A visualisation of drone flight path management in a city (courtesy of Cityzenith).

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Digital twins are key to urban flight, NASA told

14 April 2021

City-scale digital twins are key to NASA’s vision of urban flight, including drones and air taxis.

That was the message delivered yesterday (13 April) by Cityzenith at a Dragons’ Den-style event, Ignite the Night: Aeronautics, run by NASA’s iTech division.

The event focused on NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility vision, in which drones deliver parcels and air taxis deliver people to building roofs and vertiports.

Cityzenith, developer of the SmartWorldOS digital twin platform, was one of 10 companies invited to present to a panel of four NASA judges.

Cityzenith CEO Michael Jansen told the judges: “Digital twins are virtual replicas of real things connected to tonnes of data, and powered by analytics, and they can show us how to better plan, build and run our cities. Think of our SmartWorldOS as Sim City, but for real cities using real data from real sources to solve real problems.”

He highlighted Cityzenith’s work with Orlando (a city at the forefront of urban flight with Ferrovial set to build a network of so-called vertiports), using a digital twin and integrating urban data sets with building- and sidewalk-mounted Internet of Things sensors to model pedestrian flow, vehicle traffic, and the microclimates between buildings in the city’s sports and entertainment district.

Jansen said: “City-scale digital twins are exactly what’s needed to enable advanced air mobility in American cities. And we believe that the lessons we have learned managing such complexity at street level can be neatly transitioned to the air above cities as well.

“Last February we met with NASA engineers to discuss how digital twins could allow air traffic controllers to simulate drone routes and model weather conditions in the airspace above cities, especially between the high buildings where microbursts [downdrafts] can threaten drones and air taxis. So if asked to collaborate with NASA, we are confident we can work together to develop a flexible version of SmartWorld to enable air city travel.”

Image: A visualisation of drone flight path management in a city (courtesy of Cityzenith).