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What Is the Digital Twin Technology for CRE Assets?

New digital technologies are expediting new development projects and improving asset management capabilities.

A new Digital Twin technology offers commercial real estate developers and owners a powerful data tool that can expedite project construction, provide asset management efficiencies that save time and money and make buildings more sustainable.

A Digital Twin is a virtual replica of a physical real estate asset. The scalable platform leverages the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create 2D or 3D digital, geometrically accurate visualization of assets that provide continuously updated information on a project’s status or live building operational data and facilitates machine learning (ML) capabilities.

Early adopter Suffolk Construction, a Boston-based commercial real estate builder, is using this technology to plan and manage projects better, Rob Crudon, Suffolk vice president of operations, said at a ULI San Diego/Tijuana event last week. A project’s Digital Twin provides an understanding of how a project will look, feel, work and impact the environment, including the city’s skyline, he said, noting it allows estimators to identify project components and provide accurate cost estimates and helps project managers reduce or eliminate budget overruns.

To leverage the value of this technology, Suffolk has established a smart lab in offices in San Francisco, New York, Miami, Tampa, Fla. Dallas and Los Angeles, where the firm’s construction managers get together with designers, contractors and other associates to collaborate and plan projects while using the Digital Twin platform, Cruden said.

The smart labs are also used for business development, providing data to update current clients and pitch prospects. They include a room called the Cave, which receives live camera feeds from various job sites, enabling project associates and clients to use virtual reality to step inside three-dimensional models of projects.

A number of software developers have entered the Digital Twin real estate technology marketplace. NREI spoke with representatives from two firms offering platforms that span the entire spectrum of building development and operations.

Sydney-based Willow collects and harnesses project and building operations data to facilitate smart design and construction and optimize building performance, according to Casey Mahon, digital coordinator for the firm who spoke at the ULI event.

Formerly a digital design and construction company, three years ago Willow, in partnership with Investa, an Australian commercial real estate owner/operator, developed Willow Twin. This digital solution draws on static, historic and live operating data to create actionable insights that can transform the operation of buildings and infrastructure and how occupants and users experience these assets, according to Ian Siegel, digital lead at Willow.

As a result, Willow evolved into a technology company, acquiring a fintech firm and integrating its software development skill set with the firm’s existing building industry expertise. The Willow solution is a combination of a software platform (WillowTwin) and WillowDigital.

The WillowTwin platform brings together three main streams of building information into searchable database that can scale from a single asset to an entire real estate portfolio, including:

  • Spatial information from the 3D models or 2D drawings;
  • Static information about all equipment (manufacturer, model and serial numbers, warranty information, cost of replacement) and PDFs of the owner’s manual and maintenance instructions;
  • Live data from systems, such as the building management system (BMS), lighting control, physical access control, CCTV, and other IoT sensors.

Harnessing real-time building data and usage patterns, the platform can help optimize building performance and tenant experience, and drive savings through predictive maintenance. Owners can also use the platform to glean insights about how occupants use the building and automatically predict their needs, such as environmental comfort.

Through the use of WillowTwin, a project’s design and construction teams assemble the building’s Digital Twin as it is being constructed. Bringing together the information silos that traditionally separate a project’s design and construction teams, the platform reports on the completion and quality of information contractors need to present to an owner at closeout. Collecting and validating this information over the course of the construction process reduces risk at handover and for all stakeholders, including owners, investors and contractors.

WillowTwin serves as the access point for a vast number of smart building applications and third-party providers that enable owners to take advantage of a range of smart building solutions—similar to the way apps are downloaded to smartphones.

Smartphone apps allow property and asset managers to review reports on tenant demographics and engagement, including space utilization, service and amenity preferences, and tenant feedback collected by the apps. Tenants can use the apps to pre-register building guests with security, which sends their guests a QR code that is scanned when they enter the building, then provides a map that guides them to their destinations. It can also digitally unlock doors, reserve conference rooms and amenity spaces, and push notifications of transportation alerts, specials offered by nearby retailers and instructions in emergency situations.

The Smart World Pro platform offered by Chicago-based Cityzenith allows clients to build custom Digital Twins of all types of real estate assets, from entire property portfolios to entire cities, Founder and CEO Michael Jansen told NREI. The platform provides a comprehensive visualization of all information in and around those assets, from capturing live pedestrian footfall around a campus from IoT sensors to alerts from building systems.

“The platform is a ‘Digital LEGO Land’ of configurable pieces that can be moved around to create a custom Digital Twin,” Jansen says, noting that when a piece is moved, so is its data. Users move buildings around and leverage third parties to mock up a multitude of scenarios, from capital planning investment alternatives to traffic planning and environmental impact simulations.

The Smart World Pro platform addresses all facets of real estate development, including site selection, design, planning, construction, operations, maintenance, sales and leasing.  Deployment of Digital Twin strategies for any of these uses across an organization enables Digital Twin models to grow and become more robust with data and use, Jansen notes.

Users can leverage SmartWorld Pro’s Digital Twin solutions to aggregate, query, visualize and analyze all data in a single, easy-to-use 3D dashboard customized to suit a client’s needs.

Originally developed by the creators of Google Earth, a Smart World Pro feature leverages an earth model engine that makes it possible for users to place assets and data wherever they like. Users can navigate to cities anywhere in the world and see a trove of 1 million urban data sets that range from zoning, building permits, land use and property transactions to consumer data, like the locations of ATMs and convenience stores.

AI- and ML-driven apps ensure that these urban context data points, combined with data from inside the owners’ buildings, drive new discoveries and efficiencies across multiple functions.

Jansen said the platform also provides tools to help developers achieve aggressive energy goals, like the California Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan. This mandate calls for all new commercial construction to be zero net energy (ZNE) by 2030, 50 percent to be retrofitted to ZNE by 2030, and 50 percent of new major state building renovations to be ZNE by 2025.

According to Jansen, the system can help building owners achieve those goals by: (1) creating scenarios of outcomes of deploying various smart building/energy conservation strategies; (2) simulating the impact of on-site renewable deployment options and results; and (3) helping to pool off-site renewable energy suppliers to offset remaining fossil fuel dependencies.

Cityzenith is currently on the verge of forming a partnership with a global property management firm to provide a Digital Twin solution for the firm’s operations division, which manages billions square feet of real estate worldwide.

The firm is looking at deploying Cityzenith’s technology across its entire portfolio, following a successful pilot that demonstrated that it could help staff with forecasting activities and provide immediate benefits for clients and tenants.

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