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How Estonia is using digital twins to revolutionise construction, production and even presentations

Estonia's nation-wide digital twin, developed in cooperation between public and private sector, will gather data and visualise real-life situations so accurately that, in the future, we will be able to test and work on constructions projects in virtual reality, before putting them into action in real life. And there is certainly much more that digital twins can achieve.

“Digital twins will make the world created by humans more effective and help to successfully carry out product development, spatial planning, surveillance, remote control, maintenance and many other practices,” says the Deputy Director of Business Development of the Estonian Investment Agency Raido Lember.

He adds that this is part of the digitalising process in Estonia, during which a digital version is created of an object or service and, from there, a digital platform can be created around it. “The digital object and platform can be connected to various sensors, which will amend the respective digital twin or the digital platforms – and create a so-called augmented reality between the two platforms,” Lember explains the concept.

An example of this is a production process which can be replicated onto a digital platform as a digital twin and tested in various stimulated scenarios. “You can try out the amendments that are planned for the production line on the digital platform before implementing them on the physical line,” Lember explains.

He remarks that this type of digitalising can increase production remarkably. “A good example is the development phase of a physical product,” he explains. “TalTech sets a good example with the development process of their robot ship NYMO and operating it more effectively in real-life conditions.” In addition, Taltech has recently added the capability of being controlled via its digital twin to their prototype logistics robot.

National digital twin of Estonia

Another, and much bigger, example of implementing a digital twin in Estonia is the country’s nation-wide digital twin, created in order to boost the possibilities Estonia’s construction sector – and not only the construction sector – has. The development of the nation-wide digital twin is conducted in cooperation between the private and public sector. “The state has definitely set a good example with their many initiatives, but the companies are the biggest winners and implementers, making their tasks more effective and developing more competitive and effective products and services,” Lember explains.

He says that a great example of cooperation between the private and public sector is the Estonian 3D e-construction platform which was prepared by the company Reach-U and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. One of the latest updates to the platform is a 3D map application created by the Land Board, which enables the user to look at all Estonia’s buildings from every angle and visualise their surroundings spatially, using a 3D model.

Browse Estonia’s buildings in 3D

“3D models open up a range of opportunities,” explains Chief Specialist of the Bureau of Geoinfosystems Hanno Kuus, adding that while the state is able to provide the necessary data, it is the companies that actually innovate: “I have emphasised in my presentations that we at the Land Board offer 3D data, but the most innovative uses of 3D models happen outside of the Land Board.”

He believes in the importance of being able to provide 3D models of buildings, which can be used in various ways. “We have forwarded data to designers and local governments, but also to enthusiasts who have used them in their simulations and animations,” he adds.

According to Kuus, everything that is connected to construction and design is part of the 3D field. “In between all of the 3D buildings in Estonia, we can easily place the buildings that architects have designed as 3D models,” he explains. “This includes both, the preliminary designs and detailed construction models.” Furthermore, existing 3D data can be used in creating and visualising different plans. “For example, we can easily look at the lighting of different buildings or rooms,” he states.

Moreover, the existence of accurate geodata reduces the necessity of real-life measuring. “To put it very simply – a roofing contractor can give you a tentative quote for changing the roof covering without driving to see it,” says Kuus. He explains that it will be possible to simulate the parameters connected to the roofs with the help of the detailed roof forms on the 3D models, for example, we can monitor the amount of solar panels that are actually used, the potential of the used solar energy or the risk of snowfall or icicles building up on the roofs. This can be assessed on an individual building level as well as by district or city.

“In the future, when we have data of both the ground and underground object as a 3D model in addition to the buildings, the use of the data will expand even more because the visibility analyses (viewshed and ray tracing) will be more accurate,” Kuus explains.

The aboveground objects that we will be able to see are various facilities as well as trees, bushes, boulders and other natural objects. The visible underground objects will be pipes, cables and all the geological data about mineral resources.

Faster and more accurate proceedings in construction

A model of the center of Estonia’s capital Tallinn in 3D.

The new map application with the main purpose of helping to make decisions and carry out proceedings regarding construction and buildings, was first introduced on a 3D e-construction platform developed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

Head of Digital Construction Jaan Saar explains that the e-construction 3D platform is essentially a hub for services where all the data of various institutions will be gathered and visualised. In the future, an option to apply and coordinate different permissions will be developed.

“Estonia has many digital data and registers,” Saar states. “We just need to bring them together.” The e-construction platform is a hub for sharing information about buildings’ lifecycles between all sharers and the public sector.

The 3D maps were launched in late March and are intended to be improved in May based on the feedback. Saar says that the platform should not remain a visual database – users need to be able to gain from it.

Right now, data can be found on the platform mostly about existing and planned buildings, but by the end of the year, data movement will also be implemented in the opposite direction, meaning that users can also enter their own digital models and apply for the necessary permits. According to Saar, case handlers can get hold of all the data from the entered digital models and remove the deficiencies with an automatic control system – whether those are narrow doors, steep ramps or too small rooms. The entire movement of data will be machine readable in order to reduce errors.

Bright future ahead

Digital twins have been named one of the five most significant technological trends in the world and, according to several sources, millions of them are already in use. “Estonian technological companies have a huge opportunity to profit from this increasing trend as the development of digital twins has huge export potential,” says Lember.

In the future, the role of digital twins is predicted to be even bigger. “It will become a big part of our everyday work and private life,” Lember comments. “It will be like today’s smartphones – there will be numerous digital twins.” Digital twins have even been created out of humans, which have become beneficial in scenarios where a speaker is not able to attend an event – a digital twin will be made of the speaker to give the audience the illusion that the speaker is actually on stage.

“In Estonia, the start-up Wolf3D has been successful in this segment – they have been very successful in the global gaming industry and are signing contracts with the US military and the most prominent telecoms giants,” says Lember.

Interested in innovation-led businesses and initiatives? Read more about Estonia’s smart city sector here, send us a request for a free e-Consulting and your personal investment advisor will get in touch.

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