Explainer: What Makes a Good Digital Twin? We Asked the Experts
Here’s what separate good digital twins from the bad ones
We’ve seen digital twins applied in cities, used as tools to fight climate change, and we know the added value they bring to airports and seaports. But what exactly makes a good digital twin?
Well, it turns out the components of a good digital twin are as plentiful as its use cases. A quick reminder that the definitions of what is and isn’t a digital twin vary depending on whom you ask, but for Dan Isaac, Chief Technology Officer at the Digital Twin Consortium (DTC), “a digital twin is a virtual representation of real-world entities and processes, synchronized at a specified frequency and fidelity.”
The DTC is a global think tank focused on the acceleration and adoption of digital twins around the world. (Disclosure: 3D CityScapes is a member of the DTC) Technical details aside, Isaac says how good a digital twin is will come down to the job it’s created for.
“A good digital twin addresses a real business problem and provides a solution that can only be achieved using a Digital Twin approach.” He adds that, at the end of the day, good digital twins help businesses by enabling “optimal decision-making and effective action.”
That’s in line with Stephen Fai, an associate professor with the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University in Ottawa, who shares a more holistic approach to digital twins.
“I think a good digital twin would be something that’s inclusive,” said Fai, citing the big players in the digital twin space tend to produce one-size-fits-all solutions and adds that good twins are “something appropriate for the application.”
Aside from treating digital twins as the right tool for the right job, data integration also plays a crucial factor.
“There’s no twin without the exchange of data. If there’s no data then it’s a mirror,” said Fai. He’s also the director of Carleton Immersive Media Studio and the principal investigator behind the Imagining Canada’s Digital Twin project, a federally funded research project into what it would take to make a digital twin of Canada.
Isaac takes it a step further, liking digital twins to a heart and data as the “lifeblood”.
“The frequency or the twinning rate is akin to the heartbeat,” said Isaac. “The virtual representation and the real world are synchronized – this is the mechanism for the transferal of the data to ensure the requisite level of fidelity between the virtual representation and the physical entity or process.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by David Weir-McCall, a business development manager at Epic Games, the company behind the Unreal gaming engine used to power some digital twins.
“For us, it’s the link to live, continuous data for it to be a digital twin and not just a digital snapshot,” said Weir-McCall.
At Epic, the company is less focused on making digital twins and more invested in creating tools to power them. That’s given people like Weir-McCall insight into examples that incorporate the four components present in any good digital twin: a 3D model, data integration, visualization of that data and an accessible user interface. He highlighted BuildMedia’s digital twin of Wellington, New Zealand, as a good case study.
“It’s a brilliant example of how data has been sitting — for free — in an open-source database from Wellington city council for the last number of years. It’s very inaccessible in the way that you have to read XML data in order to understand it,” said Weir-McCall.
“BuildMedia basically looked to create a place where that data is visualized so that the citizens of Wellington can actually understand how their city runs. That’s what a great example of a translation layer is between data that is open and free and available to people who want to understand and make better decisions with that information.”
The results of projects like BuildMedia have Issac excited for what’s to come.
“The next generation of Digital Twins will open the doors to what was only envisioned before in imagination. This means that we can better understand the world we live in today and provide the path to changing the future for the betterment of society as a whole.”
Do you agree or disagree with these takes of what makes a good digital twin? Let us know what you think in the comments below.