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Digital Twins: Using Virtual Simulations to Understand & Improve Air Quality

What is a Digital Twin?

Digital twins are a valuable tool in the world of Internet of Things (IoT). First practiced by NASA in the 1960’s for space programming and gaining popularly in 2002, a digital twin is virtual technology which is used to represent a physical object, process, or service in a digital model.

Digital twins replicate real life scenarios and collect data for various applications. It might predict the performance of a vehicle to help identify improvements or could be used to enhance customer experience whilst at a retail store.

How does Digital Twin Technology Work?

We won’t go into specifics, but here’s a basic explanation of how digital twin technology works…

Depending on the object being studied, be it a virtual replica of an engine for an aeroplane, or a complete city with buildings and greenery, it will often be fitted with devices like sensors to monitor the area of study, like temperature, wind, or air quality.

Once the sensors have been fitted and they begin collecting information, data is continuously fed back into a processing system, enabling developers or data scientists to develop a mathematical model that simulates the original object.

Data is then applied to the digital copy to replicate what’s happening in real life. As a result, the digital twin can be used for running simulations, for generating improvements or for creating insights which can be used for informing real-life decisions.

How can Digital Twins be used for Improving Air Quality?

Digital twin technology can be employed throughout a variety of markets to help improve air quality. Rather than spending time and money testing different strategies to do this in real-life. A digital twin allows scenarios to be run in a virtual model to provide the insights needed to identify methods of reducing air pollution.

For example, a logistics company may want to transport goods to a destination using an efficient journey that keeps air quality exposure and vehicle emissions at a minimum. Using a digital twin, the company can receive insight into air pollution levels and estimated atmospheric emissions for each scenario or option. Once understood, the routes can then be compared against each other for identifying the type with the lowest impact on air quality.

Using this information, the most sustainable journey can be taken in real-life, helping to keep emissions and air pollution as low as possible whilst goods are transported.

Aimsun Live: Network Emissions/Vehicle Flow Management Adjustment (NEVMFA)

Another great example of digital twin use for improving tailpipe emissions is the Network Emissions/Vehicle Flow Management Adjustment (NEVFMA) project we worked on with Aimsun, Oxfordshire County Council and Yunex Traffic. You can learn more by reading our NEVFMA blog.

Local councils and governments can use digital twins throughout their operations to alert members of the public about high pollution levels in advance, empowering communities to lower their atmospheric emissions. Using our MappAir® city model, Zephyr® monitors and MyAir®, here’s how Leicester City Council wanted to manage wood burning smoke emissions through digital twin technology.

With our full technology stack, we worked with Leicester City Council to create a digital map of Leicester to highlight fine particulate (PM2.5) levels and wood burning smoke dispersion across the city. With real time data, 72-hour forecasts and an integrated wood burning smoke estimate available through the model, the council were able to use their digital twin to predict wood burning stove usage and resulting pollution episodes and hotspots.

The digital twin of Leicester allowed them to alert members of the public of predicted high levels and encourage them to reduce their domestic burning activities, helping to protect the community from fine particulate exposure.

Advantages of Digital Twin Technology for Air Quality

It’s a well-known fact that we’re fighting against climate change, and air pollution is a contributing factor. New targets which have come as a result of COP26 will mean that businesses, governments and individuals have work to reach net zero by 2050. This is where we can really get the most out of the age of technology – innovations like digital twins can accelerate improvements in infrastructure, emissions, urban plans, air quality, and much more.

Digital twins also provide answers to ‘what if’ questions with virtual simulations. In terms of air quality, the technology removes the middleman of having to test and evaluate the success of methods of lowering air pollution concentrations – which can be time consuming and costly. Therefore, digital twins can help towards efficiently identifying mitigation strategies and help us hit net zero before it’s too late.

Digital twins also reduce the chances of pollution reducing strategies failing in real life. Due to its ability to replicate what’s happening and to create solutions for reducing atmospheric emissions, any methods that may fail in real life would be outlined before they were applied in a real-life scenario. This can ultimately help to save those at risk from pollution episodes, who otherwise may have been affected by a failed strategy.

Would you like to demo digital twin technology?

Head to our MappAir® page and fill in the form to request your FREE demo of our air quality model!

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