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Future Forward: Simulating Spaces for Social Distancing

Parul Dubey on October 2, 2020 - in Articles, Profile

This particular webcam interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can view a video of the interview by visiting bit.ly/3blxW4i

These profiles are based on interviews, and the opinions and statements are those of the subject and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by this publication.

Eduardo Lazzarotto is Bentley Systems’ director of product management for facilities engineering.

Lazzarotto has spent most of his professional career helping engineers and designers simulate the movement of people through modeled structures to make them as efficient and optimal as possible. As everyone has had to adjust to a new life during the COVID-19 pandemic, so has the software used to simulate people movement.

He joined Bentley Systems when the company acquired LEGION, a developer of people movement simulation software. And now that software is being used during the current pandemic to help engineers alter people movement to accommodate social distancing.

“Social distancing can be characterized as a disruption,” he notes. “As we reopen public transportation systems around the world, the main requirement for passengers is to avoid exposure or minimize the time they are near others. What people movement simulation software does is test different scenarios before deciding on what control strategies to implement.”

According to Lazzarotto, social distancing strategies can be incorporated into the design with barriers or queuing systems, or they can be soft measures like labels on the ground that indicate where people should stand or adding staff to stations that encourage people to social distance, which is not a natural human behavior.

An Effective Example

An example of an organization that has had success using digital twins for people movement simulation is Atkins, now part of SNC-Lavalin. According to Lazzarotto, their teams have done a lot of work supporting governments and owner-operators around the world on how to reopen their infrastructure with proper social distancing measures. For train stations, they delivered best-practice guidance on how to effectively reopen those stations, including a new project they are finalizing, the Riyadh Metro in Saudi Arabia.

“That’s a greenfield project where Atkins used simulation to test all these components—the safety aspects of the station, how long it takes to evacuate that station in an emergency, and social distancing aspects regarding safety,” he says. “They also test the efficiency of that station, ensuring the space is enough, but not too much.”

Simulation also can model how passengers in wheelchairs navigate a station and ensure that all the shops and other activities in the station are viable and working well together.

The Future of Social Distancing

Lazzarotto is unsure if social distancing measures will become part of the “new normal” or if people will return to regular habits as soon as it’s safe to do so. He does know that either way, the future of design and simulation is digital.

“The best advice I can give to designers of new infrastructure is to create those projects based on digital twins,” he says. “If we think about train stations, digital stations are resilient stations. If we use all that data during the design process, either in conceptual design or detailed design, then we can take that data in construction and move that data into operations.”

Lazzarotto adds that it’s much safer and less expensive to run hundreds or thousands of scenarios of people simulations on a computer rather than doing that in real life and increasing health risks or costs.

“With all the data you have created throughout the lifecycle of that asset, you can make that asset better,” he says. “It’s much easier to track asset operation to simulate different future scenarios such as energy consumption, people movement and safety. You can even simulate structural engineering aspects of that building and many other aspects with that data.” 

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