This paper presents the development of a Digital Twin in Virtual Reality (VR) for civic engagement in urban planning. Herein used approach enables to empower citizens in a novel way using digital, emerging technologies. Until now Digital Twins have been mainly used in the field of engineering and their implementation for towns only have been recently discussed (Batty, 2018).
A Digital Twin is a digital representation enabling comprehensive data exchange and can contain models, simulations and algorithms describing their counterpart and its features and behaviour in the real world (Kuhn, 2017). We present the development and test application of a Digital Twin in Virtual Reality for the 30,000 people town of Herrenberg in Germany. Our modelling approach includes a mixed method with 3D models, simulations, 3D mapping and computational analysis with space syntax as a socio-spatial approach. For citizen participation the Digital Twin was embedded in the collaborative visualization and simulation environment “COVISE”. The Digital Twin for Herrenberg was exposed to approximately 1,000 citizens using a mobile and stationary Virtual Reality environment. For verification and consolidation, a survey was carried out. The results demonstrated that the use of this method and technology could be very supportive in participatory and collaborative processes.
A criticism of Digital Twins is that they abstract only a limited set of variables and processes and rarely includes any of the processes that determine how the city works in terms of its social and economic functions (Batty, 2018). We therefore conclude the paper with a discussion of the presented results and further research direction how to include more social and economic functions using a synthetic population model.
Digital twins for towns will help urban planners and designers to understand and inform about impacts of intended urban change with citizens having a voice and the opportunity to influence public decisions for smart, sustainable cities. This democratic decision-making process empowers people to reach public consensus.