Students recruited to help bring the virtual world to life

18.12.2018

A North East water company is looking to help protect communities from flooding and other major incidents through the use of pioneering innovative software and the help of Newcastle University students.

Four post-graduate students are working with Northumbrian Water and helping them to develop and use ‘digital twin′ technology for the benefit of its customers and the environment.

A digital twin, which is a virtual model of the real world, allows the water company to run computer-generated simulations of incidents such as burst pipes, heavy rainfall or serious flooding, to show what could happen to peoples′ homes and local communities over a 24 hour period, in just a couple of minutes.

This means that Northumbrian Water, together with emergency responders, can run the simulations for any locations where an incident happens - or might happen - and identify problems quicker and easier than ever before.

This will help to improve planning, decision making and response times - all of which are crucial in real world incidents.

Over the next three years, the students will help to develop the ‘Twincident′ idea, gathering real-time data from individual systems such as Northumbrian Water′s water network and sewer network, and using them in a common framework.

Their research will also look at different opportunities across the business to combine the data with digital modelling to create the virtual world, in order to enhance the way the company manages all of its networks and assets, from huge reservoirs, down to individual pipes and pumps.

They′re also exploring ways to use technology to support decisions on how to get the most value out of the biogas produced from the Northumbrian Water′s Howdon sewer treatment works, and how the company could better understand the effect peaks in water demand could have on a catchment.

Northumbrian Water′s Research and Development Manager, Chris Jones, said: "We′re really excited to be working with the students from Newcastle University. We′re very lucky to have this kind of research and expertise on our doorstep and together we can harness the full power of digital twin technology, and make it work for us, our customers and our environment.

"The potential is there for it to change the whole industry in terms of how water companies plan and prepare for incidents, and also the ability to future-proof their assets and networks.

"We′re looking at something here that could help keep people safe during disasters and help emergency services save lives in the most critical of situations.

"That′s real world-changing stuff, and with the university′s help and development of this incredible planning and response tool, we′re already leading the way in innovation. I think 2019 will be a big year for this project and we′re only just getting started."

Newcastle University′s Chris Kilsby, Professor of Hydrology and Climate Change in the School of Engineering, said: "We′re very excited to have a partner who is prepared to invest in new technology and our research to be used in real and important applications.

"It is a fascinating time to be working in this area as new technologies, like the Cloud and Internet of Things are enabling us to set up and run computer simulations of systems we could only have dreamt of even ten years ago".

The idea of using digital twin technology as a powerful tool in the water industry, was born out of Northumbrian Water′s Innovation Festival, held in July 2018.

Part of this innovative transformation is made possible due to water-modelling software tools developed from fundamental research at Newcastle University over the last 6 years. The university will continue to work with Northumbrian Water to help with innovative solutions for business transformation which will help with real life solutions, sustainability and resilience.

Keep track of the ‘Twincident′ progress on the Innovation Festival website www.innovationfestival.org and on Northumbrian Water′s social media channels (Facebook.com/northumbrianwater and Twitter.com/NorthumbrianH2O - #InnovationFestival18).

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