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The Power of Digital Twins

Bridging Virtual & Physical Worlds
07:05 AM Jun 29, 2024 IST | Dr Muhammad Amin Malik
the power of digital twins

Digital Twins may look like a scene from a science fiction movie, but they are very much a part of our practical reality. Imagine you have a digital copy of yourself, identical to you in every respect and whatever action you do, is instantaneously mirrored in the digital counterpart. This means the twins exchange data which keeps them updated in the real time.


Thus, you have a physical entity in real space, its Digital Twin in software form and the data exchange, linking them together to understand how physical object works. The harmonious exchange of data creates a dynamic digital reflection, perfectly capturing your essence and activities in the virtual domain. This is the realm of Digital Twins.


One of the simplest examples of a Digital Twin is our Google Map. Google Maps serve as a Digital Twin of the Earth’s surface, seamlessly linking real-time traffic updates and location sharing, to optimize our commute. The real-time data is continuously updated through a combination of user inputs, historical data and information from local authorities.


A smartphone is a technological marvel, also acts as a Digital Twin. With a diverse array of applications in it, gathering information on my movements, behaviours, habits, financial transactions, health, phone calls, messages, pictures and videos, it has been synthesizing a comprehensive picture of my life that can give reliable insights into my future, behaviour and performance. Digital Twins can be seen both as transformative and disruptive, serving to bridge the gap between the virtual and physical worlds, blurring their distinctions.


Thus, we can define a Digital Twin, a dynamic virtual copy that accurately represents a real-world object, process, service or environment and serves as a real-time digital counterpart. It offers a clear and detailed picture of how its physical counterpart is functioning in the real world.


Digital Twins are built by gathering all the information about a physical object which is processed using advanced software. They open up a safe simulated testing environment where you can safely explore various scenarios which minimize costs and risks associated with direct physical work on objects, making complex, expensive and hazardous processes safer, more affordable and feasible. We can create a digital counterpart of a machine, jet engine, a building, city or a person. A Digital Twin can be used to evaluate the current state of an object/machine, predict future behaviour, improve control and optimize operation.


The idea of Digital Twin can be traced back to Apollo missions in the 1960s when the Engineers in the control centre in Houston had a virtual model of the spacecraft at their disposal and they tested the alterations on the twin model before advising the crew in flight of the spacecraft on Apollo mission-13 when it experienced malfunctioning in 1970.


They dynamically used the data and simulator to run predictions that guided the decisions which facilitated the safe return of the Astronauts. The concept of Digital Twins was also introduced by David Gelernter in his book Mirror Worlds, published in 1992, and Dr. Michael Grieves at the University of Michigan, who became the first using the concept to manufacturing process in 2002.

Eventually, the term Digital Twin was formally proposed in NASA report in 2010. Since then, we have seen Digital Twins of bridges, buildings, wind-farms to obtain valuable knowledge that can be used to improve efficiency and evaluate future performance. Digital Twin technology holds limitless potential to transform industries, improve our lives and pave the way for an efficient, intelligent, interconnected sustainable future.

Digital Twins often leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and the Internet of Things (IoT) to function effectively in the digital space. The digital space is an online environment/platform presented to users, where information is stored, accessed and transmitted. It includes both virtual and non-virtual environments, the virtual space focuses on simulated environments that may or may not be connected to the internet.

Metaverse a vast digital Universe merging physical reality with digital virtuality, exists alongside the real world where people can engage, communicate and interact with one another. Digital Twins can evaluate and improve systems in a virtual environment by running many parallel simulations making predictions, all without altering the real-world counterpart.

There is a key difference between Simulations and Digital Twins. Simulation is replicating of real-world processes through mathematical models or Computer Algorithms. The Digital Twins are based on two-way flow of real-time data which can be studied from many far off vantage points than standard simulations.

IoT is an exciting technological advancement that merges the digital and physical worlds, bringing everything online. By embedding sensors on all potential objects and connecting them to the internet, IoT enables the collection and exchange of data, enhancing our interaction with the environment. Thus it adds a level of digital intelligence to the things facilitating location tracking, monitoring and management.

When a physical object is powered by an IoT platform, the real-world data from sensors is transmitted to the Digital Twin enabling to virtually ‘see’ how the real product is operating. The Digital Twin pulls the real-world data from sensors/cameras using algorithms, models, and analytics to simulate the behaviour and performance of the physical object. When the data is processed, the Digital Twin provides insights, how the object is operating in the real world.

The Digital Twin is continuously updated with new data which creates a feedback loop where the Digital Twin becomes increasingly accurate and responsive over time, enabling continuous improvement and optimization of the physical object. As a result, the Digital Twin yields valuable information that is not generated by a traditional simulation.

Digital Twins are increasingly finding their way into healthcare system where virtual model of a patient/body organ/medical device, can simulate various scenarios, generate key insights, predict outcomes for interventions of targeted treatments, track various health indicators and other areas of Hospital Management.

A surgeon can practice and plan a complex procedure on a Digital Twin of a human heart before performing it on actual patients. Data for these models comes from sensors, MRI or PET scans, medical records, insurance records and other statistically relevant sources and AI to examine scans and predict which patients would be good candidates for a Digital Twin approach.

In manufacturing, Digital Twins help companies identify necessary product improvements, ensuring that final products meet quality standards and customer expectations before mass production begins. In urban planning, real-time 3D and 4D spatial data optimize land usage, put in municipal services for trash management, and help smart cities become smarter.

Sportsmen can analyze and improve their performance by simulating various training scenarios and techniques. We can have virtual immersive classrooms where students can safely and cost-effectively engage in hands-on learning experiences, including virtual labs and skill trainings.

Digital Twins can help us manage natural resources more effectively, promote sustainability and improve our quality of life. We can simulate the effects of different environmental policies and initiatives, helping to combat climate change. All in all, Digital Twins hold immense potential across a wide range of fields which we need to explore further. 

(The author is a College Principal)