30 May 2022

Learn by Doing: Cal Poly Digital Twin (Guest: Jeong Woo)

A subset of the BIM of the Construction Innovations Center



Learn by Doing: Cal Poly Digital Twin

Developing a digital twin of Cal Poly Campus, the learn by doing approach

As part of California polytechnic state university (Cal Poly) Smart Campus Initiative, a multidisciplinary team of faculty and students from engineering and architecture colleges, are developing a digital twin of Cal Poly Campus that can represent and optimize the day-to-day college life and activities. A digital twin is a digital model, simulation and representation of a physical object. The application of this technology expands from built environment disciplines such as construction, and planning, to manufacturing and health care. The underlying concept of digital twin as a “dynamic software model of a physical thing or system” creates under‐explored opportunities in various disciplines. The research team tested a model of digital twin by combining Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Building Information Management (BIM) technologies in order to integrate different type of real‐time data, from environmental data to student movement, to create a useful tool for data driven decision making across campus units.


Public and private sectors understand the importance of digital twins, but they are unsure of how capable cities are to implement the technological system due to the perceived high initial costs and lack of current infrastructure. But more than that, there is a lack of political will to invest in an avant-garde technology, when there are so few successful projects around the world that demonstrate the cost benefit potential. In such an environment where engineering and technology outpace policy and political will, university campuses can be the testing ground and demonstration site for digital twin technology.


As part of the Cal Poly Smart Campus Initiative, research teams are working on a pilot project to create a digital twin for the campus beginning with one building area. This pilot project is a proof of concept for campus-wide digital twin to act as a model for data collection, analysis, and simulation. The immediate focus will be on minimizing the risk of infection by testing methods for monitoring students’ movement on campus during the current pandemic. Its applications can get expanded to other aspects of campus life, such as campus security, energy consumption, space management, students' attendance patterns, and more.

Integrating learning objectives with the Digital Twin Development

Integrating the development of the digital twin with the learning mission of the university is the main goal of this project. The digital twin platform is and will remain a work-in-progress. It is going to be a teaching and learning lab, where students and faculty experiment various applications and theories on the platform.


In the first phase, one computer science student with a minor in city and regional planning, participated in multiple bootcamps and workshops of Autodesk to learn the Forge platform. He assisted the team in setting up the digital twin in the Forge platform, using the previous phase products: 3D models (BIM) and the collected data (RFID Tags). Another computer science student developed the 2D dashboard that is linked to the 3D platform.


The research team collaborated with the company, VEC, that tasked their two interns, also undergraduate students in the Construction Management major, to create a LIDAR point cloud capture of an existing campus building. The building chosen for the pilot project was the Construction Innovations Center at Cal Poly. The student interns then created a BIM model using Autodesk Revit from the imported point cloud data. Figure 1 shows a subset of the BIM model of the Construction Innovations Center.


To monitor locations, 32 RFID tags and 3 gateways were used to update location of entities on these models. The databases from the RFID system and the BIM model of the Construction Innovations Center were integrated on a web-based API platform, Autodesk Forge. The research team also created a software interface to display visual markers representing RFID tags in the 3D model in the Forge viewer.  In the immediate term, this could have applications to increase safety from the COVID-19 virus by monitoring classrooms for maintaining room capacity.

Dashboards for room occupancy monitoring
Dashboards for room occupancy monitoring



The technical challenge that the team faced in the implementation was related to the limitation of the RFID tags. The error within reported distance between RFID tags was too large to be used in social distancing monitoring. However, the system was successful in monitoring room occupancies, which was the main objective of the project.

The 3D view of RFID tags movements in real-time
The 3D view of RFID tags movements in real-life


Following university protocols and policies, in particular ITS service clearance, was another challenge. The team has a better insight about the possibilities and limitations of working within Cal Poly’s institutional framework. For example, one of the biggest challenges was to connect the sensors to Cal Poly’s WIFI. Due to the existing firewall system, the team had to build a closer relationship and support from ITS to connect the devices to Cal Poly’s WIFI and network.


Monitoring environmental data in real time
Monitoring environment data in real time

What is Cal Poly's Learn by Doing Approach?

Check out the Cal Poly website for more information on their "Learn by Doing" core philosophy. 

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