San Francisco leads a double life, where taxpayer dollars are saved, disasters are averted, massive structures are built, and lives are saved.

“Digital twins” are highly detailed three-dimensional models executed by computer programs that are used to help manage hospital buildings and parts of the airport, and to replicate the human heart, putting San Francisco on the cutting edge of technology. , according to experts. All of the data available on a real-world building or vehicle is entered into a computer program that reproduces the three-dimensional original on a screen.

Here’s what it looks like in real life: UCSF officials used dynamic and data-rich virtual replicas of buildings to monitor temperature, airflow, even the maintenance and location of hospital beds. Clicking on the model can even allow officials to adjust and control certain operations, such as air and water systems.

“This is something that we are passionate about,” says Bruce Mace, executive director of the UCSF Health facilities and support services department, noting that the maintenance of air circulation systems and other operations in hospitals was crucial during COVID-19.

At the start of the pandemic, a fire alarm went off in a full COVID-19 room at the UCSF Medical Center on Parnassus Avenue, near Golden Gate Park. There was no fire and the emergency response was canceled, but there was another danger that could have serious consequences. The fire alarm system automatically triggered changes in the air circulation system. Were fans blowing air from the COVID department to other areas? Sending work teams to assess this would have put people at risk and disrupted service.

In UCSF medical centers, digital twins are used to monitor systems and help resolve issues such as a major leak spilling into a cafeteria. (Courtesy of UCSF Santé)

Consulting the digital twin allowed Mace and his team to take a deep look at the system and make sure the airflow was safe. “We were able to control the situation remotely and safely,” he says.

Data from the digital twins at UCSF’s Mission Bay facilities and parts of the Parnassus campus is so detailed that managers can predict maintenance issues and even order new parts for the machines from the 3D model.

It’s not trendy or flashy tech in the name of innovation, believers say. The notion of “metaverse” of avatars having adventures fills public relations speeches and film plots. But digital twins provide very real services. Dynamic three-dimensional models allow designers, architects, engineers and installation teams to share a vision of a project and work together.

Here’s how digital twins are different from technology used in the past: Previously, simulations often used models to find a particular scenario, and then they were discarded or reused sporadically. Digital twin technology, engineered by leading tech companies including IBM and Autodesk, both used by UCSF, creates models that change with their real-life counterparts because data is continually being added.

Here’s another massive example of a local digital twin that San Francisco taxpayers can appreciate. San Francisco International Airport completed a six-year renovation project with architects and engineers relying heavily on a dynamic three-dimensional model that stakeholders shared and completed. This digital twin has provided a “single source of truth” for all, says Geoff Neumayr, development director for planning, design and construction at SFO.

SFO used a digital twin of the airport to complete a massive six-year renovation project.  Has this model been shared by architects, engineers and contractors as

SFO used a digital twin of the airport to complete a massive six-year renovation project. This model has been shared by architects, engineers and contractors as “a source of truth” of the plans. (Courtesy of San Francisco International Airport)

“We just completed a $ 7.3 billion project,” Neumayr said. “We’ve done all of our schedules, all of our budgets, and we’re not in court with any of the parties.” Could this have happened without a digital twin that all of these parties could consult? “No way,” he said. In the past, “We couldn’t see the coordination of all industries. We had to do it in the field, by trial and error, with contractors jostling each other.

Having a three-dimensional model that stakeholders can click to peel off walls, see building details, click to find out the cost of parts and even control systems is a game-changer, says Terry Bills, global director of the transportation industry at Esri. , a mapping software company that led the SFO project. “You can have a bunch of data on spreadsheets that are categorized, but when you put it together in a digital twin, it’s in the central price / centerpiece? in the operation of the airport.

Digital twins of human hearts are even being built in Silicon Valley. NTT Research, the exploratory lab of the Japanese communications and tech giant, is working on three-dimensional models of human hearts that mirror a person’s real heart. This project could predict and prevent heart disease within a decade, according to the company. This will be the first step in his “moonshot” to create fully realized digital representations of human beings for medical research. A virtual human twin of you and me. This vision is many years away.

For now, the digital twins are tackling everyday but serious issues right here in San Francisco. One of those cases was a major leak spilling seven floors at UCSF’s Mission Bay facility in the facility’s cafeteria several years ago. “It was 11:45 am on a Sunday night, there was water running in the kitchen, the ceiling was sagging,” says Mace, the executive director of UCSF’s facilities department. Worse yet, the leak rendered an operating room unusable.

Mace and the team members called the digital twin from their home, found the valve that could shut off the water, and did so by clicking on the model. The leak was fixed in hours, not days. The operating room and the cafeteria resumed their activities on Monday morning.

Over the past two years, Mace has used the digital twin in videoconferencing with several people in different countries to keep hospital facilities running for a crucial period.

“During the pandemic, we constantly looked at the digital model” to predict maintenance issues, monitor temperature and airflow, and maintain equipment, says Mace. “All of these assets were suddenly essential. Having this system is phenomenal.


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