workflow is not the people, but rather the building. We need to push the building, along with its demands and requirements, into the spotlight to guide decision-making throughout the building lifecycle.

Agility supported by technology

It’s much easier to repeat the mistakes of others than it is to build on the success of others. Getting feedback from the construction site while designing the building takes effort and good timing, and it depends on the people involved. How can technology help us to process proactive experience feedback that assists in making the right decision at the beginning of a project?

For starters, we can share and receive aggregated data of other designs, construction sites and buildings in use. Everyone's decisions and experiences during the design and construction phase, as well as historical and real-time sensor data, can help us achieve optimal outcomes. Data driven processes can support our gut driven decisions. We could test and analyze our building design with feedback from other buildings, an industry wide collaboration assisted by digital twins.

The way forward

To leverage the potential of digital twins and avoid undirected data overflows, excessive supervision and even potential cyber risks, these aspects need to be at the center of the digital transformation of the construction and real estate industry – on a local, national and international level. Within and beyond the sector, the discussion should be focussed on what we need, what we want and how we envision a technology-driven built environment would look like for the coming years and the next generations.

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