The digital twin is an exciting concept and undoubtedly one of the hottest tech trends right now. It fuses ideas including artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), metaverse, and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) to create digital models of real-world objects, systems, or processes. These models can then be used to tweak and adjust variables to study the effect on whatever is being twinned – at a fraction of the cost of carrying out experiments in the real world.
Businesses around the globe are looking to deploy Digital Twins across a broad range of applications, ranging from engineering design of complex equipment and 3D immersive environments to precision medicine and digital agriculture. However, to date, applications have been highly customized and only accessible for high value use-cases, such as the operations of jet engines, industrial facilities and power plants. Now leading technology companies like AWS are working hard to lower the costs and simplify the deployment of this technology, with AWS IoT TwinMaker, making it easier and more accessible for all kinds and sizes of companies to build their own Digital Twins.
Some truly groundbreaking digital twins have been developed in recent years that are inspiring the industry and helping to push the envelope of what is possible in the fields of science, medicine, engineering, pharmaceuticals, sports, and many more. Here are some of the most interesting and innovative examples.
The Human Brain
Let’s start with the most ambitious! The human brain is, as far as we know, the most complex structure or organism in the universe. Creating a digital simulation of it is incredibly complicated, but that hasn't put people off trying. The EU-funded Neurotwin project aims to simulate specific human brains in order to build models that can predict the best treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy. There have been other attempts to simulate aspects of the brain in the past, but Neurotwin is the first project that focuses on modeling both the electromagnetic activity and the physiology. Clinical trials using the model are due to start in 2023.
An Entire Human
Ok, so this one is a bit of a pipe dream right now, but the science exists to make it a reality. Former GE CEO Bill Ruh predicts that one day, every human will have a digital twin at birth, which can be used to design bespoke treatments for that person when they become ill, as well as model the impact of lifestyle choices on his or her long-term health. Using that person’s unique genome, it will be possible to predict the effects of different drugs, providing insight into the best treatment options if the person is struck by conditions such as cancer or Parkinson’s disease. This will minimize the wasted cost of failed treatment programs that were never going to work due to the patient’s genetics, and lengthen lifespans.
Los Angeles Transportation
The Los Angeles Department of Transportation has partnered with the Open Mobility Foundation to create a data-driven digital twin of the city’s transport infrastructure. To start with, it will model the movement and activity of micro-mobility solutions such as the city’s network of shared-use bicycles and e-scooters. After that, it will be expanded to cover ride-sharing services, carpools, and new mobility solutions that will appear, such as autonomous taxi drones.
The Whole of Shanghai
The Shanghai Urban Operations and Management Center has built a digital twin of the city of 26 million inhabitants, which models 100,000 elements from refuse disposal and collection facilities to e-bike charging infrastructure, road traffic, and the size and location of apartment buildings. Its creator, 51World, uses data from satellites and drones to construct the living model, which, among other uses, is helping authorities to plan and react in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. It can also be used to simulate the effects of natural disasters such as flooding to aid with response planning.
A Sports Stadium
Los Angeles’ Sofi Stadium – home to NFL teams the LA Rams and LA Chargers – has its own digital twin, which models not just the stadium itself but also the 300-acre Hollywood Park campus around it. Built as the stadium itself was undergoing construction (starting in 2020), it collects data in real-time from every area of the park’s operations into a single platform that can be used to answer questions from everybody from event organizers looking to use the space, to maintenance and janitorial operations. Users engage with the twin via an “app store” model, where they can engage with applications specific to the features and functionality that they need to work with.
The World’s First 3D-Printed Bridge
The 12-meter steel bridge spanning the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal in central Amsterdam is remarkable due to the fact it is the first pedestrian bridge to be entirely constructed via 3D printing. It’s also unique due to the fact it has its own digital twin. A network of sensors is placed across the structure as part of a project led by the Turing Institute. These sensors gather data that is used to build the twin, which can then be used to analyze the performance of the structure as it comes under stress during everyday use. This is particularly important considering it is the first bridge ever to be built using this technology, and more data about the safety and strength of 3D printed structures is vital if it’s going to become a mainstream engineering tool in the future.
Every Tesla Ever Sold
Tesla creates a digital simulation of every one of its cars, using data collected from sensors on the vehicles and uploaded to the cloud. These allow the company's AI algorithms to determine where faults and breakdowns are most likely to occur and minimize the need for owners to take their cars to servicing stations for repairs and maintenance. This reduces cost to the company of servicing cars that are under warranty and improves user experience, leading to more satisfied customers and a higher chance of winning repeat business.