How ‘Digital Twins’ Are Transforming Manufacturing, Medicine and More

Time reports on virtual doppelgangers — also known as "digital twins". (Alternate URL here.) Created by feeding video, images, blueprints or other data into advanced 3-D mapping software, digital twins are being used in medicine to replicate and study internal organs. They've propelled engineers to devise car and plane prototypes — including Air Force fighter jets — more quickly. They allow architects and urban planners to envision and then build skyscrapers and city blocks with clarity and precision. And this year, digital twins began to break into the mainstream of manufacturing and research. In April, chipmaker Nvidia launched a version of its Omniverse 3-D simulation engine that allows businesses to build 3-D renderings of their own — including digital twins. Amazon Web Services announced a competing service, the IoT TwinMaker, in November... The need was always there. In the 1960s, NASA created physical replicas of spaceships and connected them to simulators so that if a crisis ensued on the actual vehicle hundreds of thousands of miles away, a team could workshop solutions on the ground. Dave Rhodes, the senior vice president of digital twins at Unity Technologies, a video-game and 3-D-platform company, says that digital-twin technology is only now being widely released because of several confluent factors, including the increased computing power of cloud-based systems, the spread of 5G networks, improvements in 3-D rendering and the remote work demands of COVID-19.... Digital-twin technology is being trialed across the medical landscape, for planning surgical procedures and exploring the heart risks of various drugs... Digital twins are also being used in other complex and potentially dangerous machines, from nuclear reactors in Idaho to wind turbines in Paris.... Digital twin humans are coming too: the NFL and Amazon Web Services have created a "digital athlete" that will run infinite scenarios to better understand and treat football injuries.... BMW could soon implement digital twins at all facilities. Frank Bachmann, the plant director in Regensburg, says that the advantages of digital twins will only be fully realized when every factory is digitized in a standard way. "We need these processes of digital twins everywhere," he says. The technology "raises questions about privacy and cybersecurity," Time warns. "Many of these digital twins are made possible by a multitude of sensors that track real-world data and movement. "Workers at factories with digital twins may find their every movement followed; the hacker of a digital twin could gain frighteningly precise knowledge about a complex proprietary system."

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