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Digital Twins

In order to predict the future of 6G technology and its implications for digital twins and in particular the field of urban planning, it can be useful to look back and reflect on how far we have travelled. It can be argued that the antecedents of digital twins were early replicas of objects and processes that provided enhanced functionality. Computer assisted design (CAD) systems in the 1960’s proved to be a step change from manual techniques. Simulators are what enabled NASA to save the crew of Apollo 13 in 1970[1]. NASA continues to heavily use digital twins for its space exploration initiatives including for its rovers on Mars.

Two decades later, as the Arpanet evolved into the internet and protocols arose to support the transfer and accessibility of information from anywhere, the World Wide Web became a new model for replicating or mirroring reality. The web, parallel computing, high-speed data, cloud computing and other technologies all enabled further development of this concept. Digital twins were until very recently limited to the aerospace and heavy machinery market, but this is changing and there are now a variety of use cases in diverse sectors such as smart cities, healthcare, insurance and utilities.

The use of digital twins in smart cities is now well established with initiatives such as Digital Urban European Twins (DUET) leading the way. With the right data, as DUET has effectively demonstrated, you can model whole urban systems in ways that were unimaginable only a few years ago. The use of digital twins is truly a game changer when it comes to engaging citizens in the formulation of policies, which heralds the new era of responsive cities.

It’s a cliché to state that the pace of change and innovation has accelerated exponentially since the CAD systems were introduced. Yet, we only have to think about the current possibilities associated with advanced sensors, AI, advanced machine learning, cloud computing and big data analytics. Whilst it’s reasonable to say that the technology and tooling has moved at pace, the challenges associated with open data and privacy remain a challenge. The urban planner would ideally like to combine open public data with private sources of data to mine new insights, however, there is a lag with the ways of working and regulatory frameworks. Could this disconnect between technology and data be the real conundrum for the next decade?

So imagine if we become Nostradamus[2] for a minute……what are the possibilities that 6G technology will deliver by 2030? Staring into the future to make predictions is always fraught with difficulties, however, it’s reasonable to assume the following trends:

  • Samsung predict three key 6G services: Immersive extended reality (XR); high-fidelity mobile hologram; and digital replicas. “With the help of advanced sensors, AI, and communication technologies, it will be possible to replicate physical entities, including people, devices, objects, systems, and even places, in a virtual world,” the white paper[3] states.

  • People will be increasingly working and socialising remotely; no doubt the new norm in a post Covid-19 world. Video calls will be replaced with immersive reality communication enabled by next-generation virtual reality (VR) devices and holographic displays.

  • The Centre for Converged TeraHertz Communication and Sensing (ComSenTe) anticipates[4] that the sixth-generation wireless connectivity will come with speeds of 1 to 100 Gbps. MU-MIMO capability of 100 to 1000 simultaneous independently modulated beams will provide speeds in the tens of terabytes per second; which is 50-times the peak data rate of 5G

  • The main user of 6G technology, according to Samsung, will actually be machines. The firm cites estimations that there will be 500 billion connected devices in the world by 2030 – 59-times larger than the expected world population by that time.[5]

  • Within three to five years, Gartner predicted in 2017[6], "billions of things will be represented by digital twins, a dynamic software model of a physical thing or system."

  • We could even witness autonomous cars and drone delivery as an everyday reality in our cities[7]

  • It will be possible to create a bio-digital twin or alter ego[8]. This will require both aggregated and patient-specific data. This will rely on nanoscale electronic sensors that can work with or alongside a targeted organ or tissue, generating reliable, low-noise data from human patients.

So what are the implications of all these changes for responsive cities and in particular DUET?

We could have 125 billion IoT connected devices with a wireless network capable not only of providing speed and bandwidth but also handling hundreds of thousands of connections on a single cell. This 6G capability will drive a revolution in transportation, supporting the future of autonomous vehicles, platooning and intelligent roads. Part of how that will work is through wideband inter-car links, which communicate data and measure vehicle locations to the millimeter; these links also anticipate and manage any movement and proximity and avoid collisions.

Cities will truly be responsive as they will benefit from this seamless, ubiquitous connectivity enabling the deployment of millions of small, battery-less, connected devices that will provide a new level of data analytics. The urban planner of the future will be able to engage with citizens using Immersive extended reality (XR) ‘tours’ of the city environment. The one probably break on this dynamic future will be access to open data sources which can compliment the vast data gathered from sensors.

Perhaps looking further into the future, we may enable citizens to share their own bio wellbeing data so that they can better interact with their urban environment. Understanding patterns of behaviour and what causes stress could deliver additional insights for DUET. Imagine the citizen who can access mobile holograms that improves their ‘experience’ of how they move around the city whether that be by walking, driving or by taking public transport. We could even see of smartphones taken over by pervasive extended reality (XR) experiences[9] via lightweight glasses; an innovation that will deliver an unparalleled resolution, frame rate and dynamic range.

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