Investor dollars are pouring into property technology projects that promise to bring radical change and cost savings to new developments.
In particular, digital twin technology is on the rise with industry analysts predicting it will become the central way companies understand and operate their physical assets in the coming years.
A digital twin, in its simplest sense, is a linked virtual model of a physical object. By connecting the real-time data of the physical object or process into its digital representation—programmed with physics, mathematical models, AI and pattern recognition to faithfully recreate its sibling—the digital twin comes to life.
These on-screen reproductions of a physical building or asset are often rendered as a 3D version of the building and can show the exact state and health of an asset in real time.
The concept is growing increasingly sophisticated with sensors connected to the internet and cloud, enabling digital twins to become accessible anywhere, anytime.
NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler has predicted that all industry practitioners who have important roles to play in building assurance will have digital twins by 2025, as will the buildings they help build.
“Consumers will benefit from both regulators and strata managers being able to access a single source of truth for the buildings they live in,” Chandler says.
“The lodgement of these documents will be governed by new digitally enabled protocols where only accredited or licensed players will be able to access these systems.”
Partner at real estate advisory PWC Integrated Infrastructure Tony Massaro agrees that change is here.
“Real estate as an industry is on the cusp of having some great innovation as early adopters are scaling up,” he says.
“Prop-tech has now become a fast-growing segment of the real estate market, with new start-ups seemingly being created every week.”
Digital twins are being used for multiple projects in Australia—buildings as well as linear infrastructure assets.
“The value proposition is that through gathering real time data on multiple facets of the infrastructure asset, strategic decisions can be made on running those assets in the most efficient way,” Massaro says.
The technology is about getting real time data to decision makers about their assets so they can make strategic decisions on how best to utilise them, he explains.
“Thus, all developers and builders should be interested to see how digital twin technologies could add value to their projects, and then they should run the numbers to see if it makes sense to incorporate digital twin technologies into the projects,” he says.
A recent report confirms that digital twins are commanding increasing attention from industry professionals.
Produced by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the report points out that real-time, structured data has never been so accessible over the lifecycle of an asset, but this potential presents risks and disruption.
RICS global construction and infrastructure sector lead Anil Sawhney suggests that the construction sector needs to move faster to reap the benefits of digital twins.
“Digitisation in construction continues to gather momentum, but like the wider construction sector, adoption of such technologies is being held back by increasing costs and a shortage of skilled professionals,” Sawhney says.
Managed property fund EG confirms it has been investing heavily in this space. Chief executive Adam Geha is adamant that the real estate and property industry is ripe for disruption.
In recent weeks, Geha announced the launch of a technology incubator EGX. Its goal is to scale prop-tech start-ups into high performing, global businesses.
Geha says he’s committed to leading them all the way to their IPO while ensuring returns for investors.
Among the technologies on his radar is digital twins, which he says has the promise to drive the future of the real estate industry. His team includes entrepreneurs, engineers and finance professionals, who will evaluate start-ups from a variety of perspectives and assist with mentorship and scaling.
“Technology is bringing amazing opportunities to the table and it is important that start-ups with ambitious teams and great ideas find the support they need to bring these ideas to life,” Geha says.
One of the big names in this space includes Willow, which has been co-founded by EG, using digital twin technology to help asset owners unlock data to grow their profits. The company has already raised $58 million as it expands globally.
A start-up out of New Zealand called Reveal has already built the world’s largest subsurface digital twin in Wellington and is looking to take its technology platform to the world.
The technology enables cities and engineering firms build a digital twin that provides mapping for sub-surface infrastructure, Reveal chief executive Sam Wiffen says.
“The digital twin sector is expanding at massive rates right now, both in the amount of investment dollars going in, and the number of vendors, platforms and integrations available to developers,” Wiffen says.
“We firmly believe that applying this technology to sub-surface infrastructure has the potential to revolutionise many industry areas from property development to city infrastructure maintenance, and more.”
Digital twins offer developers the ability to visualise information about their properties over time in an intuitive way and model the effects of changes before committing major dollars to construction or refurbishment, Wiffen says.
For example, a digital twin of a building integrated with motion sensors or video capture could model foot traffic through a site, which could help identify the optimal place for a footpath or on-site utility.
A subsurface digital twin that displays the location of underground utilities or hazards in 3D could give engineers accurate, up-to-date information to feed into their engineering plans, reducing project delays and contingency costs, Wiffen says.
Reveal has mapped over 50ha of the subsurface environment in New Zealand’s capital city, including the CBD and Golden Mile stretches of Lambton Quay—in total, more than 336sq m of road corridor and footpaths, 1600 access holes and chambers laser scanned and documented, and 161,000m of utilities detected and accurately mapped in an interactive 3D digital environment.
This information is being used by Wellington City Council to make data-driven planning and maintenance decisions with a level of visibility into the subsurface risks never previously available. It also allows for significant cost savings and efficiencies for public works.
Developers with projects in design phase should be looking to incorporate digital twin functionality into their projects now, so they can take advantage of the data and insights from day one, Wiffen says.
“The insights that digital twins will enable will directly improve the profitability of property portfolios, improve their operating efficiency and lead to happier customers and inhabitants,” he says.
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