Enter the Orlandoverse: Why the Florida city built a 3D map of the region

The city wants to use the digital twin to attract tech companies and, eventually, plan for the climate crisis.
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Orlando Economic Partnership

· 3 min read

The city of Orlando wants to remind people it has more to offer than theme parks and tourism with a virtual representation of 800 square miles of the city and its surrounding area designed to help establish the region as an emerging tech hub.

City officials developed the 3D map in partnership with video game platform Unity as a way to showcase the area for businesses hoping to relocate there. The city’s administration is also exploring using the tech for everything from climate crisis preparedness to plotting the construction of cell towers.

“Traditionally, when we have a company come to Orlando to check us out…we would show them a very long PowerPoint with all sorts of data points and information, probably like 80 slides worth,” Laureen Martinez, VP of marketing and communications at the Orlando Economic Partnership, said. “During the pandemic, we started to think and rethink about how we can leverage technology, what we can do to make us different [from] other communities, but also make that presentation process more engaging.”

Juan Fernando Santos, SVP of brand experience and innovation for Tavistock Group, who oversees a related digital twin model focused on the Lake Nona region, compared the project to a real-life version of the classic urban planning game SimCity, but for plotting new development projects.

The project comes as digital twins, or virtual replicas of physical assets, have become an increasingly popular way for businesses and other organizations to model everything from worker training to engineering simulations.

As a city that was transformed by the space race of the 1960s and the founding of Walt Disney World, Orlando officials said the city already has a leg up in the race to deploy this technology. The use of virtual simulations to model space and military scenarios has made it a hub for this kind of technology, according to Santos, and the city bills itself as the “model, simulation, and training capital of the world.”

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“The modeling, simulation, and training aspect of it—we’ve been in that for years,” Mayor Buddy Dyer told Tech Brew.

Martinez said the Orlando Economic Partnership spent more than $1 million on building the virtual representation with the Unity platform. But city officials hope it pays off in its ability to model assets like telecommunications towers and energy lines, and for hurricane preparedness, thanks to the integration of various data layers into the map.

“We’re in the process of getting more partners on board to start layering more and more data, until we can expand the phase of that digital twin and start using it at some point in the future for climate change issues and just the whole variety of issues that can be kind of looked at and studied and forecasted through the twin,” Martinez said.

Dyer said the project is part of a bigger, ongoing push to ensure that Orlando is a “future-ready city” that can support its growing number of technology companies.

“I like to tell my mayor friends here in New York or Philadelphia that you guys have made your history, but we’re making what we’re going to be right now,” Dyer told Tech Brew at Morning Brew's offices in Manhattan. “And we just happen to be in this era where technology is changing so quickly that we’re able to react to that. And then if you’re wanting to impress people that are wanting to move to your community, having those capabilities, I think, are important as well.”

Update, May 19, 2023: This story has been updated to note that the Orlando Economic Partnership paid for the digital twin.

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