Internet of Things (IoT) represents a digital mesh of internet-connected devices. IoT comes in various forms and sizes. They could be in your living room as a smart virtual assistant, a smart home security system, or your car in the garage. In the larger scheme of things, they take the form of smart cities that have traffic signals connected to the internet.
Statistics suggest that every second 127 new IoT devices are connected to the web. By 2021, at least 35 billion IoT devices will be installed globally. Such is the rapid growth of IoT. Unknown to many, there is a silent force that is enabling this rapid ascent of IoT: allied Digital Twins.
A Digital Twin is a virtual replica of a physical device. They are used by IoT developers, researchers, and scientists for running simulations without having a physical device. In a way, digital twins can be given credit for the mushrooming growth of IoT.
How Do Digital Twins Work?
An IoT device takes occupancy like a physical object in the real world. A digital twin is the virtual representation of the physical device in a system. It replicates the physical dimensions, capabilities, and functionalities of the IoT device in a virtual environment.
The sensors attached to the IoT device gather data and send it back to its digital twin. IoT developers and researchers use the data to create new schemas and logic and test it upon the digital twin. Once vetted, the working code is updated into the IoT device through over the air updates.
Digital Twin Use Cases
Digital Twin use cases exist in every industry and space of IoT. From delicate healthcare to mechanical manufacturing, digital twins can act as a pillar of support for IoT initiatives in every industry. We are already aware of AI-based chatbots and its use case in different industries, similarly here, a digital twin can be used.
IoT in healthcare takes the form of patient wearables, fitness trackers, motion trackers, etc. Digital twins enable developers to test out new functionalities, make the device take accurate readings, and also invent new ways to exchange data between the data and the servers. In fact, doctors can also use the digital twin of the patient to monitor their vital stats on a real-time basis.
For example, a doctor can visualize a patient’s vital health signs like heart rate, blood pressure, etc. using a digital twin. The digital twin eliminates the need to transfer to create separate physical records of the patient’s data thus eliminating errors the possibility of errors. Also, with patient wearables that are connected to cloud servers, the data can be transmitted to the doctor’s system without requiring the patient to be physically present for examination.
Oil and gas equipment, factory equipment, assembly lines — these are sophisticated utility equipment. Thanks to IoT, these sprawling surfaces have become data spewing smart devices. Digital twins can enable developers to have an ‘as-designed,’ ‘as-built,’ ‘as-operated’ version of the utilities in a virtual environment. This drastically reduces the possibility of mishaps that can cause downtime.
A classic example of this is managing power grids in an urban environment or even a manufacturing plant for that matter. Digital twins can be used as virtual depictions of the actual power grid that can help monitor the real-time power consumption, asset management, and predicting/repairing power outages all without having to station personnel on the site.
How can a digitally connected city become smart? Digital twins help look at the possibilities from multiple angles and suggest future plans. Developers can also toy with innovative ways to make IoT devices work. For example, in the event of a disaster, motion sensors can be used to identify locations where there are maximum activity and risks involved.
In fact, the student community in the UK and the Northumbrian Water authorities are already working together to create a digital twin of the city. The project led by the post-graduate students from Newcastle University will create a virtual twin of the city.
Chris Kilsby, professor of hydrology and climate change in Newcastle University’s School of Engineering, says, “The digital twin will not only allow the city to react in real-time to such freak weather events but also to test an infinite number of potential future emergencies.”
Digital Twins and IoT
From augmenting the ability to run diverse experiments to giving real-time insights, a digital twin helps IoT in a number of ways. Some of them are detailed below:
What will happen if the workflow is tweaked? Will it get more data, will it result in consuming less energy, will it result in better user experience? These are some insights that a digital twin can give in an IoT environment. All this without having to push updates for the physical device working in a production environment.
Experiments of any kind are difficult, to begin with. They incur expensive resources, and if they do not work out as planned can even cost more than planned. IoT is a relatively new technology, and there is an abundant need for experimentation. The experimentation needs to be carried out with judicious usage of resources. Digital twins provide the virtual infrastructure to conduct countless experiments even when there are not many physical devices available.
IoT’s most popular benefit is that it gives access to a large population of devices at the same time. This, in turn, is also a downside. A minor security flow can give room for hackers and unauthorized personnel to gain access to the IoT network. The risk is magnified when actual physical devices deployed in production are used for experimentation.
Digital twins take away that risk. It makes it possible for developers and researchers to safely toy with multiple scenarios before arriving at a final one that is secure and operationally feasible.
Digital Twins: Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?
Having the same replica of anything can be slightly troublesome. It gives room for misuse and also is considered dangerous from a security point of view. In other words, it is the classic Mr. Hyde or Dr. Jekyll scenario.
A Digital Twin is assured to be Dr. Jekyll. It helps IoT professionals to conduct diverse experiments without having the need for a physical device. It spares a lot of physical resources and also results in cost savings. Additionally, it also reduces the risk of mishaps that could happen if updates are pushed into live production.