NSW customer service minister Victor Dominello

The NSW government has announced its first “spatial digital twin” of Western Sydney, which it hopes will improve city shaping by creating 3D and 4D representation of proposed developments – complete with passing traffic flows and real time air quality.

The NSW government has teamed up with CSIRO’s data experts at Data61 to build what it claims is the world’s biggest “spatial digital twin” of Western Sydney.

Open to industry, academia and the public, the virtual model is in 4D  a three-dimensional depiction with the addition of time so that users can create models based on historical or future scenarios.

The model of Western Sydney’s built and natural environment shows above ground physical assets such as buildings, roads and trees. It also draws on data from utilities to represent underground pipes and electrical cables.

The digital model can be overlaid with live feeds from sensors to show traffic movement, energy generation and air quality in real time. It also shows non-physical elements such as zoning boundaries.

The main point of the exercise is to arm governments with the tools to conduct “laser-like” planning and development, as NSW customer service minister Victor Dominello described it at the launch on Monday.

Keeping it “real” for mums and dads

He told the audience that we’re still planning cities and towns with the precision of a “hacksaw”. 

“This tech changes everything. We can be laser-like in our surgery that is planning for the future. And this type of precision requires a digital twin.”

Minister Dominello said the platform makes planning the built environment “real for the mums and dads out there”.

“I’m not much a of a planner. If someone shows me a 2D diagram with shaded buildings, I wouldn’t have a clue how to read it … It’s very easy to see a 3D image.”

The first stage of the digital twin includes visualisations of the council areas of Blue Mountains, Camden, Campbelltown, Fairfield, Hawkesbury, Liverpool, Penrith and Wollondilly.

Western Sydney was picked as the guinea pig because it faces major planning challenges, with its population projected to reach 3 million by 2036.

The minister said that while there are digital twin projects underway in other states, such as Fishermans Bend in Melbourne, no other jurisdiction is allowing free access to the data.

“No other state is doing this … the genius behind what we’ve done here today is open it up to industry … it’s a sharing platform.”

Property giant Lendlease has already signed up to collaborate with the NSW government to share data on cities and buildings.

“When you share ideas, you generate progress and innovation, and that’s good for the people of our state,” Mr Dominello said. “If data really is the new oil, then government needs to start providing more wells.”

“This is bigger than a digital product, this is a microeconomic reform of the 21st century.”

According to the government the tool has been designed with privacy and security in mind.