CES 2019: Microsoft Azure Digital Twins is like SimCity (but the stakes are real)

Mixed reality laboratories will soon be used to virtually optimize cities prior to IoT deployments, potentially saving billions.

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IoT sensors are enabling cities to run more efficiently, but they're also creating new complexities in urban management techniques. Because the technology is changing so quickly, it's difficult for urban planners and utilities to effectively predict how new sensor deployments will interact with existing sensors, how strategies will change over time, and how technology keep pace with future needs.

Simulations offer a helpful solution to IoT deployment, but reliably mimicking the intricacies of working cities in virtual reality has been technologically out of reach. A new service from Microsoft called Azure Digital Twins could be the answer.

"Azure Digital Twins simplifies IoT solutions by providing a comprehensive digital model to connect devices with context about the physical world," says Bert Van Hoof, group program manager, Azure Digital Twins at Microsoft Corp. "Neighborhood improvements will manifest in the simulated environment, allowing users to make informed choices regarding technologies they may be considering implementing."

The platform can be used to model the relationships and interactions between variables like traffic, building materials, devices, and even people. Or, as Microsoft puts it: "This spatial intelligence platform includes predefined and extensible twin object models to build virtual representations of the physical world and contextually aware solutions specific to your industry."

At CES 2019, Itron, a technology company that offers products for energy and water resource management, is utilizing a public preview of the Azure Digital Twin platform to simulate a downtown Los Angeles neighborhood. Visitors can strap on a Microsoft HoloLens and virtually alter traffic patterns, install sensors, change building materials, and even swap landscaping. As changes are made, users can witness the impact of these choices on people, buildings, cars, and holistic environments.

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It's like SimCity, only this game will soon be utilized to make consequential decisions about how smart cities function. Itron Idea Labs is one of the early adopters of Microsoft's Digital Twins service, and it's an important ally for Microsoft. The company currently helps communities in more than 100 countries deliver critical infrastructure services like water and utilities.

"At Itron Idea Labs, we are exploring groundbreaking concepts by using emerging technologies, such as augmented reality, to realize new and bold solutions," said Roberto Aiello, director, Itron Idea Labs. "We are excited to combine our vision with Microsoft's technology for incredible simulations at CES."

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