Cities are being cloned in the virtual world. Here’s what that means for the future

This digital twin of a city block in Gothenburg, Sweden, shows simulated noise levels from street traffic, visualized by a heat map on the surrounding street and building surfaces.
CNN  — 

With space in our cities at a premium, and a majority of the world’s population expected to live in urban areas within the next few decades, there’s less room for trial-and-error when it comes to urban planning – with decisions made today having critical impacts on the future.

But what if there was a way to test and analyze different scenarios first, before ever breaking ground? That’s the thinking behind “digital twins” that are being made of cities all over the world, including Shanghai, New York, Singapore and Helsinki.

Digital twins elevate traditional 3D city models to new possibilities, says Anders Logg, a professor of computational mathematics and director of the Digital Twin Cities Centre at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Using real-time data and artificial intelligence, digital twins become virtual, living mirrors of their physical counterparts – providing opportunities to simulate everything from infrastructure and construction to traffic patterns and energy consumption.