I googled myself recently. While this may sound like an illicit activity, I assure you it’s perfectly legal – in most of the world, at least.
As it turns out, there are 33 people named Richard Howells currently living in the United States. But that’s not all I discovered. I found that with a little digging, I could access an alarming amount of information about myself – all widely available in the public record.
There are current and former home addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. There are links to articles I have written, videos I have appeared in (all boring and work-related), my social profiles, and lists of relatives. And for a small fee, anybody in the world could view my criminal record, bankruptcy reports, and educational or professional histories.
A few things are missing, of course. My medical history, for instance, is nowhere to be found. And all the data stored in my Fitbit, Waze app, and Uber app is noticeably absent.
Frankly, it’s a scary thought. But it just goes to show you the multitude of digital twins available online, and that by networking these together you can get a complete picture of any virtually person or thing.
The birth of digital twins
So, what exactly is a digital twin? It’s a digital representation of a real-world object, product, or asset. It could be anything from a toaster to an industrial oven, from a $50 electric toothbrush to a $500,000 x-ray machine. The common theme is that the virtual representation combines three types of information: business data, contextual data, and sensor data.
The concept of digital twins was conceived by NASA in the early days of space exploration when the organization investigated the idea of pairing technology to operate, maintain, or repair systems “in a galaxy far, far away.” In fact, when disaster struck the Apollo 13 spacecraft, the onboard astronauts and engineers in Houston leveraged mirrored systems to determine how to rescue the mission.
Digital twins are growing up
Now, as digital twins continue to mature, we’re finding more uses for the data they can track and generate in a variety of business scenarios.
At the end of 2016, Gartner named digital twins to its list of “Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017,” calling it a “transformational” technology and projecting that “within three to five years, hundreds of millions, ultimately billions, of things will be represented by digital twins.”
In other words, they’re an essential part of a digital transformation estimated to be worth $2 trillion a year by 2020, according to IDC predictions.
Digital twins are coming of age
We can now mirror the physical world by designing and manufacturing products and assets with built-in IoT-enabled sensors. These tools allow us to capture and track information about the products we make and use at a level of detail never seen before. This opens up numerous opportunities to improve business processes and delight our customers.
For instance, companies can:
- Improve R&D processes: By tracking and analyzing all the digital twins out in the field, you can learn how customers are using your products, identify defects and design flaws, and enhance your current R&D processes.
- Reduce downtime and maintenance costs: By capturing performance and usage data, you can identify and predict maintenance issues to prevent problems – and unnecessary downtime – before they even occur.
- Improve production productivity: Combining connected assets with quality and process information in real time creates an end-to-end perspective that can help you enhance production lines and cells.
- Improve the retail experience: A digital twin of a retail store can track the energy consumption, usage, and performance of refrigerators, HVAC, vending machines, and more to identify and solve both immediate issues as well as long-term equipment strategies.
- Provide superior utility services: By combining live information from grid operations, such as water flow and electricity usage, with connected asset information, including pump and power stations, you can create a digital representation to manage and maintain the infrastructure to deliver superior utility services.
- Gain visibility across travel and transportation: By tracking fleets of connected vehicles, public transportation, and private vehicles, you can gain visibility over all vehicles in use. Add to this a spatial dimension by leveraging geo-fencing, track and trace, and other unstructured data, such as weather and road conditions, and you have a 360-degree view of traffic patterns, flow, and disruptions to improve route planning, shipments, and deliveries.
Whether you want to replicate the products you buy, the vehicles you travel in, or the objects you use in your everyday life, capturing the activities, usage, and performance using a digital twin has never been simpler – or more beneficial.
The key is to identify the purpose of your digital twin, outline what business or personal problems you’re trying to solve, and decide what information you need, and you’ll be well on your way to taking advantage of this exciting new technology in no time.
Follow my digital twin @howellsrichard
Looking to learn more about digital twins? Register to read the Network of Digital Twins Infobrief by IDC.