Reimagining community with digital twin technology

By bringing models into 3D, architects and urban planners are better equipped to solve challenges around shifting landscapes, climate change, transportation, and more. 

While a digital twin by definition is any virtual copy of a physical asset, process or system, an urban digital twin is a virtual representation of an entire urban environment’s physical assets. Urban digital twins play a critical role in the  larger global movement toward smart cities. A “smart city” is a community that uses electronic means to collect valuable data surrounding the use and performance of its utilities, mobility patterns, and infrastructure by using tools like Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to record activities and changes in the urban environment. Urban digital twins often serve as the systems within which this data is represented and visualized. They are created by aggregating large sets of map and model data, visualized in real-time.

Because of this, urban digital twins offer an ability to look at the future state of an urban environment in a more accurate context than a collection of traditional building models would allow. They are also helping designers reimagine and further democratize the planning process. According to ABI Research, more than 500 cities around the globe will have deployed digital twins by 2025. Currently, many cities are actively making the effort to digitally replicate their urban landscapes and explore the roles digital twins will play in their communities. 

One of those cities is Trondheim. The fourth largest city in Norway, Trondheim is located on the shore of Trondheim Fjord. Founded by Viking King Olav Tryggvason in 997, the city has a rich Nordic history. Like many cities around the world, Trondheim’s geographic features necessitate densifying the existing urban landscape to allow for growth. This presents a notable design challenge, especially when coupled with the effort to preserve the city’s longstanding beauty and charm. 

In 2020, local architects went to work on modeling a vision for the future of their city in the Trondheim 2050 competition. The competition was a part of the city’s larger effort to create comprehensive strategic plans for its growth across the next several decades, by inviting different perspectives and increasing public engagement with the planning process.

To model what Trondheim might look like in 2050, Martin Vitsø, Geodata Specialist for the City of Trondheim,  turned to Unity.