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NIC plans pilots for ‘digital twin’ of infrastructure


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is aiming to support a number of pilot projects that will feed into the creation of a national ‘digital twin’ of infrastructure assets.

Senior regulatory adviser Sarah Hayes outlined the effort at a conference on the subject staged by IT industry association techUK in London yesterday.

The plan has emerged from the NIC’s Data for the Public Good report, published in December 2017, which proposed the creation of a digital twin of the national infrastructure. This would amount to a digital replica of the physical assets that brings together all of the relevant data points.

Hayes said the organisation has decided it does not want to award a single company with a contract to build a twin, as it requires inputs from a range of sectors including government, utilities, academia, research organisations and the private sector AI community.

The twin also has to be publicly owned without one company controlling the data, but with different levels of secure access to different parties, and would amount to a federation of different models rather than one master system.

She said the NIC is keen to support pilot projects to test the concept and ultimately work towards it having a predictive capability.


“Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could develop a model which helps us to predict what infrastructure we need to design and build to deal with the challenges of population growth and climate change, to help us reconfigure transport systems and housing developments to improve the quality of life for people using them,” she said.

An earlier challenge for the creation of a digital twin of infrastructure assets in Bristol faltered as none of the entrants was able to build their model single handed, but the NIC has since set up a Digital Twin Working Group that Hayes said is now open to people wishing to join.

The Government has set up a Digital Framework Task Group, which is working on an information management framework to support the larger development.

The concept of a digital twin is gaining traction as a tool to support long term planning and the development of smart places. One has been created as part of the Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care Testbed programme, Ordnance Survey has said it can support planning for 5G networks, and the Digital Framework Task Group has published the Gemini Principles as a foundation for developments.

In a national context, Hayes said a digital twin will help to deal with the type of questions addressed by the NIC, such as how to deal with traffic congestion, the threat of drought and the impact of electric vehicles on pollution. A study it conducted in 2017 came to conclusion that there could be a lot of value in a national digital twin and that there is a need for a pilot project.

“Data is infrastructure, that it’s as important as the bricks and mortar that we use to build the infrastructure,” she said, and that a coordinated approach is needed for infrastructure data.

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