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Tech trends for 2017: Digital Twins

By creating a virtual representation of a product, businesses can foresee any potential problems. Could 2017 be the year you use a digital doppelganger?

From helping design F1 Racing cars to providing everlasting life, you’d be forgiven for doing a double take when reading the advancements being made via digital twins.

Primarily in the hands of engineers, 2017 could well be the year people start to think about getting a computerised companion….

‘Born’ alongside it’s physical sibling, a digital twin is a cloud-based virtual representation of a product. Existing throughout the entire lifespan of its real-world duplicate, the twin serves as a virtual template that grows and develops identically, in real time, to its tangible pair.

A testament to its increasing popularity, British Formula One team McLaren have begun using digital twins for its racing cars, with information beamed from their competitions in Monaco and Singapore all the way back to Woking. There, analysts study that data and use complex computer models to relay optimal race strategies back to the driver.

Just last November, Ordnance Survey (OS), alongside the 5G Innovation Centre and the Met Office, was tasked by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) to develop digital twin tech in a bid to “cement UK’s position as a global digital leader”.

The future for digital twins, however, goes far beyond that of manufacturing racing cars or placing radio rigs. Like all great ideas, the possibility of a human application is not being missed with scientists already exploring the concept of human digital twins.

By creating a virtual image of yourself, doctors could theoretically test and check your body for diseases and illnesses that haven’t even naturally occurred yet – as well as using your twin as a guinea pig when you are receiving serious treatment.

The possibilities don’t end there, as your digital twin (knowing more about you than you do) will be able to ‘advise’ you on products and lifestyle choices in line with your values and medical recommendations.

More interesting still, futurist experts believe digital twins will create a form of immortality. Rather than visiting the grave of a loved one, bereaved members will fire up their departed friend’s digital twin and have a ‘conversation’ – with the hope the digital look-a-like will resemble the original model as close as possible. A concept called singularity, it’s also envisioned humans will start to trade in their biological body for a mechanical upgrade.

How it works

Connecting sensors to the physical product, information is continuously related back to the digital twin where the data is aggregated and used to calculate wear rates, loadings and life spans and provide a real-time accurate copy of the object's properties and states, including shape, position, gesture, status and motion.

This data can then be used to determine the optimal time for maintenance, thereby avoiding the cost both of major repairs and premature or unnecessary maintenance.

Colin Parris, GE vice president of software research, said of digital twins technology:

“The opportunities of the digital twin are huge. We are getting all the data we can possibly get about our engines — data for every flight, of the physics of the engine blades and how the engine is operating, data about ambient temperature and dust levels — and then I can predict exactly when to bring the aircraft in for inspection.

“The twin is a collection of algorithms and models that give us continuous insight. We have the inspection data to understand damage to a machine, we have the digital and physical models that can predict the damage and we have analytics that actually work for industrial problems.”


(will not be published)