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HomeTech‘Digital twin’ tech is twice as great as the metaverse

‘Digital twin’ tech is twice as great as the metaverse


Facebook went all in on the “metaverse” a year and a half ago. Company changed the name to Meta and started a billion dollars a month in one Saint Maryboondoggle to achieve relevance in the post-social world to come.

Now Meta ends up in a “metaverse winter– a general drop in investment and excitement around the idea. Meta itself has laid off thousands in both its metaverse and social businesses.

The metaverse is not a collection of technologies; it is a vision of future human culture. It’s about what product companies and the public could do with a range of technologies – primarily living and working in virtual spaces and playing in virtual worlds.

Apple has been developing what it calls “extended reality” hardware for two decades, and is expected to roll out its first pair of glasses later this year. The glasses will be suitable for virtual reality (VR), but Apple will emphasize augmented reality (AR).

Apple now owns a quarter of the business PC market, half of the business smartphone market, and most of the business tablet market. An underappreciated question: How will Apple use its extended reality platforms to extend its dominance in the enterprise?

It’s a fair prediction that over the next five years, Apple will focus on business communications (the bionic conference room) and other office applications, industrial design and — you guessed it! — the coming “digital twin” revolution. There is no VR or AR without 3D virtual spaces and virtual objects, which must be designed and built and – in the case of AR – placed in a digitized scan of the actual 3D environment.

The most advanced version of all this technology for navigating virtual spaces and conjuring up virtual objects in the real world – and designing and building and scanning – will happen not only for the “metaverse” but also for the “digital twin” platforms .

Digital twins: when failure is not an option

On April 11, 1970, three astronauts were in a spacecraft hurtling toward the moon at 400 miles per minute. The plan was to make NASA’s third manned moon landing. Suddenly the astronauts are on board Apollo 13 heard a loud “bang!” That was the sound of a small explosion blowing off the side of the spacecraft, knocking out power and ejecting the crew’s oxygen supply into space.

With no fresh air replenishing the cabin, the astronauts raced into the lunar module (LM) — the separate, detachable spacecraft designed to actually land on the moon while the main craft remained in lunar orbit.

The landing has been cancelled. Now the mission had only one goal: to somehow, against all odds, get the astronauts back to Earth alive. To do this, the crew had to reuse and redesign various parts of their spacecraft to do a myriad of things those parts weren’t designed to do.

In the end, their lives were saved in part because NASA had what was essentially the world’s only “digital twin” system.

A “digital twin” is a virtual replica of an existing physical object, system or infrastructure. In NASA’s case, this came in the form of 15 simulators used for training and mission parameter testing. NASA engineers used the simulators’ computer simulation capabilities to figure out what went wrong, test several possible solutions, and choose the best one, which they relayed to the Apollo crew.

The concept was so successful that NASA deliberately began creating “digital twins” of spacecraft separate from the simulators. NASA invented the tern digital twinin 2010.

A “digital twin” is not an inert model. It is a personalized, individualized, dynamically evolving digital or virtual model of a physical system. It is dynamic in the sense that whatever happens to the physical system also happens to the digital twin: repairs, upgrades, damage, obsolescence, etc.

Companies are already using “digital twins” for integration, testing, monitoring, simulation, predictive maintenance of bridges, buildings, wind farms, aircraft and factories. But these are still very early days in the realm of the “digital twin”.

How to understand digital twins

A digital twin system consists of three parts: the physical system, the virtual digital copy of that physical system, and a communication channel that connects the two. This communication increasingly consists of passing sensor data from the physical system.

It is made of three major technology categories. If you imagine a Venn diagram of other way around“technologies in one circle, “IoT” in a second circle and AI” in the third, digital twin” technology occupies the overlapping center. Digital twins differ from models or simulations in that they are much more complex, comprehensive and change with incoming data from the physical twin.

The digital twin implementations that exist in many industries today are all in their infancy. Detailed digital twin are still impossible for complex systems. We’re still waiting for better AI, better sensors, and better tools, which we assume will power the “metaverse.”

Let’s look ahead a few years to see how digital twins will serve as the cornerstone of enterprise digital transformation.

It’s 2027 and a delivery drone company is going all in on digital twins, creating a separate digital twin of each of the 15,000 drones in operation in major cities around the world. Each actual part of each individual drone is mapped one-to-one with a digital, virtual counterpart. Dozens of sensors embedded throughout the physical drone measure temperature, humidity, vibration, wing tensions and the operational efficiency of moving parts. Conditions of the drone itself — altitude, speed, direction, external humidity levels and many other statistics, update the digital drone in real time. All these data are fed into the digital drone, changing the operation and affecting the virtual state.

Suddenly, one of the drones falls from the sky and crashes. But why?

Engineers working from home put on VR goggles and show the crashed drone’s digital twin in a shared high-resolution 3D virtual environment. They replay the crash as they move around in the drone, which shows 3D copies of all parts, plus sensor-based contextual data – basically AR in VR. They soon realize that the rudder controller has failed due to overheating.

In a normal aviation scenario, all 15,000 controllers would be replaced at a very high cost and without any certainty the new controllers would not also fail. But in the digital twin scenario, there is a better way.

Digital twins come to the rescue

Working with AI, the engineers determine that this particular controller failed because it worked in Phoenix, AZ, where ground temperatures in the shade can exceed 115 degrees and rise higher in direct sunlight. The repeated heating, cooling and heating over time weakened a chemical adhesive in the controller.

It will be better! The company also maintains a digital twin of its drone factory – a detailed virtual replica of the entire system, updated in real time by numerous sensors on every part of the physical factory. So it can trace the history of the specific faulty sensor, with the AI ​​pointing out that it was manufactured in the summer and was in the top five percent of reaching high temperatures during assembly. It seems that the harmful heat stress probably started in the factory.

Like a chess computer, the AI ​​considers 57 possible ‘moves’ or remedies, recommending the safest and most cost-effective: 1) make all future controller parts over the winter and store them for assembly; 2) switch to a more heat-resistant adhesive in the part; and 3) preemptively replace the controller on the 47 other drones that operate in hot climates.

In this example, using the digital twin system saved money, prevented accidents, helped the environment (by not having to replace all controller parts), and brought positive changes to operations and production without serious downtime for the factory or the drones.

This is the sharp end of the digital transformation revolution, leveraging advanced technologies for flexibility, cost efficiency, time efficiency and security.

It’s time to reapply the benefits of the technologies we always talk about. IoT is becoming business-critical technology. AI works with engineers to optimize every process in real time. And AR and VR bring digital twins to life as vividly as their physical counterparts.

Virtual spaces are not just about creating metaverse fantasy worlds. They are better used to improve the real world.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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