Digital twins, to accelerate the transition towards a smoother, safer and cleaner mobility

There is no longer any doubt, the digital tidal wave is sweeping over the mobility system: artificial intelligence, big data, smart mobility, IoT, MaaS, autonomous driving, etc. So many new concepts and technologies that are transforming as of now and for the next few decades, the reality of the movement of people and goods.

Infrastructure and networks operators, cities and municipalities, public authorities are facing complex issues to ensure the viability of the service, maintain, operate and develop the mobility system while responding harmoniously to environmental and societal challenges.

The task is not easy because it often involves coordinating different and sometimes contradictory interests to optimize the current system but also to prepare for the future.

So how to decide in this complexity? Digital twins are paving the way for new opportunities in the decision-making processes.

What is a digital twin?

Back in the early 2000s, Doctor Michael Grieves, then a professor at the University of Michigan, defines the first concepts on digital twins: real space, virtual space, link for a data flow from the real space to virtual space, informative feedback loop from virtual space to physical reality.

In short, it is about considering that a digital representation of a physical reality, whether it is a product, a system, a process, or an infrastructure, defines a virtual mirror which can be subject to the same constraints, the same monitoring, or be used to simulate and perform tests that would be too expensive or complex to deploy in the real world.

In the field of mobility, the integration into a collaborative work environment, of a complete toolbox combining data science, map-based visualization, modeling tools (static or dynamic), advanced dynamic simulation algorithms (macroscopic, mesoscopic, microscopic, etc.) and dashboards give shape to a controlled virtual environment, a true digital twin for simulation.

What are the major challenges for the mobility system?

Innovations and new technologies deployed in the field of mobility have to support the 3 pillars of sustainable development: operating the mobility system in a carbon-free logic, supporting the economy and providing services to users and citizens.

Mobility is at the crossroads of technological innovations, service innovations, which re-examine the business processes themselves. Mobility integrates in a complex system involving the movements of both people and goods. The players and stakeholders are very varied (State, municipalities, private operators…) and their decisions have a strong impact on the system.

Those who design and operate mobility networks need to adapt to the major transitions we are going through. And there are many of them in the mobility system:

  • Technological transformation: it impacts vehicles in their hardware factors, whatever their purpose, individual mobility or collective transport. Autonomous vehicles, connected and cooperative vehicles or even electro-mobility are noteworthy illustrations of that transformation.

  • The transition to new services: for example, carpooling, which requires adapting both the infrastructure and also traffic management operations.

  • The acceleration of exchanges and activities: this has been significantly emphasized the COVID crisis, in particular with the intensification of urban logistics flows generated by e-commerce and click and collect activities.

  • Changes in behaviors and the development of new usages: among others, the development of shared micro-mobility or the rapid development of cycling in cities. The direct consequence is to rapidly adapt road infrastructures leaving less space for cars and more space for soft and active modes.

  • Climatic and environmental challenges: with nearly 40% of CO2 emissions, the share of transport is considerable. And that's without taking into account the increasingly significant urban pollution issues. The work to decarbonize mobility needs therefore to be a top priority objective.

An optimal allocation of resources that meet both societal and environmental challenges requires therefore to inform investment process or operating strategies choices for the mobility system.

This is why there is a real need for easy-to-access tools to assess, test and evaluate solutions, predict new conditions, measure impacts, enrich public debate and inform decisions making.

What are the benefits of digital twins for mobility projects?

It is easy to understand the interest of having a controlled virtual environment, when it comes, for example, to deploy new road traffic management measures on an infrastructure used by several tens of thousands of vehicles every day or to optimize the offer of a public transport network on which millions of travelers transit every day. The economic, social and environmental impacts of such decisions are critical. So, it’s probably best to anticipate future conditions and reduce uncertainties!

A digital twin puts project stakeholders on an equal footing and enable to create a virtual model of future projects and to simulate the impacts without incurring real life deployment costs. A digital twin offers also very specific benefits that complement those of the multiple digital tools already in place:

  • Collective intelligence: the power of a platform bringing together heterogeneous data available anywhere and anytime facilitates consultation and collaboration between all project stakeholders wherever they are.

  • Simulating future scenarios: essential insight to prepare future investments, integrate new usages in mobility and choose the best operating strategies. For an optimal allocation of financial and environmental resources!

  • Predictive analysis: a real control tower to optimize operations planning, gain in agility for the management of exceptional events and better synchronize the players involved.

  • Modeling of GHGs and pollutants emissions: a data driven vision of future scenarios to assess the environmental performance of smart mobility and the resilience of the system with regard to environmental and climate challenges.

In short, the power of a digital twin lies in its capabilities to support decision making with an easy to use but very powerful tool to solve a complex problem: accelerating the transition to a smoother, safer and cleaner mobility system.

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