Northern Ontario city gets government funding to create a digital twin

Acorn Information Solutions (Acorn), the geomatics and software development arm of the not-for-profit organization Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (SSMIC) which provides solutions for building smart cities, has been awarded a contract to implement a digital twinning project for the City of Elliot Lake, Ontario

SSMIC says it used ESRI’s new technology as the platform for the digital twin. Elliot Lake will be one of the first in the province to implement ESRI’s GIS technology, which is based on ArcGIS Online and what is known as a Utility Network platform. Acorn previously created custom code in existing software to create the original digital twin in Sault Ste. Marie. 

“We are currently updating our digital twin using ESRI’s newest technology. However, our award-winning part is not a technology but an approach to creating a digital twin based on how it is described in our case study,” a spokesperson for Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre told IT World Canada.

The city of just over 11,000 people applied for a grant with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Municipal Modernization Grant to be one of the first cities in Ontario to implement this solution. The details of the funding were not disclosed. 

The digital twin will be focused on digital modelling of all city assets such as fire hydrants, streetlights, transformers, and underground piping, explains SSMIC, which primarily functions as a catalyst for economic development in the information technology and knowledge-based sectors.

Acorn developed its base of expertise over a 20-year period, when it first digitized all assets in the city of Sault Ste. Marie. “Through this process, we discovered that it allows us to layer additional data from multiple sectors to help many stakeholders make more informed decisions,” said Paul Beach, manager of Acorn.

Beach explained that “when you start with the core data of your community [infrastructure and utilities] you can layer other data that is already available through sources like Statistics Canada and your local public health offices to make decisions that will improve the overall well-being of your community.” 

“We sometimes refer to ‘digital twinning’ as a Community Information Utility because it’s made up of data that will aid in decision-making processes for infrastructure, utility management and multiple community service providers,” noted Peter Bruijns, executive director, SSMIC. “If you can use data to improve the delivery of community needs and increase efficiencies – that’s what makes your city smart.”

One example of data layering that Acorn implemented to help provide information to municipal decision-makers is the installation of Audible Pedestrian Signals (APS) at crosswalks. Typically, money spent on the installation of APS would be spent equally across all wards of the community, but by layering the data of the municipal infrastructure, using CNIB client survey data, commonly used pedestrian routes, street speed and several other data points, Acorn says it created a suitability map for municipal decision-makers to guide their choices regarding locations of APS that would best serve the community.

“Being able to move from a paper environment to a digital one will create a world of difference by allowing us to see elements of our city in real-time, saving us time and money,” said Daniel Gagnon, chief administrative officer with Elliot Lake. “With a digital twin of our community, we will be able to operate more efficiently and get more done.”

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Pragya Sehgal
Pragya Sehgal
Born and raised in the capital city of India - Delhi - bounded by the river Yamuna on the west, Pragya has climbed the Himalayas, and survived medical professional stream in high school without becoming a patient or a doctor. Pragya now makes her home in Canada with her husband - a digital/online marketing fanatic who also loves to prepare delicious meals for her. When she isn’t working or writing around tech, she’s probably watching art films on Netflix, or wondering whether she should cut her hair short or not. Can be contacted at [email protected] or 647.695.3494.

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