Germany's digital twin: toward a smart digital reality
The human population has doubled since 1975, and so have carbon dioxide emissions. In summer 2021, Germany experienced the impact of climate change first-hand: Massive floods claimed the lives of many and caused immense property damage. The COVID-19 pandemic caught us off-guard and tested the resilience of our society and systems. Yet the pandemic also spurred wide-scale digital adoption and showed the potential of digital collaboration and productivity.
The pandemic experience has given rise to a new era of digital twins and, consequently, the Mirror World — a fundamental element of future digital collaboration. With the rise of the internet, information became digitised and machine-readable, enabling algorithms to find answers to questions from an almost infinite amount of data. The next step is digitising our physical world to make it machine-readable. The internet is becoming a multidimensional space that supports collaborative decision-making through data analysis and simulations. At Hexagon, we talk about creating a Smart Digital Reality.
What you can't see, you can't measure
As management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.” An extrapolation of this statement applies to the Mirror World: What you can’t see, you can’t measure. Let’s take flood mitigation as a case in point.
We know that water always seeks its lowest level — so what if we knew in advance what areas would be immersed in water in case of a flood? State-of-the-art reality capturing solutions allow us to create a high-resolution topographic model that visualises infrastructure, buildings and vegetation of an entire country, such as Germany, in great detail. Thanks to single-photon LiDAR technology, such 3D models are now economically viable.
Our solution is four to ten times more efficient than conventional LiDAR methods while at least quadrupling image resolution. It enables us to survey all of Germany in 3.700 flight hours while easily meeting the required height accuracy of ten centimetres. Single photon LiDAR and Geiger-mode LiDAR enable us to cover large surface areas while maintaining the high resolution necessary to detect objects reliably and create a realistic mirror image that can even include terrain beneath vegetation and details below infrastructure, such as bridges, and up to ten metres underneath the water. The result is a highly detailed and consistent topographic model — a unique, previously unavailable source of information.
For simulating flood scenarios, the riparian areas are particularly important. These are usually vegetated, but planners can remove the trees in the model to see what lies underneath. The underwater terrain is a crucial parameter for the runoff behaviour of streams and rivers. With the help of algorithms, we can predict how much and where water will spread in case of heavy rainfall — which scientists predict will be 3%-19% more intense and up to nine times more frequent in Western Europe due to climate change.
A national, unified and consistent topographic model would be a valuable source of previously unavailable information for a range of industries. Digital twins will become an indispensable tool for companies and local authorities to design, plan and manage connected infrastructure and assets; for energy companies to plan and maintain power lines; and for telecommunications firms to roll out 5G coverage. Other sectors poised to benefit from the technology include forestry, hydraulic engineering and the aviation industry.
What seemed like a fantasy a decade ago is becoming a reality
In densely developed areas, such as cities, we use hybrid sensors to create a complete, photorealistic mirror image of the physical world. By combining multiple types of datasets, such aerial scans and street view data, Hexagon creates a Supermesh model that allows urban planners to visualise planning relationships quickly and easily. A Supermesh enables us to see urban space in all its details, from both above and below.
Moreover, AI enables the automatic labelling of objects, such as roofs, solar panels and rails, at an up to 99% accuracy rate. AI algorithms can extract semantic image data and assign attributes to each pixel in the mesh. This enables us to detect up to 20% more sealed surfaces and determine the exact inventory of green space, including trees. These data points help urban planners, for example, to assess the amount of space available for new structural measures. Recapturing these areas in regular intervals will help track and assess progress.
To manage complex systems connect them
To extract meaningful information from data in complex challenges, we need to combine data. Such connectivity culminates in the metaverse, or what we like to call Smart Digital Realities.
The Smart Digital Reality enables policymakers to find solutions to complex challenges, such as tackling urban overheating. Our models let us simulate various wind and air exchange scenarios and recommend structural measures that will improve the urban climate long-term. Moreover, real-time data from 3D surveillance sensors can be fused with the digital twin of critical infrastructure to enable security teams to coordinate safety-relevant decision-making.
Hexagon’s response to the metaverse is its Smart Digital Reality solution HxDR —a cloud-based storage, visualisation and collaboration platform for reality capture and geospatial data — where mirror worlds of entire cities and countries are merged. HxDR is becoming our marketplace for Hexagon aerial data and for Metro HD. The first cities to be added to our Digital City Models data program include Munich, Cologne, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Vienna, Milan, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Dallas, New York and Tokyo. Hexagon is dedicated to making urban digital transformation more efficient and sustainable. We look forward to the challenging yet rewarding projects ahead.