There were the days when one needed to put his own life in jeopardy in order to enjoy a crazy joyride. Nowadays, you can just hook the video game Grand Theft Auto 5 onto your immersive game station and start driving your Ferrari at flying speeds, smashing into lamp posts, buildings, and god-forbid, annoying cops. You get to experience something virtually without actually being physically present in that situation. The simulator is loaded with the physical laws of the real world; meaning you hit a traffic cone on the road, it creates a dent in the car’s hood. It’s also loaded with the dynamics of the car with its unique build in terms of its suspension, transmission, and gorgeous sound of the engine; giving you the “feel” of a real Ferrari. But coming back to reality, you are not a billionaire, you are enjoying a ride on a (sort of) Digital Twins of the real Ferrari. Did it really take us around 4 decades to use this concept in businesses rather than just gaming?
To put it in simple terms, Digital Twins is the virtual representation of the elements and the dynamics of a process, device, or service. Think of it as a next-gen interactive 3D blueprint. Bringing the physical to the virtual. It can be a smart car, a smart building, a process on a factory floor, and much more. A representation of how the design, build, and operations are constructed, monitoring its workflow in real-time, and all this is being optimized continuously from analytics, feedback, and updates specific to a consumer’s needs. It could be a lot of things, so it’s always best to map your own path in this labyrinth of a futuristic concept.
Chris O’ Connor, General Manager, Internet of Things at IBM puts it in a remarkably “simple but detailed” manner wherein he disintegrates Digital Twin into Design, Build and Operate stages.
In the design stage, all the operational insights and product/process feedback is incorporated in order to come up with a more customized and efficient solution that would better serve the end consumer.
In the Build stage, the tentative solution is stress-tested, so to speak, wherein we get insights into how the product or service is faring in a virtual environment built according to real-world specifications. It’s made sure any new directions have taken to have a real chance of providing better outcomes and any mishaps or the rate of wear and tear are predicted and integrated into the equation for how it should be used for a longer life cycle.
In the Operate stage, the Digital Twin Solution can facilitate and provide insights for optimized integration of the solution into different platforms or environments. Its predictive analysis emboldens you with the knowledge of what needs to be done to avoid downtime or even a potential crash-and-burn during its entire life-cycle.
We have barely opened the cookie jar that is the Digital Twin with the above understanding. In order for it to function correctly, we will need to apply analytics, industry context, and the data that it generates and the specifications with which it is built needs to be accessed by everyone involved and shifted when required. This incorporates a whole lot of networks, sensors, VR headsets… Now you might ask, where did VR headsets come into the equation?
Colin J. Parris, Ph.D., VP of Software Research, GE Global Research Center at the Minds + Machines conference used a Microsoft HoloLens, taking us on an augmented reality ride as he accesses live 3D build of a turbine located miles away in order to ascertain the damage on its rotor and have the AI with its 15 years of usage data of 125 turbines come up with options of mitigating the same. This is a real-life application of the Digital Twin that’s already been implemented in the US.
Digital Twin is like an artificial mind that substitutes human decision-making with super informed decisions based upon historical data, smart analytics, live environmental factors, etc. It is a part of the digital transformation era, of the Industry 4.0 revolution. It is going to have a worldwide application in all sectors of the economy from manufacturing to medicine. Companies investing in this technology will be seeing a marked improvement in their processes. Everyone and every company out there will benefit from Digital Twin because they are capable of analyzing how their assets perform in real-time. The live data helps enterprises to increase productivity, efficiency, improve business models, better understand the customers from various demographics, and… Well, the possibilities are endless.
Stara, a Brazil tractor manufacturer uses real-time data from its tractors to improve its performance, decrease equipment wear-and-tear, increase the product life cycle, and revolutionize the farming industry. Farmers have decreased seed use by 21% and fertilizer use by 19% with Stara’s guidance.
This is just the tip of a colossal technological iceberg.
Digital Twin is already getting implemented extensively in spacecraft design and construction. What better way to design a craft you can’t test out in the location it’s actually meant for? You just run it through a dozen or so virtual simulations of the different climate conditions of Mars and you can learn of the rate of wear and tear of the equipment. And it’s so much more. “The ultimate vision for the digital twin is to create, test, and build our equipment in a virtual environment,” says John Vickers, NASA’s leading manufacturing expert and manager of NASA’s National Center for Advanced Manufacturing. “Only when we get it to where it performs to our requirements do we physically manufacture it. We then want that physical build to tie back to its digital twin through sensors so that the digital twin contains all the information that we could have by inspecting the physical build.”
In the medical industry, terms like “personalized healthcare” are popping up. Everybody will have a digital twin loaded with an individual’s illnesses and personal specifics of their entire body; from the wellness of their hearts to the condition of their livers. Even in the age of technology, determining the right treatment strategy for a particular patient is still tricky because there are many factors that come into play. Digital Twin helps even the playground a little, with live data, medical history analyzed together with data of other patients suffering the same illness to come up with a personalized solution for a particular patient. A Philips Digital Twin concept ad puts this in a simple sentence, “The right type of care, the right way, at the right time.”
Digital Twin will someday be used to safely automate almost every construction and manufacturing process. Let the machines analyze endless amounts of data and live factors, and come up with the best methods to tackle any kind of situation. Lower to nil risks of any equipment or vehicle failing because every malfunctioning scenario is predicted beforehand with the live data and analysis by an AI, and appropriate measures will be taken. What could go wrong? We will be living more optimized, efficient, productive, and super-safe lives. And when we have a digital twin of ourselves, will we really die when our physical bodies give up on us? “When you and I die, our kids aren’t going to go to our tombstones, they’re going to fire up our digital twins and talk to them,” says John Smart, a futurist and founder of the Acceleration Studies Foundation.
But are we willing to part with personal information so these AIs can optimize the right strategies for us? Google Assistant, for instance, asks for quite a detailed map of your online activity. It might seem slightly daunting but the truth is your data is already being mined without you being none the wiser. So security and trust with personal data is always an issue that needs to be taken seriously. But otherwise, this is the way to a bright, digitized future.