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Be Smart to Stay Safe: Harnessing Technology for Safer and More Efficient Buildings

Part of the Pandemic Paradigm Series: Buildings Through a COVID Lens

A big trend we have all seen in the rapid growth of the use of digital twins in the built environment. Key factors behind the growth of digital twins include COVID-19 requirements in terms of achieving increased resilience levels and optimized asset and demand-response resource management.

The installed base of digital twin deployments is expected to increase from a scattering of pilots showcasing limited capabilities to more than 500 cities by 2025 driven by urban use cases across vertical markets. According to various Tech researchers, their widespread deployment as multi-purpose urban decision and management tools is now ‘imminent’.

Key factors behind the growth include COVID-19 requirements in terms of achieving increased resilience levels and optimized asset and demand-response resource management.

The digital twin ecosystem system activity is growing quickly with more suppliers announcing more deployments in more cities. Since the first urban digital twins’ deployments in cities like Singapore only three years ago, feature sets are rapidly expanding to enable a much wider range of application areas, as per the following:

  • Infrastructure coverage planning – light poles, 5G, Wi-Fi, video surveillance
  • Indoor airflow simulation – optimized interior designs to minimize spread of COVID-19
  • Resilience and emergency response – real-time view on city assets and resources
  • Open platforms and marketplaces – driving third party GovTech ecosystem integration
  • Transversal governance and citizen participation – support for cross-vertical policies and citizen engagement
  • Green infrastructure management – monitoring and maintenance of green spaces
  • Vehicle electrification and smart mobility deployments – simulation of impact on air and noise pollution to inform policies
  • Sustainability and circularity – digital twins enable renewable energy maximization and recycling optimization.

E-Commerce Remote Working and Digital Transformation

COVID-19 has forced businesses of all sectors and markets to rethink their modes of operation, with the pandemic’s outbreak spurring a move toward e-commerce, remote work, and digital transformation in order to protect employees and customers from contagion. When the history of the pandemic is written, it’ll also be recorded that COVID-19 accelerated a similar shift in how business conduct their operations — particularly to public engagement.

Businesses and Governments are making greater use of emerging technologies to enhance planning and service quality – which will ultimately pave the road to more efficient operations.

Here’s a look at the developments that are reshaping the future of local governments in the wake of COVID-19.

A New Era of Public Services

Residents growing expectations for convenience, efficiency, and digital-savviness in virtually all aspects of modern life have naturally extended to the government sphere. When a meal, a ride, a library full of literature, a vast range of binge-worthy TV series, and a world of fascinating podcasts are all available at the public's fingertips, the public will also expect that central and local government services should be too.

Big Tech is Already Playing a Major Role in Supporting Government Digitization

Indeed, those expectations have only heightened since the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made people even more reliant on digital technology for work, learning, social interaction, entertainment and pretty much everything that falls in between.

According to a multi-country survey conducted by Accenture in 2019, 67% of the public want governments to make it easier to access digital services, while 51% said they would make greater use of digital government services if they were available via a single online portal. Moving forward, we can expect more city’s and government bodies to expand their capabilities in regard to e-payments, online applications for vital services, and engaging the public via digital platforms.

Big Tech is already playing a major role in supporting government digitization. Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have all rolled out cloud services specifically for government agencies, and as more cities, and localities accelerate their digital transformations, these companies will be well-positioned to meet the growing demand.

Road and Infrastructure Maintenance

While many people have gone well over half a year without having to commute to work, most are all too familiar with the perils of clogged streets and highways, potholes and other road hazards, and all the other stresses and inconveniences a work commute can bring. Fortunately, advances in technology are paving the road for smoother journeys.

Autotech is a prime example: in-vehicle sensors, based on tactile technologies, are already capable of collecting actionable insights regarding road characteristics, such as road quality, surface conditions, etc., which can keep road authorities well informed and minimize the need for to manually gather maintenance data on roads conditions.

With tactile insights, cities can analyze traffic trends, detect hazards in real time, conduct timely road maintenance, map out poor road conditions, to predict and prevent deterioration and much more. Armed with this data, cities can prioritize the most urgent infrastructure repair projects – boosting local economies and the quality of commuters’ journeys.

Digital Water and Wastewater Treatment

Digital water technologies — including internet of things sensors and data analytics are taking off, such technologies will enable cities to monitor their water supply in real time, detect and rapidly address any water infrastructure issues, and optimize resource management.

For instance, water technology innovators have developed web-based solutions for water management professionals to remotely monitor every water meter in a network in real time, with instantaneous alerts to any anomalies so officials can quickly address them.

Improved water monitoring capabilities can help combat this and future pandemics. HDR helped the City of Boise, Idaho, develop one of the earliest wastewater epidemiology programs to track virus concentrations in the wastewater and present data on a public dashboard. Future design considerations and costing were developed for the potential of conducting future molecular testing at the City’s water quality laboratory. This would allow a utility to quickly provide data on progression of infectious disease in wastewater.

Smarter Garbage Collection

Cities can benefit from sophisticated and efficient tools not only for managing wastewater, but also for managing everyday waste.

Traditionally, cities have collected waste according to fixed routes. But a more dynamic approach — for example, sensor-equipped garbage bins and trucks — can significantly improve waste management.

Harnessing IoT, waste management authorities can identify the optimal routes according to the volume of waste in area bins. This isn’t a pipe-dream: companies like the Slovakian enterprise company Sensoneo are already enabling cities to better monitor and plan waste routes using sensors, open APIs, data analytics, and mesh-network topology — driving down waste collection costs by 30% and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 60% by relieving congestion.

A More Intelligent Urban Future

Digital technologies are already prominent in both our work and private life’s, with 2020 marking a milestone when we have come to see the value of innovative solutions for upgrading local government operations and improving city services.

COVID-19 has had far-reaching impacts on the public, businesses and governments alike. Among the most consequential is that it has cemented expectations for digitally-enabled efficiency — a development that will spur more local governments to turn to cutting-edge solutions for everything from bureaucratic services to garbage collection to infrastructure management. Indeed, local governments will never be the same again.