There are two versions of the BMW factory in the town of Regensburg, Germany. One is the traditional factory, which produces hundreds of thousands of cars a year. One is a virtual 3D replica, accessible only through a VR headset. In this virtual factory, every surface, every mechanical detail looks exactly like the outside. What’s happening in the real factory is reflected inside the virtual factory in real time: the chassis dipped in paint, the doors attached to the hinges, the workers taking the machines to another location.
The virtual BMW factory is the perfect example of a “digital twin”: recreating an object or environment in virtual space. The idea sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie or some frivolous experiment. Why spend time and resources creating a digital version of something that already exists?
However, the digital twin is proving invaluable in many different industries, especially when it comes to expensive and rare objects. Created by loading video, images, designs or data into advanced 3D mapping software, digital replicas are used in medicine to reconstruct and study organs. They help engineers invent faster prototypes of cars and airplanes. They allow engineers and urban planners to visualize and construct skyscrapers and neighborhoods with clarity and precision.
Digital copy in medicine
In April 2021, chip maker Nvidia launched a version of its Omniverse 3D emulator, which helps businesses create their own 3D renderings, including digital replicas. Amazon Web Services announced the TwinMaker IoT service in November 2021. According to research firm Research and Markets, the digital twin market will reach more than 3 billion USD in revenue in 2020. Technology leaders say we are just at the dawn of this technology.
In fact, there is always a need for a digital copy. In the 1960s, NASA created physical copies of spacecraft and connected them to a simulator, in case something went wrong on a real ship thousands of miles away, they could figure out the solution. law on the ground. According to Dave Rhodes, senior vice president of digital twin at video game and 3D platform company Unity Technologies, digital twin technology is currently only widely adopted because of factors such as the computing power of cloud systems. the rise of cloud, the popularity of 5G, improvement in 3D rendering, and the need to work remotely due to Covid-19.
Digital replicas can simulate real-life objects from tiny to giant. In Poland, for example, a team of doctors and technologists will start from one of the tiniest objects, the human fetal heart. About 1 in 100 babies are born with congenital heart disease, which is very serious if left untreated. However, research shows that more than half of these diseases go undetected. Meanwhile, ultrasound simulators are expensive and cumbersome, and most medical schools do not include face-to-face training. Marcin Wiechec, a doctor at Jagiellonian University, shared that most of the first cases of congenital heart disease they encountered were in the clinic.
So, Wiechec and his team created the Fetal Heart VR, which allows the doctor to point the transducer through a dome like a pregnant belly to study normal and abnormal fetal heartbeats identical to those in real life through a wearable device. VR. Wiechec uses the app to teach in Krakow. Jill Beithon, a retired sonographer at Fergus Falls, said the app would be of great benefit to healthcare workers who don’t have much access to resources or state-of-the-art training centres.
Digital twin technology is being tested in the medical industry for planning surgical procedures, exploring the risk of drugs to the heart. In November 2021, seven medical researchers in the US called for increased clinical studies of “digital copies of cancer patients” to accurately monitor physical status and adjust treatment methods. reasonable treatment. “Digital twins will revolutionize the treatment and management of cancer and a host of other complex diseases,” the researchers wrote in the journal Nature Medicine.
Applications in manufacturing and more
The auto industry is also transforming. Return to Regensburg, where the BMW factory is located. Now, BMW can inspect or modify parts in the production line without having to move heavy machinery. The company estimates that it could cut the planning time for plant operations by at least 25%. A few months earlier, the factory managers had created the first new type of device inside the digital win. If they follow the old way, they have to sketch and build a cardboard simulation which is very time consuming. Due to Covid-19, they also limited the number of people at the factory. Thanks to the digital copy, they can work in the virtual space, experiment and have many different versions without spending too much. The new machine was installed during the holiday, but before that, the staff was taught how to use it, also through the digital twin.
In Pittsburgh, Ding Zhao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon, works with car manufacturers to use digital replicas to improve the safety of self-driving cars. In his lab, he leverages massive amounts of data from real-life self-driving car tests to build complex digital twin simulations. They will predict how the vehicle’s artificial intelligence will react in unpredictable situations, such as when entering a freeway lane in dark, heavy snow or when stuck between two trucks.
More importantly, the digital twin allows researchers to run countless crash simulations without destroying the vehicle or endangering people. That means the digital twin is increasingly essential to the development of self-driving cars. “Realistic tests are too expensive and sometimes ineffective,” Zhao said. Digital twins are used in many complex and sometimes dangerous machines, from the nuclear reactor in Idaho to the wind turbine in Paris.
Others are implementing digital twin on an even larger scale, creating a digital replica of an entire city or country. In 2021, the nonprofit community development organization Orlando Economic Partnership announced a partnership with Unity to build a digital version of the city of Florida. CEO Tim Giuliani hopes it will be used as a public resource and “backbone infrastructure,” allowing transportation professionals to see how the train system could impact the region, or for utility companies map the 5G network and let climatologists study the potential impact of climate variability. He estimated the project cost at around $1 to $2 million.
Of course, creating large-scale digital clones also raises questions about privacy and cybersecurity. Multiple copies can only be made if a variety of sensors are used to track actual data and movement. Workers at factories may feel uncomfortable when every move is followed closely; or if a hacker gets into the digital twin, he will know everything about the proprietary system. Mr. Zhao emphasized the need for a governing rule for this matter.
BMW intends to bring the factory digital replica model to the world. The company is in the process of building a new factory in Hungary, modeled entirely in Nvidia’s Omniverse. BMW will soon apply digital twin at all facilities. Bachmann, BMW Regensburg Plant Manager, says the benefits of the digital twin can only be fully realized when every factory is digitized in a standard way.