Real estate industry

The use of “Digital Twin” modeling could transform the real estate industry

One Manhattan West, which is co-owned by Brookfield Properties, Blackstone and the Qatar Investment Authority, is one of the buildings using digital twin technology to model operations. (Shutterstock)

Real-time asset replicas could lead to more efficiency and better decision-making

Digital twins – virtual models of objects in real time, ranging from a building to an entire city – are an emerging concept that has the potential to transform the built environment and the real estate industry in many ways, proponents say of technology.

“A city’s infrastructure, from streetlights to built objects, can be digitized,” says Kevin Danehy, North America managing director of Willow, an Australia-based company that markets its WillowTwin digital twin platform. worldwide. “This data can be used for value creation, such as predictive analytics.”

Already, cities in the United States and elsewhere are racing to create digital models of themselves to improve their services and planning. In January, for example, Las Vegas unveiled a virtual version of its 4.3 square mile (7 square km) downtown created by digital twin company Cityzenith, which uses a network of sensors to extract real-time data. on traffic density, air quality, noise pollution and carbon emissions from local buildings. On the other side of the United States, the Orlando Economic Partnership, which represents seven counties and the city of Orlando, is developing an ambitious digital replica of the 40 mile metropolitan area. A study by ABI Research predicted that more than 500 cities around the world will have digital twins by 2025.

Chungha Cha, co-founder and president of the Reimagining Cities Foundation in Seoul, says digital twins could be a valuable tool for decarbonization, as they could be used to test ways to reduce energy consumption and emissions, and have people map the interiors of buildings to spot underutilized areas that waste energy. He also sees their potential to improve the health and well-being of city residents, by identifying areas with environmental problems. “With this building, the indoor air quality is really, really bad, compared to the other buildings which are pretty good,” he says. “So what’s going on here?”

“The more granular it is, the more exciting it is,” says Cha.

Cha envisions building massive digital twins comprising millions of buildings scattered across the globe, which would provide insight into the energy efficiency and carbon footprint of various asset classes.

Massive public facilities such as airports, mass transit systems, and sports arenas are also turning to virtual replicas to facilitate their operations.

Not new, but increasingly profitable

The concept of such replicas has been around since the 1960s, when NASA used networked computers to primarily create digital spacecraft simulators that astronauts and mission control crews could use for training. In recent years, the development of sophisticated sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) have made it possible to generate huge amounts of data to create detailed virtual replicas in real time. Tech giant GE, for example, now markets digital twins that monitor the performance of assets ranging from oil rigs and wind farms to jet engines, according to the company’s website.

Digital twins could eventually become common tools for operating and managing individual office towers or apartment buildings as well. A digital twin could be used to operate a building and fine-tune its efficiency, but even more, value would be created by being able to do predictive analytics with a building’s data, according to Willow’s Danehy.

Danehy came to Willow a year ago after spending a decade at Brookfield Properties, where he says he and his colleagues avoided terms such as “smart building” or “smart city” because they seemed too vague. But digital twins changed his way of thinking.

Willow’s clients include SoFi Stadium, home of NFL teams the Rams and Los Angeles Chargers. (Shutterstock)

“It’s the first time in my 40-year career in real estate that there’s actually a characteristic of the asset that one might suggest is smart,” he says. “You have 30 or 40 different technology systems that are now deployed in commercial properties, whether it’s an office building or a shopping mall. And they will have the ability to integrate in one place and aggregate live data.

Growth in Analytics

Danehy compares this to how former Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, the subject of the 2003 book and subsequent film silver ballstarted using data analytics to research baseball players.

In the mid-2010s, while leading a predecessor company, Willow co-founder and CEO Joshua Ridley and his colleagues saw an upward trend in the construction industry, in which architects, engineers and construction companies were increasingly interested in using data when constructing buildings. Ridley began connecting different types of data with information from user manuals and equipment warranties and using it in building information modeling (BIM).

One of their corporate clients liked the results so much that they wanted to know if there was a way to continue using digital modeling after the building was completed. “They told us, ‘We don’t want to go back to whiteboards, pens, ring binders and drawings rolled up in a corner of the janitor’s office,'” Ridley recalls. “We want to use the valuable information we created during construction as the basis for building management.”

Ridley ponders the problem on a Saturday morning. After watching a video about how IBM created a digital model of a jet engine to study its performance, he had a revelation. The same type of approach could be used with real estate portfolios. It was “a new way to approach the world of real estate,” he says.

Willow’s clients include SoFi Stadium, home of NFL teams the Rams and Los Angeles Chargers. “Our goal is to deliver a new kind of experience for fans and visitors, and to do that, we need a complete, data-driven view of how all the elements of this project connect. “, Jason Gannon, General Manager, SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park, explained in a 2020 press release. Willow has also worked with major tech companies and a major Southwest International Airport, creating a digital twin that included versions everything from tracks to terminals. Another major customer is a commuter rail network in one of Canada’s largest cities.

New and existing structures

Creating a digital twin isn’t just for new builds. When an old building is renovated and turned into a smart building with IoT sensors and other technologies, it’s essentially transformed into a massive computer that creates vast amounts of data for the digital twin to use, according to Ridley.

As Ridley explains, a digital twin consists of many layers. There is the building’s static asset data, the spatial data in which those assets are distributed, and the live data that flows from the equipment. In the past, this information was stored in silos or held by companies that could have kept it to themselves.

All of this information (millions of data points) flows through the cloud, where the platform can store and analyze it and, within seconds, deliver insights that can be viewed on a computer screen or mobile device.

“Willow provides a centralized home for your construction data, so users can compare and contrast their assets, in real time,” says Ridley, who recently moved from Sydney to Dallas to help Willow in the North American market. growing proptech. .

Digital twins could allow building management to easily view live data on energy consumption and occupancy, as well as historical data such as the operating history of particular equipment, including the date installation or last inspection. It would also be possible to visualize the performance of the elevators or the security system of the building. This kind of easy access to a wide range of important information about a property could also be used to help potential buyers or lenders make informed decisions.

“There are fewer assumptions to be made and more fact-based decisions,” says Danehy. “And so, from a lender’s perspective, if there’s less risk, the cost of capital will be lower. It is therefore possible that the building is worth more because you pay less interest.

Data from a digital twin can be viewed on different types of devices ranging from a mobile phone to a desktop computer, or even in a virtual reality format, according to Ridley.

While the use of digital twins is still in its infancy, Ridley envisions the spread of the technology, due to its usefulness for managing risk, meeting environmental-social governance requirements, and maintaining cybersecurity.

Danehy believes that owners who use digital twins for buildings will gain a significant competitive advantage, to the point that assets with digital twins could be worth more.

“They’re going to be able to move faster, more decisively and, you know, be efficient in acquiring and owning and trading assets, and how they interact with capital markets in terms of debt or of equity,” says Danehy.


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