Carnegie Mellon University

driverless food delivery system robot

November 08, 2022

The Rise of Digital Twins

Part Three: A Space Ripe for Innovation & Industry Collaboration 

Finding Sustainable and Equitable Food Delivery Models

Another faculty member modeling city systems is Corey Harper, working with CEE faculty Greg Lowry, Destenie Nock, and Costa Samaras, along with faculty from two other departments. 

Their partners include the Puget Sound Regional Council, grocery chain Giant Eagle, and driverless vehicle solution provider Easy Mile. Together, the team is using digital twins as a virtual testbed for simulating environmental, equity, and traffic impacts of food delivery systems that use trucks, sidewalk robots, and aerial drones. For example, they are using a Seattle traffic model to examine how different delivery strategies, adoption levels, and shopping patterns would change regional emissions and traffic. The team also created a tool for modeling individual intersections when a more microscopic focus is needed.

“From the equity side, we’re looking at things like which areas and populations would experience congestion and emissions increases,” Harper explains. “How do different demographic groups and people with different incomes feel about food delivery?” 

Once complete, the group’s work could shape policies for safe, sustainable, and equitable delivery. Companies could also use the tools to test how different delivery models would affect cost, food access, energy use, emissions, and profitability within neighborhoods.

Bringing Together Expertise and Industries

For Harper, having an interdisciplinary team has been essential to building a robust digital twin that considers everything from equity to delivery optimization. “It would be hard for any one of us to do this alone,” he says. “The collaboration makes for a digital twin that can answer really interesting questions.”

He is far from the only faculty member who values a collaborative, big-picture approach. “A lot of people are thinking about digital twins for very specific purposes, but ultimately we need to integrate all those things together,” says Mario Bergés. “A digital twin that only answers one specific question will not get us very far.”

“CEE’s expertise in computing and infrastructure places us in a central role for connecting all of these domains.”

Already, Sean Qian has been working to bring together cross-industry partners for sharing research progress and data and producing digital twins that match our interconnected world. Autonomous vehicles and smart buildings, he points out, rely on wireless networks. Electric vehicle use impacts the power grid. Large events not only slow traffic, but also strain cellular towers.

“To enlarge our broader impact, we need partners across the ecosystem. By bringing sectors together, we can build better digital twins of mobility, energy, power, internet of things, wireless communication, everything,” says Qian. “CEE’s expertise in computing and infrastructure places us in a central role for connecting all of these domains.”