Orlando Economic Partnership and Unity partner on first regional digital twin

The Orlando Economic Partnership (OEP) has hired Unity to create a digital twin of the entire region, which will be on display at OEP’s’ new headquarters in downtown Orlando, Florida later this year. The effort will help solve regional challenges for the 40-square mile areas, such as transportation, climate change, or utility mapping. The OEP also plans to use the platform to show open land and office space to company leaders considering relocation to the area and spark innovation for regional digital twins. 

The OEP is a public-private economic and community development organization that helps the Orlando region grow through business expansions and relocations. “A big part of our job is to connect people and resources, whether through the expansion of transportation to more jobs or nonprofits to people who need workforce training,” OEP’s CEO Tim Giuliani told VentureBeat. 

Orlando is known as a leader in digital simulation, which goes back to when the U.S. Navy opened the Naval Training Center Orlando in 1968. This attracted an ancillary industry of graphics designers, scenario planners and simulation experts and led to the formation of the National Center for Simulation. The new digital twin of Orlando is intended to show off the potential for digital twins for all cities while highlighting the region’s local simulation prowess. ABI research predicts over 500 cities will deploy digital twins by 2025.

“When people can visualize a scenario and see it play out versus read about one, they’re more apt to take it seriously,” said Giuliani. He sees this as a business investment in a tool that will be a showpiece for the entire region and the power of simulation.

Bringing it all together

The digital twin allows people to explore data on demographics, transportation, real estate and education in its physical context. The early phases of the project will be presented at the OEP offices for access by Orlando businesses. Future phases will expand the digital twin into VR, AR and mobile devices to support live sensor feeds such as traffic patterns and weather. 

The digital twin allows utility providers, real estate developers, city planners and airport authorities to work off a common visual representation. Unity collaborates with partners to ingest common data types and merge them into one view. Anything that happens in the Orlando area, such as public engagement, scenario planning and zoning or development, will be mirrored in real-time by the Orlando Digital Twin.

Dave Rhodes, general manager and senior vice-president of digital twins for Unity, said this project is part of Unity’s long-term vision for creating a dynamic 3D representation of any imaginable process, product, or service. His team is working on the digital infrastructure to combine AI, machine learning, simulating and analytics to improve digital twin workflows. 

“Unity’s digital technology brings unlocks the data from its proprietary formats and makes it easy to bring anything together in one virtual experience, enabling stakeholders to collaborate, simulate and make better decisions,” Rhodes said. 

Simplifying the complex

The first phase of the project will replace lengthy reports and site visits with a 3D experience. In the second phase, other stakeholders will augment the twin with their data. Utility companies could map scenarios for expansion, transportation could see where they need more bus stops to connect workers to jobs and the local governments could explore different climate change scenarios. 

The OEP plans to start with an extensive data set collected by its internal research team, pulled from municipalities across the region. “By starting with our own data, we can better advise our partners how to best input their own to make this real-time technology most effective for them,” Giuliani said. 

The biggest challenge was in distilling the data. The OED worked backward from the digital twin to figure out what they needed to model. From there, they evaluated the data sets necessary to create the model. “It is crucial to build a strong, hierarchical structure for inputting data so that the digital twin is scalable,” Giuliani said.

Once they built this foundation, Unity created a system that made it easy to update and input new information. 

The OED researched other city-scale digital twins projects to identify opportunities for the most significant value. Giuliani explained, “We have decided to move forward with a digital twin of the entire region that is a blank canvas, versus other cities or projects that have a singular focus, such as climate change. We want to use ours to make more informed and conscious decisions for our entire region, whether that is locating land for more affordable housing or expanding infrastructure.”

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