Digital twins: s(t)imulating the technological progress

What is Digital Twin technology and how can virtual design help accelerate innovation?

11 June 2021

In Automotive Innovation Facility Automobile Design Engineer Working on 3D Holographic Model Projection of Electric Car. Futuristic Concept of Virtual and Augmented Realty Use.

By Mariusz Bogacki, Researcher and Science Communicator, Edinburgh

Inventors have always looked at the world around them for inspiration. Leonardo da Vinci, one of the world’s most famous and prolific creatives studied birds and bats in order to copy their biological structure and apply it to his mechanical imaginations. It was an attempt at mimicking, or twinning, the outside reality in order to visualise new concepts. The results were the earliest prototypes of a flying machine, car and even helicopter. In essence, this is what Digital Twin technology is all about: mimicking reality in order to visualise new inventions.

Digital twins

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical product or system. It is a sophisticated computer program that makes use of big data, Internet of Things (IoT), and computer-aided design in order to create digital simulations of the world around us. Think of it as a game simulation in which you play around with design and system scenarios, in order to determine their best and most efficient applications. For example, the digital twin of an electric motor, not only showcases its form, but also analyses its functions. Continuous, real-time data exchange allows for monitoring, adaptation, and effectively predicts the best uses of any digitally connected ecosystems.

A Digital twin connects the real and virtual world by collecting data from digital sensors that monitor and analyse the workings of physical products and systems. The censors utilise the power of Internet of Things (IoT ), which is instrumental in the creation and function of digital twins. IoT is a network of physical objects that are embedded with sensors, electronics devices, software and other technologies for the purpose of data exchange between them. Information about the properties and workings of the ‘things’ are continuously harvested and exchanged, allowing for real-time analysis. As a result, prototypes can be digitally simulated and tested long before a physical object is built, effectively reducing the production and maintenance costs. The number of digital sensors is set to increase drastically in the coming years, expanding the networks of IoT, and with it the accuracy and reliability of digital twins.

S(t)imulating progress

For a relatively new technology the speed and spread of its application is impressive. The scale and application of digital twins ranges from small devices (like the electric motor) to entire cities. The city of Singapore for example, already has its own digital twin. The technology helps city planners to virtually test new solutions, such as real-time analysis of energy consumption in the metropolis, without taking too many risks in the real world. Digital twin technology is also being tested by oil companies in order to study the most efficient and safe use of oil fields and refineries. In healthcare, the technology has the potential to improve patient care by creating digital simulations of medical surgeries and even entire human bodies.

Digital twins play a hugely important role in the ongoing digital revolution by allowing for development of new products and systems virtually in a cost and time-effective manner. Scientists predict that the technology will become a backbone of many industries in the near future. The possibilities of digital twins seem endless, awaiting another da Vinci to test the limits of creativity and innovation.