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What's Powering 3D CityScapes' Digital Twins?

Unreal Engine, sensors, and a heck of a lotta data

A digital twin of Toronto, Canada (Credit: 3D CityScapes)

In their simplest form, digital twins are virtual counterparts of real-world assets and processes that are connected by real-time data.

But what goes into building digital twins is a bit more complex. Over at 3D CityScapes, a Canadian tech startup specializing in building digital twins, the award-winning 3D visualization models are rendered in Unreal Engine by a team of seasoned developers and brought alive via real-time data integration.

Data (and lots of it)   

What makes a digital twin different from any other 3D model is its integration with data sets. Any good model will offer a snapshot of an object at any given time. But by pairing it with a cloud-based system, digital twins are able to pull information from application programming interfaces (APIs) and display real-time conditions in and around an asset.

The result is a living, breathing interactive 3D rendering that visually communicates complex data to its users. This allows users to see, understand, and proactively use the data available to increase efficiency, reduce risks, and monitor the status of any given asset. And even if the data doesn’t exist (yet), digital twins allow for modelling of hypothetical scenarios. Now with the cloud-streaming features, end users can access the digital twin application from anywhere, on any device with an internet connection.

Sensors  

Speaking of data, that’s largely collected by IoT (Internet of Things) sensors. At its core, IoT sensors are devices connected to the internet for easy collection, processing, and dissemination of information. 3D CityScapes doesn’t collect data itself but instead partners with groups like Sinay, a maritime data solutions company,to use their sensor networks. By teaming up, we’re able to visualize information like noise pollution, water contamination levels, and the movements of vessels and containers, adding a layer of value within our digital twins of smart seaports.

An example of a smart seaport using Sinay's maritime data and 3D Cityscapes software. (Photo credit: 3D CityScapes)

 

This partnership allows pockets of information that would usually sit siloed from each other to  now be visualized together in a way that allows for predictive modelling, historical tracking, or real-time analysis.

A POWERFUL RENDERING ENGINE  

3D CityScapes’ digital twins are distinct due to their photorealistic look. That’s thanks in part to the rendering software of choice, Unreal Engine 4. By using a proprietary mix of plug-ins, 3D CityScapes’ developers are able to use the engine to compile different images and data, and stitch them together in Unreal with ease and efficiency.

If you’re a gamer, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Epic’s Unreal 4 as the engine powering games like Fortnite, Gears of War 5, or Kingdom Hearts 3. But the crossover from gaming to 3D visualization is more natural than you might think, according to David Weir-McCall, business development manager for architecture, engineering and construction at Epic.

“With digital twins, it’s really again about creating that thing people have been doing for many decades in the games industry, which is crafting a story,” said Weir-McCall.

He likens it to communicating large volumes of data that might be dense for anyone not from an architecture background through a visual medium.

“It’s what we like to call digital storytelling in a sense that we’re able to custom create your own user experience through your design or through your building.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Unreal engine makes things easy on the eyes.

“New features like ray tracing and path tracing help add to the realism, giving our version of Unreal a long stride ahead of any other rendering system,” said Francesco Guido, 3D CityScapes’ lead developer. “With a large list of benefits like the engine being open-source, an extensive list of documentation, a huge community, and a great profiler for developers, it was the best choice to kick off all our new projects with.”

The results are digital twins that stand out for two reasons, for David Weir-McCall.

“There are a couple of aspects to them that are really unique for us. Firstly, the size and scale you guys are working with and then the level of fidelity that we see coming from you guys as well,” said Weir-McCall.

A TERRIFIC TEAM  

Data and powerful visualization software are great items to have, but at the heart of it all, is 3D CityScapes’ team of developers who take the two and marry them together. Schedule a meeting with 3D CityScapes to start a conversation via the booking button below.

What industries do you think digital twins could have the most impact on?

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