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7 Ways Digital Twinning Technology Will Transform Life as We Know It

The Futurist predicts that by 2028 there will be search engines for the physical world, and so much more


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Recently I was given a behind-the-scenes tour of Siemens Robotics Lab in Princeton, New Jersey where digital twin technology was exhibited on a self-organizing manufacturing process.

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-life physical product, building or human. It can take the form of an object such as a chair or desk.

For anyone managing a business, digital twins offer unique insights into how products or processes are operating in real time, even from a remote location.

The concept has been around for a while, with consulting groups like Gartner hailing it as a game-changing technology, but businesses have been slow to adopt it because it’s complex to implement.

As an example, adding enough sensors to create a digital twin of a car will require not only replicating the shape of the vehicle, but the tires, seats, engine, even the mirrors. But things get more complicated under the hood, where the inner workings of the engine will require a real-time simulation, including every spark, explosion and movement inside the cylinder block, pistons, crankshaft, valves and plugs, capturing every distortion, wobble, glide pattern and even the slightest bit of of friction.


HUMAN INTELLIGENCE VS. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE


However, this level of intricacy doesn’t happen instantly. As we step from detail and accuracy to micro-detail and micro-accuracy, these elaborate 3D models will enable us to visualize how our physical products are performing and changing in the moment. If something breaks, we can instantly tell what went wrong. More importantly, we can begin to anticipate failure and devise preventative maintenance strategies to circumvent disasters before they occur.

NEAR-TERM APPLICATIONS

During the coming years, this technology will increasing become part of our daily lives.

Even those with some understanding have a hard time grasping the return on investment potential. But over the next decade, the term “digital twin” will likely disappear as it becomes as common as GPS, Facetime and Spotify.

1. SMART-HOME COMMAND CENTERS

With the Internet of Things entering our homes, having a central command center becomes a logical extension of our need to monitor and manage our lives.

Security systems, cable TV, Wi-Fi, solar, sprinklers, etc., are disjointed components of most modern homes. During the coming decade, most homeowners will migrate to a central command center that expands in capability over time.

Digital twin technology will become an essential ingredient for our homes as they grow into the ever-evolving operating systems.

2. MONITORING EQUIPMENT

Every ship, airplane or tractor has the potential to be digitally replicated.

The single biggest problem with digital twins is that one size does not fit all. In other words, a new digital twin is needed for every. That’s because every product, no matter how precisely it’s made, operates differently.

Once we’re able to produce a virtual pairing with the physical world, we suddenly have the ability to analyze data streams and monitor systems so we can head off glitches before they occur, prevent interruptions, uncover new opportunities and even test new strategies with quickly contrived digital models.

3. REMOTE ROBOTICS

Monitoring equipment in increasing levels of detail is just the first step toward redefining a new scope of capabilities. We quickly move from monitoring to control. Over time, things like platooning, remote assist, remote operation and emergency remote command will become common phrases in our daily lexicon.

Let’s start by using a trucking industry scenario.

  • PLATOONING

The first phase of remote robotics for trucking will involve platooning, where drivers control the lead vehicle, followed by two or three driverless vehicles. Since the driver is still in control, additional support isn’t needed until it arrives at the delivery location, where either additional human operators can take the controls or remote drivers can manage vehicles for the final positioning of the truck.

  • REMOTE ASSIST

Similar to having a remote Uber driver “looking over the shoulder” of a driverless vehicle to assure it’s being operated smoothly.

  • REMOTE OPERATION

The actual operators may be working in a cube farm in Arizona or even another country but having a person at the controls is critical for certain situations. Drivers, pilots and captains do far more than just drive their vehicles. They provide a contact person, a sense of security, situational awareness and the type of oversight and responsibility that only a human can.

  • EMERGENCY REMOTE COMMAND

Since there is no such thing as an infallible machine, things will go wrong. When this happens, we will need a live person to manage the problem. The solution may be as simple as a system reboot, but in extreme cases, emergency rescue people will need to be involved and having a central contact person to coordinate responses is critical.

4. MANAGING A SMART CITY

Cities will soon have their own fleets of drones, with scanning capabilities to create digital models of the communities. As scanners, sensors and resolutions improve, cities will begin creating increasingly functional digital twins of streets, neighborhoods and activity centers.

Thousands of drones swarming over metro areas may seem annoying at first; but the combination of new businesses, jobs, information, data analysis, career paths and revenue streams will quickly turn naysayers into advocates.

For cities, digital twins will go deeper than what’s viewable from above. This will mean duplicates every power line, substation, sewage system, emergency services system, Wi-Fi network and highway. Performed correctly, every problem will only be two clicks away from viewing on the digital twin master control center.

In short order, digital twins of cities will become treasure troves of data as the daily inflow and outflow of people, traffic and weather become better understood. This form of digital modeling will also give rise to search engines for the physical world.

5. SEARCH ENGINES FOR THE PHYSICAL WORLD

Online search technology has framed much of our thinking. These days, if it’s not online, it’s not findable.

In the future, drones and sensors will replace much of the work of today’s web crawlers when it comes to defining our searchable universe.

Search technology will become more sophisticated in the future. Soon, we will be able to search attributes like smells, tastes, harmonic vibration and much, much more.

Over time, search engines will have the ability to find virtually anything in either the digital or physical world.

6. MONITOR + ENHANCE HEALTH + PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE

How long before we can view a fully functional digital twin of our own bodies?

We already have tools that can create a digital map of our bodies, both external and internal, such as 3D laser scanners, radiography and echography. We also have a growing number of wearables, along with contact and embedded sensors that can track what is going on.

In this context, we may have a complete digital image of our bodies that can be rotated, zoomed for close-ups, showcase blood flowing through veins, etc.

7. MONITOR + ENHANCE BRAIN FUNCTIONALITY

The human brain is still one of the most complex marvels of the universe and creating a digital twin will require next-gen supercomputers and collaboration between brain researchers and computer engineers. 

To this end, Hewlett Packard is working with Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne to launch the Blue Brain Project with the goal of building a digital model of the mammalian brain. Their goal is to develop a brain model that serves as the basis for an unlimited number of simulations and experiments.

Experiments like this will not only require massive amounts of computing power, but also a range of computational approaches to simulate the brain’s unique techniques for organizing and interacting with it’s conscious and unconscious memories as well as functional responsibilities for managing the rest of the body.

Rest assured, the creation of a “mirror brain” like this is still in the domain of science fiction, but nevertheless in the realm of next-decade possibilities.

To put things in perspective, the cars we drive today have been in development for more than 120 years, meaning it has taken that long to get to cars this good. With our emerging technology, we still have to work our way through the bugs before we get to the good stuff.

At the same time, we are building a digital infrastructure that is layered over everything physical in the world.

This is another form of digital twin thinking and eventually the two will align.

Speeding this along, by 2022, 85 percent of all IoT platforms will include some kind of digital twin monitoring, and a few cities will take the lead in demonstrating the utility value of digital twin smart city technology.

As I watched Siemens engineers at Princeton demonstrate different types of digital twin technology, it became very apparent to me that any company that lags behind in this technology will soon find themselves on the outside looking in.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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