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Centre for Digital Built Britain


CDBB Week 2019 showcases CDBB’s diverse range of work and engagement with our industry, academic and policy networks. As part of Friday’s #CDBBWeek2019 Digital Roundup, the Centre invited a number of researchers from CDBB funded research networks and early career researchers to shine a light on their projects supporting a digital built Britain.

It is the breadth of the task and the research questions we need to ask that makes developing the CDBB research agenda such an exciting and challenging proposition. If we are to understand fully how the buildings and infrastructure of the future are going to deliver better services to our citizens, we need to take a truly multidisciplinary approach. We need engineers and architects to work with economists, linguists, social scientists, neuroscientists, psychologists, mathematicians and computer scientists – among others – to understand both the impact of the built environment on how we live our lives and how to design, build, operate and integrate assets that can deliver better outcomes for us all.“ Dr Jennifer Schooling OBE, Chair of the CDBB Research Strategy Advisory Group

A digital twin prototype for journeys to work in Cambridge 

While the level of employment in England has grown 32 per cent from 1995 to 2017, the average distance travelled for commuting per person per year has decreased by about 10 per cent during the same period. This trend has often been attributed to a wide range of factors regarding the nature of employment, including an increase in part-time/self-employed work and more people working from multiple places. Such behavioural changes are complex and have profound implications on how we plan, use and manage our cities and infrastructure. However, few studies address the significance and policy implications of such trend changes at local level.

The Cambridge Digital Twin project investigates the possible impacts of digital transformation on journeys to work through developing a computational simulation model that integrates data and insights from multiple disciplines and sectors. It explores a cogent policy use case of a city-level digital twin in a local context. Two digital scenarios are tested (‘prevalence of teleworking’ and ‘future charging demand for electric vehicles’), which aims to demonstrate the potential use of the digital twin model in bridging disciplinary and professional silos in local policy making. Key findings are summarised below:

Key findings

First: the fast growth of self-employed and part-time workers in the study area since 1981 suggests that flexible working arrangement such as teleworking may become prevalent in the study area. The possible impact on journeys to work could be significant in magnitude, which poses new challenges to transport demand forecast.

Second: the prevalence of teleworking may bring radical changes in terms of the relationship between work and location. On the one hand, new types of workspace (e.g. co-working) are blurring the boundary between jobs and workplace – teleworkers search for a suitable place to work and fill that workspace but not necessarily a job. On the other hand, planners, developers, architects and employers need to consider new models of providing and managing workspace, not simply reducing the floorspace per worker, but considering the flexibility and adaptability of space and the wider socio-economic impacts.

Third: in terms of mode choice our analysis shows teleworking may help reduce the peak-time commuting demand but does not necessarily promote bus or bicycle use for commuting, and may even encourage car use marginally for the study area subject to scenario assumptions. The effect on mode choice tends to vary across socio-economic groups. Given the local policy goal of encouraging public transport, our findings suggest that the policy interventions need to be more targeted in relation to specific locations, commuting corridors and socio-economic background of commuters.

Cross-boundary collaboration

The analysis of the two digital scenarios is preliminary due to various simplifications. The purpose of the scenario analysis is thus not to provide an engineering solution for the respective policy question, but to demonstrate the potential of applying urban simulation tools for facilitating cross-boundary collaborations in local development. One of the major challenges for urban simulations is to translate model outputs into narratives that lead to better policy outcomes. It not only expects model users to better understand the functionality and the boundary of models in terms of what is and can be modelled and what is not, but also requires modellers to provide more policy-relevant insights through engaging with wider spectrum of modelling approaches as well as policy alternatives. The design of a city-level digital twin model in terms of data inputs, user interface and the possible connections with other models needs to be further explored through detailed case study on specific sites and policy questions.

Dr Li Wan - University Lecturer Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge and CDBB Early Career Researcher