Three key facts
about digital
twins and related

Digital twins are poised to transform the way buildings are constructed and managed

The world of property technology, or “proptech,” is ever-expanding as new ideas emerge and existing ideas mature. One of the most exciting proptech trends is the advance of digital twins: virtual copies of hard assets like buildings or machinery.

As a founding partner of MIT’s Real Estate Innovation Lab, JLL has been instrumental in helping us understand the real-life implications of emerging proptech on the commercial real estate industry. JLL’s Chief Research Officer, Ben Breslau, and I have had many conversations about what’s hot, what’s not and what has lasting implications, and digital twins have been a frequent topic of property technology. Our consensus is that digital twins are on the brink of their full potential in practical application, although further technological advances are needed

For decades, design engineers have used computer-aided design (CAD) to create 3D twins of buildings and other assets—including NASA spacecraft. Now, with the convergence of CAD with smart building systems, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, digital twin technology is sparking new directions in real estate innovation. Originally pioneered by NASA during the space exploration missions of the 1960s, digital twin technology is poised to expand across industries because of the increased affordability of IoT sensors and the enhanced processing power from high-performance computing. The digital twin market is projected to be worth $35.8 billion in 2025, a major increase over $3.8 billion in 2019, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets.

The following are three things to know about digital twins and related technologies that will open up entirely new ways to develop and manage commercial properties.

1. “Smart” systems are creating new possibilities for digital twins. At its simplest, a digital twin is a virtual model of a process, product or service. In commercial real estate, a digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical building. It’s still a 3D model, but today that static representation can be supercharged with real-time data generated by “smart” automated HVAC, security and other building systems, and transmitted through meters, wireless sensors and other IoT devices.

Digital twins offer almost endless opportunities to create value for property owners and communities alike. The National University of Singapore is testing digital twin technology for energy and space optimization across campus, including cost-saving predictive maintenance and automated operations. Then there’s Virtual Singapore, a government-funded initiative to create the world’s first digital twin of an entire metropolis, with details at the level of trees and manholes. Ultimately, Singapore will be able to predict disasters, plan a more livable city and improve environmental sustainability, among other advantages.

2. Digital twins will transform facility management and help reduce carbon emissions. For commercial property owners, investors and managers, facility management is where digital twins will deliver the greatest value. Facility managers can use a digital twin to simulate new technologies and methodologies; analyze performance issues; and generate predictive insights to create a more comfortable, productive and environmentally responsible workplace.

Digital twins can be powerful tools for reducing carbon emissions. Also in Singapore, Nanyang Technological University has used digital twin technology from UK-based software company Integrated Environmental Solutions to uncover ways to reduce energy consumption by 30% and carbon emissions by as much as 17.8 kilotons to achieve $4.75 million in cost savings across its 618-acre EcoCampus.

Design and construction also will benefit, with digital twins enabling more accurate planning and scheduling of complex tasks and fine-tuned materials deliveries. Brookfield Properties, for instance, is implementing Willow’s WillowTwin™ platform and digital engineering services for 1 Manhattan West, part of a mixed-use complex in New York City, to transform how the building is constructed, managed and used.

3. 5G rollout and AI will enhance the power of digital twins. At its core, a digital twin is a very large volume of data that refreshes continuously. The availability of 5G networks will bring a quantum leap in the speed of massive data transmissions to power digital twin analytics.

Potential uses are growing as building data becomes more available and computing power becomes ever more advanced. AI tools are already used in facility management in the form of algorithms that uncover data anomalies, similarities and patterns in massive pools of building equipment data.

For example, machine-learning software in JLL’s IntelliCommand building commissioning platform can identify when and why a fan is working overtime and consuming excessive energy. Since adopting IntelliCommand a few years ago, Zeller Realty’s 65-story skyscraper at 311 South Wacker in Chicago has seen a 24% drop in electricity costs and 20% reduction in requests to raise or lower temperatures.

Deep learning takes machine learning a step further with the ability to create “neural networks” of subprograms that can process and learn from unformatted data such as voice commands. While a machine learning algorithm needs rigid instructions provided by a human, a deep learning algorithm has deeper and more nuanced abilities. For instance, a deep learning algorithm might determine—without human intervention—that the ears of cats and dogs are very different; if the algorithm is required to locate a picture of a dog or cat out of millions of photos in a database, looking at ears is a good place to start.

While the possibilities of emerging technological innovations are exciting, it’s important to be realistic about when and how they’ll see widespread adoption. To realize their full potential, digital twins will require a massive infusion of smart building technologies and IoT devices to generate data—which could be a costly challenge in older buildings. In addition, numerous individual technologies must be integrated for the digital twin concept to work on a broad scale, and the software applications required can cost tens of thousands of dollars annually. Yet, many other innovations have faced and overcome similar obstacles through human ingenuity. Digital twins have the potential to do the same.

Learn more about digital twins and other technologies transforming the built environment by downloading our first-ever global proptech report. Also, visit our website to find out how technology can help you improve the health and wellness of your employees, maximize the value of your property, and propel your business forward.