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Orlando, Fla., Hopes ‘Digital Twin’ Map Will Help Companies

With the help of video game software developer Unity, the Orlando Economic Partnership is creating an interactive 3D map of the entire Orlando, Fla., region to show to companies who may want to locate in the area.

An example of a 3D digital twin map of Orlando.
A photo illustration showing the “digital twin” for the Orlando, Fla., region created by the Orlando Economic Partnership.
Submitted Photo: Orlando Economic Partnership
New mapping and other real-time technologies are allowing communities to showcase their regions in approaches that reach far beyond the static PowerPoint.

The Orlando Economic Partnership (OEP) is developing a “digital twin” of the 40-square-mile metro region of Orlando, Fla. The project uses 3D tech and real-time data to fashion an interactive map offering a view of demographics, business development and other variables crucial to companies that may want to locate in the region.

The digital twin “will rely on real-time data to provide information that would typically be shared in a report or a presentation that can include anything from demographics to open land and commercial or industrial real estate that is available for companies thinking of moving to the Orlando area,” a representative for the partnership explained.

The first phase of the project is geared toward developing a tool for site selection and economic development. This tool will include data from a range of sources at the federal, state, county and local levels in areas like demographics, education and more.

“The digital twin is the next evolution of site selection,” said Tim Giuliani, CEO for the Orlando Economic Partnership, in an email to Government Technology. “The technology saves hours in drive time across our expansive region, since we can simply show companies land and buildings available for relocation, allowing them to narrow down their choices.”

A second phase will create an even richer product with more data from stakeholders, such as utility companies or other organizations, to create a more comprehensive view of the region from a number of perspectives like planning, infrastructure, climate resilience and more, say officials. OEP says their digital twin will be "more versatile" than those of other cities.

“Through inputting their own data, local stakeholders will be able to map utilities, transportation and other infrastructure. They will be able to run scenarios that include rapid population growth and climate change. This technology offers countless opportunities for urban planning,” said Giuliani. “We believe this digital twin will become a valuable resource for furthering economic development in our region.”

The idea behind packaging big data into a real-time digital and interactive product has begun to see wider emergence as smart city initiatives and technology developments in areas like IoT take on broader applications.

“I think it’s safe to say that ‘digital twinning’ as a tool is becoming more widespread in the smart city space,” said Eric Egan, a policy fellow in e-government at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

More than 500 cities are expected to launch some form of digital twin by 2025, according to ABI Research.

Visualizing real-time data can aid in urban planning, transportation and other large policy areas as cities manage multi-modal transportation, infrastructure and other areas.

“But cities are also intending to use digital twins as ‘virtual command centers’ that can actively control elements of their physical counterparts — like flipping a switch to reduce the speed limit for autonomous vehicles,” said Egan.

OEP is working with Unity, a video game software developer, to create the technology platform that will display 40 square miles of Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties.

The digital twin is currently in the testing phase and is set to be unveiled in the new OEP headquarters lobby later this year.

Editor's note: This story was updated with quotes from Orlando Economic Partnership CEO Tim Giuliani.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.