The concept of digital twins is the creation of a virtual item identical to a physical object. IBM explains, “The digital twin is the virtual representation of a physical object or system across its life-cycle. It uses real-time data and other sources to enable learning, reasoning, and dynamically recalibrating for improved decision making.”
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If an avatar is a virtual representation of a person, a digital twin is an exact representation of an inanimate item. Also, unlike an avatar, which is a digital approximation of the outward appearance of the individual, the digital twin is a fully functional replica that can be used to test the life cycle of an item.
Virtual Labs Have Been Allowing Doctors to Train and Learn on Digital Patients for Years
This concept is not that far different from what is already being used to train the next generation of healthcare workers. Consider that virtual labs have allowed doctors to train and learn on digital patients for years.
The difference here is that patients in the virtual lab present symptoms based upon a wide variety of patients to test healthcare workers’ skills; the digital twin is exactly the same as the subject. A digital twin would allow a manufacturer to test a product without the standard physical testing of a prototype.
For example, if a manufacturer wanted to test an engine to see how it performs after running 100,000 miles, the manufacturer would have to run the engine for the equivalent of 100,000 miles. Given that the typical automobile could reach 100,000 miles after several years, the digital twin could simulate the condition of the engine more quickly and efficiently, without having to wait years to see the results.
Since a digital twin is a simulation, we could simply have the program advance the digital twin 100,000 miles and then examine the digital twin for changes to the engine. We could also examine individual parts and determine what items might be poorly handling the stresses of 100,000 miles in order to re-engineer them better to avoid failure. Just as an outdoor swing will eventually fail due to age and the elements, a digital twin can predict the time of failure without it having to fail with a real person in the swing.
SpaceX Could Make a Digital Twin of a Starship SN11 and Run It on a Virtual Mission to Mars
Taking the example on a grander scale, SpaceX could make a digital twin of a Starship SN11 and run it on a virtual mission to Mars and back to see how it performs. Such a digital twin could help identify issues and problems before a real Starship SN11 actually undergoes the risky mission.
Digital twins offer research and development not available before without the expense of actual prototypes and iterative testing until success is achieved.
With a greater focus on resources and costs, we can expect to see more digital twin R&D lower development costs while increasing productivity and improved long-term planning. There is no doubt that digital twins will become another cost-effective way to achieve long-term testing of products without wasting precious resources.