What is a Digital Twin?
Advances in the availability and reliability of Internet of Things (IoT) components mean that digital twins are fast becoming a commercially viable solution.
Essentially, a digital twin is a sophisticated digital model that is an exact twin of a physical object or system.
Digital twin allows users to see how the physical object is performing in real-time. This allows users to make better informed decisions regarding performance and maintenance without the need to examine the physical object in its location.
Combined with AI and data analytics, a digital twin can also be used to show users how the physical object will perform in future or will react to potential changes.
How does it work?
In short, sensors collect real-time data about the physical object and this data is transmitted to a cloud-based platform which collates the data. The data collected is analysed and mapped onto the digital model.
Digital Twins and Infrastructure
There are several ways in which digital twin technology could be deployed to support UK infrastructure. The ability to test hypothetical scenarios has the potential to vastly improve efficiency, with the government being able to make longer term plans for infrastructure based on accurate data analytics. In turn, there is opportunity for cost savings in the long term.
For example, sensors could be attached to roads or railways. The government could use data gathered to analyse traffic flow in each lane on a busy road. This information could be used to ascertain whether traffic calming measures are required, and a digital twin could then present various scenarios for these traffic calming measures.
There are important benefits to the use of this technology in infrastructure. Making our roads as efficient as possible could facilitate a reduction in carbon emissions. Similarly, being able to accurately predict when a motorway will be in need of repair enables local authorities to organise roadworks as efficiently as possible, thereby minimising traffic and emissions.
The Road Ahead for Digital Twin Technology
In December 2017, the National Infrastructure Commission recommended that the UK government support a digital twin pilot to ascertain the real benefits of digital twin technology. While the government did not agree to launch a pilot programme right away, it did set up the Digital Framework Task Group (DFTG) to consider what programme of work is needed to enable the development of digital twin models. The government response also acknowledged that there is “potential value” in this technology.
As part of the its Road to Zero strategy, the UK government intends half of new cars will be ultra-low emission by 2030. By 2040, the government intends to stop the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans. Having the correct infrastructure in place will be crucial to achieving the government aims and facilitating an increase in electric vehicles. Arguably the case for digital twins will become increasingly important.