Local tech company, city to unveil Las Vegas ‘digital twin’ at CES gadget show

NOV 15, 2021

Tens of thousands of people will flock to Las Vegas in January to see the latest electronic devices and technologies at the annual CES gadget show.

And one of the anticipated unveilings will have a distinctively local feel.

The creation — known as a “digital twin” — is a digital model of buildings, transportation systems and other infrastructure in Las Vegas, fed by internet of things data and high-tech sensors mainly around downtown Las Vegas.

Think of it as a digital snow globe of the city — a detailed 3D model with countless points of past, present and predicted data to view and study.

The idea behind the project — a collaboration between the city, a local data company called Terbine, and Cityzenith, a tech company headquartered in Chicago that specializes in the digital twin space — was to provide city leaders with a treasure trove of information to help guide their decision-making process.

Much of the street-level data is being collected by Light Detection and Ranging sensors — lidar for short — positioned around the city.

The sensors can be seen at three intersections in downtown Las Vegas, but other, less-noticeable devices have been set up elsewhere.

On Wednesday, David Knight, founder and CEO of Terbine, talked about the concept of digital twins as he stood near a lidar sensor at Main Street and Ogden Avenue in downtown Las Vegas.

“Think of it like a DVR,” Knight said. “What was happening here at 4 o’clock? What was happening last Tuesday? Having lidar in a fixed location in a city is super advanced. There’s almost nobody in the whole world doing it right now. The fact that it’s being done here in Las Vegas is pretty cool.”

A California native, Knight moved the company, which has about 20 employees, to Las Vegas from Silicon Valley in 2019 because he figured it would be easier to run it here.

One of the leading figures in the Las Vegas tech community, Knight has been involved in everything from digital entertainment to some of the first commercial email servers to the private space flight industry.

He’s optimistic about how the capture and distribution of data can help Las Vegas better understand how it uses its resources.

Knight and a group including Michael Sherwood, the city’s chief innovation officer, believe Las Vegas could be a leader in the smart city space, a concept where cities use data from connected objects and machines to offer potentially useful intel.

The project in Las Vegas is in its pilot phase, but Knight said collected information could eventually help the city gauge air and noise pollution and offer residents and tourists real-time information about the most convenient public or private modes of transportation.

Cityzenith has similar “clean cities” programs operating in New York City, Phoenix and Saudi Arabia, though those projects are not to the scale of what’s happening in Las Vegas.

“A digital twin is a simulation of a physical environment,” Knight said. “We only recently got to the point where a digital twin can be made of an entire city. One of the things we’re going to do here is track sound levels and electricity usage. What would be the effects of more electric vehicles? The more EVs you have, the air pollution and noise pollution should go down, but we’ll be able to plug information in and find that out.”

Because the program is so new, a city spokesman said Sherwood and others at City Hall aren’t talking much about it.

In a statement, Sherwood said new technological advances have the potential to create internal efficiencies and enhance community services.

“We see the digital twin pilot project as an opportunity to enhance economic development and continue to advance our efforts in sustainability,” Sherwood said.

One of the mains hopes for the digital twin project is that it will eventually help the city drastically reduce carbon emissions.

Knight said it could also help with electrical grid load distribution and water management.

The smart city movement has been picking up steam in recent years as cities around the globe look to the future with an eye on sustainability and climate change.

Cityzenith’s presence in New York is helping gather information on how to reduce energy and water consumption at the massive Brooklyn Navy Yard.

In Toronto, a company called Sidewalk Labs was working with the city on multiple smart city urban development endeavors, including how to develop snow-melting roads, though the project was scrapped because of the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic.

But Josh Leavitt, a Las Vegas entrepreneur and CEO of Tech Alley, a nonprofit organization that works to bring together the tech and startup communities, said disruption can breed innovation.

“A lot of issues came up” during the pandemic, “which leads to people having ideas in an attempt to solve problems,” Leavitt said.

Knight talked about bringing governmental agencies and private companies together to collaborate on large projects, which, he said, can be difficult.

He said he’s talked to officials in multiple U.S. cities about selling the type of data that Terbine and other private companies can collect.

“Right now, we’re giving this information to the city,” Knight said. “The idea is that, down the road, we’ll be able to monetize the data for the city. Then we’ll get a percentage, just like Apple does with their app store. For a city the size of Las Vegas, millions of dollars every year could be made from that data.”

For now, it’s not clear who would be in the market for the types of data that Terbine can provide, Knight said.

As with many technological advances, there are privacy concerns about individual sets of information. Knight pointed out, however, that lidar systems don’t identify people but can sense whether a moving object is a pedestrian, vehicle or bicyclist.

“It’s not being done now because cities have no clue how to package it and who to sell it to,” Knight said. “We’ve been going to a lot of cities and telling them we can turn their data into a profit center. Every city we’ve talked to is excited about it, but it’s going to take a long time.”

Knight says he looks forward to the presentation of the Las Vegas digital twin at CES and what the reaction will be.

“I’m still blown away that this is happening in Las Vegas,” Knight said. “It’s high-tech stuff. I’m excited about it.”