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Digital Twin: Vision, Benefits, and Boundaries

Digital Development for Human Beings and Things_072122A
[Digital Development for Human Beings and Things - NTT R&D]

- Origin

The principles behind the digital twin vision originate from the field of product lifecycle management. From this perspective, there is a strong need to integrate all product-related information into a comprehensive product management system that can be accessed by any user at any stage of the product life cycle, such as full life cycle performance information, design optimization and Manufacturing system improvements. It is recommended to use the digital counterpart of each physical product as a central means of managing product data during the product lifecycle. 


- Principles

In a speech to industry in the early 2000s, Michael Grieves proposed that the construction of digital information about a physical system could be created individually as an entity. The virtual system contains all the information about the physical system and is associated with the physical system throughout the life cycle of the system. NASA introduced the concept of digital twins to this idea, which are ultra-high-fidelity simulations of space vehicles that allow engineers on Earth to mirror the exact and actual conditions of real vehicles during missions.

A digital twin is a concept, not a single product or technology. Multiple technologies – 3D simulation, IoT, 4G/5G, big data, blockchain, edge computing, cloud computing and artificial intelligence – work together to make this concept a reality. The core principle is, for a physical entity or asset, the digital equivalent in the virtual world.

Essentially, a digital twin is the virtual digital equivalent of a physical object. They connect remotely to real objects in real-time and provide rich representations of those objects and their context. This digital twin goes beyond static product designs, such as CAD models, to include dynamic behavior. This dynamic nature of the digital twin may include a representation of the current behavior of real-life objects, as well as simulations or predictions of future behavior and recall of historical behavior.


- The History of Digital Twin Computing

Looking back over the past 30 years or so, we can see that every 10 years or so, the focus of digital has alternated between people and things.

  • 1985: Focus on the digitization of "Humans" (Humans - first generation). With the introduction and popularity of email, the digitization of "human" communications.
  • 1995: Focus on the digitization of "things" (things - first generation). Digitizing "things" such as timetables and maps through the spread of the Internet.
  • 2005: Human-Centric Digitization (Humans - Second Generation). With the introduction and popularity of social media, the digitization of "human" connections and networks.
  • 2015: Focus on digitization of "things" (things - second generation). With the introduction of the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, the digitization of various "things" such as parking lots.

So, what will 2025 bring? Following the same pattern, next we should see progress in the digitization of "humans".


- The Creation of Digital Twins

Digital twins can be created during the design phase of an object's lifecycle, enhancing the creative phase of inventing new products and refining them into detailed product models. At this stage, the digital twin can effectively assess the impact of design decisions on product quality and functionality early on, reducing the need to develop expensive physical prototypes. After the design phase, there is a physical phase, where the digital twin begins to exist. 

The digital twin of the design generates physical objects and updates when there are any deviations. Use sensors and AutoID devices to monitor the current and historical state and condition of physical products during operational use. Additionally, digital twins can be used to remotely control objects via actuators. Finally, the processing phase occurs, where physical objects are processed, but conceptual objects may be retained for a period of time, such as for traceability, compliance, and learning.


- The Key Technology Enabling Digital Twins

Although derived from the product lifecycle literature, the key technology enabling digital twins is the Internet of Things. Interaction between real/physical and digital/virtual objects is the fundamental concept behind IoT. 

In IoT, physical entities have digital counterparts; things themselves become context-aware, they can sense, communicate, act, interact with digital counterparts and others, exchange data, information, and knowledge. These counterparts are twins of the physical object and can be linked to and synchronized with the physical object throughout its lifetime. 

The Internet acts as a storage and communication infrastructure that holds virtual representations of things that link related information to objects. As such, the digital twin acts as a central hub for object information, continuously combining and updating data from a wide range of sources.

[More to come ...]
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