Expanding the Realms of Digital Twin Technology: An Introduction

Expanding the Realms of Digital Twin Technology: An Introduction

By Simon Turner, CTO at Altius

Digital twins are receiving a lot of attention and it’s not surprising. Their applications are quite literally limitless, and the value they deliver for organisations is phenomenal. For any organisation that already uses Internet of Things (IoT), digital twins are the next step in the digital journey.

Here at Altius, we are extremely excited about the advantages that digital twins can create for our clients. We’ve been building and applying digital twins for over two years and we’re now taking the technology way beyond its ‘traditional’ capabilities and limits.

In my next post, I’ll share some of the exciting applications that we’re currently working on, to show you what we can achieve when we combine our data science expertise with digital twin technology. Before that, let’s look at what digital twins are and where they came from.

What is a digital twin?

Put simply, a digital twin is a virtual model of a physical process, product, service or system. Think of it as a bridge between the physical and digital world. Smart components that use sensors to gather real time data are integrated into the physical environment that is being monitored/analysed/assessed. The components are connected to a cloud-based system that receive and process all the data from the sensors. This pairing of the virtual and physical worlds has been around since 2002 and has traditionally been used to ‘simulate’ the physical world, allowing it to be analysed and understood in order to gain insights into performance, potential problems and areas of improvement.

The ‘traditional’ digital twin model has mainly been applied to the manufacturing, automotive and healthcare sectors. In these sectors, the technology is used to simulate processes, refine technology and monitor and predict a patient’s well-being, respectively.

Where did the concept come from?

The idea of digital twins is predated by pairing technology first developed by NASA. It was designed to help in the operation, maintenance and repair of space capsules travelling in orbit, and therefore outside the range of physical monitoring. These “twin” systems made it possible for engineers and astronauts to test repairs for the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, bringing the craft and crew back to earth safely.

The concept and term ‘digital twin’ really came to mainstream attention after Gartner named it as one of its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2017, stating that within three to five years “billions of things will be represented by digital twins, a dynamic software model of a physical thing or system’.  In 2018, Gartner once again named digital twins as a top trend, saying that “with an estimated 21 billion connected sensors and endpoints by 2020, digital twins will exist for billions of things in the near future.”

As predicted by Gartner, the proliferation of IoT has made digital twins cost effective to implement and as a result, models have begun to mature and grow in complexity. They’ve moved from being digital representations of single items to virtual models of systems of interconnected things. More and more businesses are using the technology as an opportunity to orchestrate people, processes and things in a sophisticated way, resulting in better business outcomes and benefits for everyone.

Like everything in the realm of IoT, data is the primary driver and the most invaluable output of digital twins. Given that we at Altius are leaders in the field of data analytics and data science, that has put us in prime position to broaden the scope of what digital twins can achieve for our clients.

We’re taking the technology far beyond the traditional realms of remote simulation, analysis and monitoring by integrating artificial intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and new technology to bring data, algorithms and business context together – and the applications and outcomes are limitless.

In part 2, we dive into how we’re using digital twin technology in the retail sector.