Digital Twins – Reflecting the real world


The concept of Digital Twins is not a new one so why is it that we are only now starting to find ways to employ its vast potential for application, and see the many solutions it can provide?

6 min read

We recently ran another of our Hadean Talks sessions, titled as above, which take place on our Discord server and tend to be laser focused on pressing issues around the technology of the metaverse which is, of course, the space we work in as an organisation. The outcome of the talk left me with a question ringing around my head: Why hasn’t Digital Twin technology become more commonplace already? Chris Arthurs, Hadean’s VP of Innovation, revealed that the ideas underpinning Digital Twin technology have been around since the 1950s. NASA used twinning at its most rudimentary level to simulate, assess and predict its space programming — most notably to aid in the rescue mission for Apollo 13. The technology has moved on since this time and what it promises in potential was described as being as close to having a ‘crystal ball’ for everyday life as we could hope to achieve.

Why are we only now getting really enthusiastic about Digital Twins?

Digital Twins can be viewed as belonging to three different categories: 

  • Static – like having a 3D model of a building at the time of construction, available for reference during maintenance
  • Mirror – road networks with real-time traffic data (think Google maps) 
  • Predictive – with the ability to predict the future (consider weather forecasting)

Something like weather forecasting involves gathering lots of real-time data, and that’s expensive and complex. Thus, for more general applications, the most direct answer to the question above is that we only now have the Web3 technology in place to create a data and information flow between physical and digital space that operates in real time and can then be scrutinised and probed to offer up the most plausible answers to some pretty complicated questions. IoT has brought cost-effectiveness to the capturing of this data. Additionally, high fidelity simulations, improved computing power to aggregate and quickly assess the data, better connectivity through 5G and interoperability that enables different systems to communicate with each other have increased the opportunities and potential for the use of Digital Twins. 

Where can we see Digital Twins in use now?

Digital Twins cover many outputs from a digital replica of a jet engine all the way to an entire city such as Wellington, NZ. A great example is from the work Hadean did with the Francis Crick Institute to track the coronavirus contagion throughout the south east of England using data from the road and transport networks in the UK. Even more excitingly and keeping on the subject of transport networks, Hadean has been awarded a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, together with Connected Places Catapult, through the UK Research and Innovation to build an e-Highways digital twin. What sets these new iterations apart is the ability to run data-led simulations at scale, and test out large numbers of real scenarios in a risk free environment before making any decisions. Much like how within the e-Highways project, complex road networks will be modelled, known data about traffic levels, weather conditions and other mitigating data will be analysed and the entire system can be stress-tested under unlimited ‘what-if’ scenarios with the optimum results gathered before a single cable needs to be put up. 

Abby Miller, Business Development, Hadean, our other guest on the session, introduced the concept of a Single Synthetic Environment (SSEs). SSEs are interoperable ecosystems of Digital Twins where large-scale, data-driven simulations are run to predict and plan for future outcomes. Abby elaborated on the idea of using Digital Twin technology for airport management. Many airports, especially the larger international hubs operate like small cities with countless logistical activities unfolding on an hourly basis. Many of us will have horror stories from the mundane: delayed luggage to the major: missed or cancelled flights all of which can have a huge knock on effect on each individual passenger’s life. A major solution would be adapting Digital Twin technology to turn an airport into an SSE that pulls in data from all of the different operations happening within it as well as information from all of the external factors affecting it such as the surrounding transport network, weather conditions, large scale events in the local area plus historical input, and data from connecting airports. The eyes begin to water at the staggering level of operational efficiency, cost-cutting, smoother passenger experience, and even more, the sustainability benefits that this would bring. 

Keeping the data secure

A great question was asked during the session about how the vast amount of data that needs to be gathered will be kept safe and out of the wrong hands. Whilst Hadean’s Platform is secure by default, meaning that organisations using the platform can determine what information is made public for users to access and what is kept for internal analysis only, other providers would need to make the same distinction and maintain high security standards. 

What does the future hold for Digital Twin technology?

The number and types of use cases are near limitless. City planners can get buy-in from investors and key stakeholders by taking them on a tour of what the new site will look like using VR so that they can experience visiting the fully constructed location. They can also use the technology to ensure compliance in terms of sustainability goals, health and safety and accessibility standards as well as to assess potential impact or risk to surrounding areas. Manufacturers are using it in their design and development models to test out various iterations before determining the final product thereby saving on the time and cost of building physical prototypes.

We will eventually get to a point where many of these digital twin systems are interoperable and can communicate with one another. This will require infrastructure that is scalable and enables uninterrupted connectivity and is secure. It is at this stage that we will start to see unimaginable improvements that will impact the ways we travel, manage healthcare, build and manufacture which will in turn bring huge benefits to how we live and work in the future. 

If you didn’t get a chance to attend you can catch up on the Hadean Talks session below.

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