Design automation tools are an established concept, but the digital twin could take things further. The twin could work with the model to spot patterns and trends in the data, and to rapidly create simulations of road improvements.
The next step would to take advantage of the current drive towards standardisation which will be reinforced in 2019 through the ‘presumption in favour of offsite manufacture’ embraced by five UK Government departments to embed standardisation and productisation into automated design. Using standardised components across multiple projects means that designers can stop reinventing the wheel on each project and broaden their role to include components, systems, assembly and an asset-wide view.
In short, digital will free engineers to focus more on customer value. This has been the focus of a series of blog posts and a video the team at WSP have created as we’ve explored what the future of highways may look like. To illustrate how digital highways could benefit customers, I’d like to introduce you to one of the personas we created. Meet Tammy Haigh.
Tammy works part-time, dropping her daughter Erica at a childminder near their home in Huddersfield before travelling to work in Manchester. While she used to find her journey quite smooth, increasing congestion means she’s having to drop Erica off earlier to avoid being late for work.
Less time, more stress
As every parent of young children will know, leaving 10 minutes earlier in the morning can be stressful. As a result, Tammy is more rushed and Erica less settled when she’s dropped off. The day does not get off to a good start.
Digital twin to the rescue
Tammy had almost forgotten that she’d signed up for a new smartphone app that collects data (with her permission) about her daily commute and feeds it, along with data from other drivers, into the digital twin. The machine learning tools constantly scan the digital twin and have alerted planners to the new pattern of congestion Tammy and the other drivers have experienced.
Solutions generated and tested
Tammy received a message via her app from the highways planner. The planner said they had run a range of simulations in the digital model and identified some things to try and help improve Tammy’s journey each morning – such as changing the timing of traffic signals on other surrounding roads. Tammy is sceptical at first, but over time she begins to see the congestion easing as various solutions are generated and tested.
A happy ending
We end the story with everything back on track. When she drops Erica at the childminder, Tammy is more relaxed. Erica is too. Tammy’s routine is working smoothly once again.
Ultimately, this is all about the road user. Digital technology can help our industry enable its customers to be better prepared and more engaged – to involve them more fully in its work and communicate more effectively with them. Technology will not constrain possibility, but we must be bold and imaginative to realise its potential to deliver better outcomes for the customer.