Real-time aerial imagery completes digital twins

December 11, 2023 09:36
Photo: Xinhua

Digital twins, which originated for aircraft and automobile manufacturing, have also gained popularity in other areas in recent years, including construction, urban planning, disaster relief operations and environmental conservation.

Digital twins create highly accurate three-dimensional (3D) models by replicating the real world, which can be construction sites, complex cityscapes or even entire countries, with real-time interactive data to assess the feasibility of different solutions or improve management efficiency. Since digital twins need to aggregate data from multiple sources, geographic information system (GIS) provides the required important technical foundation.

Today, digital twins take it a step further. With the wide use of aerial imagery, low Earth orbit satellite imagery and LiDAR scans captured by drones and aircraft, coupled with image detail accurate to centimeters, still pictures of the entire world can be converted into dynamic digital images, making digital twins more accurate and perfect. As a result, some studies pointed out that the demand for reality capture has gradually expanded the aerial photography market, which is expected to rise from US$1.4 billion in 2017 to more than US$4 billion in 2025, an increase of nearly three times with new applications such as ArcGIS Reality being introduced.

This new photogrammetry software can improve the interaction between digital avatars and the real world. It collects, processes and analyses drone and aerial imagery, along with data from other real-time sensors, and combines traditional GIS data, such as underground pipelines, traffic light distribution, weather changes, into highly precise maps and 3D models for real-world mapping of entire buildings, cities and countries, while people can share visualised information for collaboration or communication with the public.

AEC Magazine described ArcGIS Reality as compatible with real-time information, inclusive of dynamic data from above and below the ground, and can be combined with Building Information Modelling (BIM) to bring 3D models or digital twins to life which “helps make those important facilities related decisions”. This is an essential component of a digital twin solution, concluded the publication.

For example, a project called “Texas Coast” in Houston, U.S., is the largest civil engineering project the country has ever seen, even larger than the Panama Canal. The project is to build a series of dikes and locks to protect the Houston coast in ensuring regional security and the oil industry. Authorities need 3D imagery to map the terrain of the entire area before building the dikes, and ArcGIS Reality allows the team to consolidate all this information together in a single solution.

As we continue to leverage GIS and digital twins, and introduce next-generation technologies that can greatly improve the effectiveness of construction, urban planning and environmental conservation, we are realising our expectation of digital transformation.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong

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