Diving deeper into Digital Twins

Newcastle University Innovation Festival sprints.jpg

Last year, Northumbrian Water's Innovation Festival gave birth to digital twins.

The ground-breaking idea that ‘digital twin' technology could be used by water companies to help protect communities from flooding, was born out of the five-day event in Newcastle in 2018 and in the last 12 months it's been growing at pace.

Teaming up with Newcastle University, Northumbrian Water has started collecting data from its water and sewer networks, to feed into surface models of the city that will help improve decision-making and response times during incidents.

The 3D representation or ‘digital twin,' will eventually allow Northumbrian Water to run a computer-generated simulation of burst pipes, flooding or heavy rainfall, to show what could happen to peoples' homes and communities over a 24 hour period, in just a couple of minutes.

Now, the team are heading back to where it all began at this year's Innovation Festival, to dive even deeper into the virtual world.

Industry-experts, academics and scientists will be exploring the opportunity to bring in other organisations' operational data, such as local authorities and environmental partners, for the benefit of customers and the environment.

The group will be working to see how overlaps of data and knowledge of infrastructure could help support decision-making when it comes to managing drainage and wastewater.

For example, in its simplest form, it could combine local authority data on the locations of road gulleys, with environmental data on tree locations to understand whether or not leaves might block the gulleys in the autumn.

Northumbrian Water's Research and Development Manager, Chris Jones, said: "Digital twins is always really exciting, the sheer fact that we can aim computer power at a problem in a split-second of time to help us with incident management.

"I think the game-changer here now though, is that at this Festival, we're going to be looking at ways in which we can overlay a lot more data into the virtual world we're designing so that we have a better understanding of how it all interacts and works together.

"We want to involve other people more easily in decision-making and potentially change how the whole industry plans and prepares for incidents, as well as future proofing their assets."

Newcastle University's Phil James, who leads the Urban Observatory project, explains: "The problems facing our cities and infrastructure need a new way of thinking.  Data is the currency that will enable us to do this. 

"Working in partnerships we can understand how to turn this tsunami of data into information and from this derive wisdom to understand the implications of our decisions across time and society."

The Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival 2019 takes place at Newcastle Racecourse between 8 to 12 July.

More than 3,000 people from around the world are expected at the festival, including industry experts, engineers, students and customers, where they will search for solutions to major societal and environmental challenges.

To sign up to the Digital Twins activity at this year's Innovation Festival or to find out more about it and the other exciting sprints that will be taking place, visit www.innovationfestival.org.

Janine Rillands