Bentley ups the ante on digital twin technology

Bentley Systems has announced a raft of developments aimed at enhancing digital twin technology for city-wide infrastructure.

A digital twin refers to a digital replica of physical assets, processes, people, places, systems and devices in their environment – which can be used to make advances in predictive analytics.

Bentley Systems made the announcements at its Year in Infrastructure Conference in London.

Developments include the acquisition of Agency9, based in Stockholm, which has already provided nearly half of Sweden’s larger municipalities with city-scale digital twin cloud services for city planning and related web-based 3D visualisation.

Alongside this acquisition Bentley has launched its new iTwin cloud service, which enhances the capabilities of its OpenCities Planner (formerly Agency9 CityPlanner) to provide urban planning requirements at fuller levels of detail.

Phil Christensen, Bentley’s senior vice president, reality modelling, said: “Our many city users globally have been asking for the useful capabilities which Agency9 has successfully implemented throughout Sweden, to take further advantage of their reality modelling programs.

“In fact, when we combine Bentley ContextCapture’s 3D surveying advancements (based on hybrid aerial, UAV, and ground-based imagery) with our connected data environment technologies for geospatial-to-BIM integration, we make city-scale digital twins as a cloud service broadly accessible.

“Ultimately synchronising reality and ‘virtuality’, OpenCities Planner offers the perfect web solution to enable every city in going digital.”

Håkan Engman, CEO of Agency9, said: “Now that we’re part of Bentley, we’re confident about achieving the full global potential of Agency9’s innovations. My colleagues and I, and our forward-thinking users in the Nordics, have been noted for pushing the envelope of geospatial integration and visual performance to new levels of detail.

“Now, as contributors toward unique city-scale digital twin cloud services from Bentley, we can foresee the realisation of our users’ vision to advance from urban planning to improving cities’ asset performance.”

Agency9 is a leading provider of web and mobile solutions for 3D visualisation of geographic information and maps for collaboration and communication. The company was established in 2003 and is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. 

Also, at the conference, Siemens and Bentley unveiled PlantSight, a new range of cloud services to be jointly offered for as-operated digital twins of any process plants.

And to accelerate owners going digital, Atos and Bentley announced a new strategic partnership to create and curate digital twins.

In December, the National Infrastructure Commission published a report which called for a “digital twin” of the UK’s infrastructure should be created to allow virtual projections to be carried out into future capacity needs.

In its report the NIC said using the power of big data and artificial intelligence (AI), it may be possible in future to determine what changes need to be made to the way the public uses transport if the population of London was to increase by 50% by 2050, for example.

“A successful digital twin pilot project will demonstrate the value of better coordinating and sharing data about infrastructure assets,” the NIC said. “A digital twin will be able to offer solutions to difficult decisions arising from population growth, congestion, climate change and the development of new technologies.

“Collaboration across academia, the technology industry, network operators, utilities, relevant public sector bodies and consumers will be key to making a digital twin pilot project work.

“The task of modelling existing infrastructure in the UK is arguably more difficult than in other countries with newer infrastructure systems, yet ultimately all national digital twins will need to encompass existing infrastructure and the UK has the combination of academic and private sector data science and AI research and development capability to lead in this area," it said.

The NIC also described data as “as much a critical component of national infrastructure as steel, bricks and mortar”, and said real-time data can be used to “inform how infrastructure is operated on a second-to-second basis”.

What it means to provide a digital twin for engineering assets

Making the announcements, Bentley said in a statement that infrastructure asset owners and their teams have recognised the potential for leveraging digital twins in many ambitious use cases but that “to realise this potential, representations of assets need obviously to be digital, but to be safely relied upon as a twin there must be practical solutions for their synchronisation to changing actual conditions in the real world.

“Moreover, merely capturing and representing physical conditions, including IoT inputs, can never be sufficient to understand, analyse, or model intended improvements, without also comprehending the ‘digital DNA’ captured in the project or asset’s engineering specifications.

“To actually be worthwhile, therefore, would-be digital twins for existing infrastructure must reliably synchronise reflections of both an asset’s physical reality, and its ‘virtuality’ (engineering data). A digital twin can meet this requirement by geospatially converging the digital context (representing the physical) and digital components (representing the virtual), naturally resulting in an immersive environment for both visualisation and analytics visibility. 

“To date, however, the evolving 3D physical reality of an as-operated asset has been too formidably difficult to capture digitally, let alone to keep up-to-date.

“Meanwhile, corresponding, as-operated engineering information tends to be unavailable or at best, dated, as typically an assortment of effectively inaccessible ‘dark data’ in either opaque engineering files or unintelligent document formats. Bentley has now surmounted these challenges, with the confluence of its reality modelling, iModelHub, CDE, and web-visibility technologies.  

“A representation of any infrastructure asset’s physical reality can now be reliably captured and maintained through increasingly continuous surveys and Bentley’s reality modelling software, providing digital context in the form of “reality meshes”.

“Overlapping photographs and (as needed) supplemental laser scans, largely from drones and ground-level imagery, are processed to generate spatially-classified and engineering-ready reality meshes at any desired level of accuracy – within which each digital component can be automatically recognised and/or geospatially referenced. The reality mesh can provide an efficient and immersive visual “twin” to intuitively navigate for finding, viewing, and querying the associated information within, or related to, the asset’s digital engineering models.”  

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