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Centre for Digital Built Britain


Increasing numbers of people are currently working from home. Whether you are following Government advice on self-isolating or are one of the growing number of people working remotely on a regular basis, telecommuting is shaping the world we live in. A CDBB project by Dr Li Wan, Lecturer from Land Economy Department in Cambridge, is exploring how digital twins can help city planners provide housing, transport and other services in a changing landscape.

In 2016 there were 38 per cent more people in work in the UK but 20 per cent fewer commuting journeys per person per week than back in the mid-1990s. The research project, ‘A city-level digital twin experiment for exploring impacts of digital transformation on journeys to work in the Cambridge sub-region’ (2019), brings specific focus to journeys to work taking into account the complex effects of telecommuting, flexible working and the gig economy on how infrastructure will be planned, used and managed.

Inspired by the UK National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation for a National Digital Twin and recent progress of the CDBB's National Digital Twin Programme, this short project explores the concept of a city-level digital twin in terms of the design, development and application through a modelling case study in Cambridge. Taking into consideration the Gemini Principles, this project also aims to test and verify the high-level principles in a real policy context and generate transferable knowledge on city-level digital development.

The National Digital Twin (NDT) will bring together individual infrastructure models and the interdependencies between them through a federated system, offering a coordinated approach for planning, constructing and managing national infrastructure. The potential benefits of the NDT include: optimising use of resources; reducing service disruption; increasing resilience; and boosting quality of life for people. However, how to secure such benefits through effective policy making remains a significant challenge.

This city-scale project creates a prototype digital twin for Greater Cambridge to visualise different scenarios for future journeys to work through close collaboration with the Smart Cambridge. Outcomes from a number of workshops with representatives from a range of Local Authority Departments informed the purpose of the proposed Cambridge Digital Twin (CDT) model to bridge the sectoral silos of transport, housing, environment and energy in local policy making.

Collating information from local plans and existing modelling studies enable researchers to identify the future location of businesses, employment, households and their travel choices as the pivot variable set that connects the selected policy themes. The CDT prototype quantifies some of the interdependences among transport, air quality, land use planning and energy infrastructure in the Greater Cambridge in relation to background changes in employment and technology.

The second phase of the CDT project (funded by the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction and Smart Cambridge) builds on the first phase findings and explores the value of linking multi-source city data through a case study of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, the growth of which is of national and international significance. The completed data review and ongoing engagement with on-site stakeholders help to identify specific use cases of the CDT as well as practical challenges in terms of data sharing and upscaling. Insight from the second phase is expected to inform the development of a city-level digital twin strategy for Cambridge.

Read the full project report here and a relevant study of the governance of the CDT here.

Dr Li Wan, University of Cambridge
'A digital twin prototype for journeys to work in Cambridge