What are Digital Twins?

digital twins

To Answer the Question about Digital Twins—

To make a long story short, digital twins are a virtual copy of a physical device. They are created so that IT professionals and Data Scientists are able to use them for simulations before they build and deploy the actual device that is in production. These digital twins are changing the way that we create and optimize technology in AI and IoT. Digital twins are software programs that take real world information or data about physical items and from those create predications or simulations of about the system or the object is going to perform.

Digital twins began as the helpmate of manufacturing but they have moved well beyond being tools of the manufacturing companies and have moved into technologies such as AI and IoT as well as data analytics.

The more complex things become, the more data they create, the more connected they are, the more we need to have the ability to optimize them prior to the deployment.

Originally the idea of digital twins began with NASA. They created on the ground scenarios where the full sized mockups of space capsules were used to head off possible problems that might be found in orbit and diagnose and correct them. This paved the way for full digital simulations of other technologies.

The concept isn’t new but the changes in the way it is being used certainly are. Most people today, even those in the IT Industry haven’t a clue what a digital twin really is. They give you a slightly blank gaze, but most won’t ask. While the concept isn’t new, the term is relatively new to even the most seasoned IT player.

In 2017, Gartner named digital twins in its list of “Top Ten Strategic Technology Trends for 2017.”  They said that digital twins would –within 3-5 years—be one of the most prevalent technologies. To quote Gardner “billions of things will be represented by digital twins, a dynamic software model of a physical thing or system.”

In 2018, they again named digital twins as a top trend and added to their comments of the previous year that  “with an estimated 21 billion connected sensors and endpoints by 2020, digital twins will exist for billions of things in the near future.”

How Does A Digital Twin Work?

Built by specialists in things like data science and applied mathematics, digital twins are created to mimic the system or object and allow it to take data from its real world counterpart. This permits the digital twin to simulate the object completely and to offer information about problems that may arise as well as performance issues that may take place. Digital twins can be as simple or as complicated as someone wants them to be and the amount of data that is used to build it will determine how well it actually simulates the real world object.

As a matter of fact, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to build a digital twin of your own. This post from BigChaindb.com shows you how to create a digital twin of a car quite simply.

That post, in and of itself helps us to understand the use cases of digital twins.

Digital Twin applications are being used successfully in many different arenas today, inclusive of:

Manufacturing. Digital twins have probably been used most fully and effectively and manufacturing companies such as Deloitte report in case studies their success in the use of digital twinning.

Healthcare– is using digital twins of actual people. They deploy sensors about the size of bandaids and send information back to a digital twin that will then monitor the patient and predict their health and well being.

Automotive Industry- makes digital twins easy to accomplish since most cars are already full of sensors. The problem is that the tech needs to be refined to make it more viable once driverless vehicles hit the road in greater numbers.

IoT and the Digital Twin

IoT and digital twins are a match—made, as they say—in heaven. IoT and the vast array of sensors and the explosion in IoT technology is clearly what is powering the massive forward momentum in digital twins.

In most emerging technologies, small upstart companies are making the push. Contrary to that in the  commercial digital-twin industry, these offerings are coming from some of the largest companies in the world.

GE developed digital-twin technology  and made it part of its jet-engine manufacturing process. They are now offering that to their customers.

Siemens, another industrial giant heavily involved in manufacturing is doing the same. In fact, IBM is marketing digital twins as part of its IoT line and even Microsoft is offering its own digital-twin platform–marketing it under their Azure services.

Some Measure of Uniformity

Building a digital twin is a complex undertaking and so far there isn’t a standard platform to make for any type of uniformity.  A consultant who works in the field, Ian Skerrett has proposed that a digital twin platform be undertaking as a first step toward some measure of uniformity and quality control.  To that end he has designed a digital twin platform outline as a first step.

Suffice it to say that digital twins offer a real look at whats happening in your arena and can save a wide range of issues, but they may not always be necessary. Gartner also warns that these may not always be required and rather than helping, can actually hinder or increase the complexity of an issue.

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