Digital twins are virtual replicas and representations of assets, processes, systems, or institutions in the built, societal, or natural environments. They provide real-time insight into how complex physical assets and citizens behave, helping organisations improve decision-making and optimise processes.
Digital twins fundamentally differ from computer models as they can provide significant amounts of real time data, allowing real time interaction with the physical twin. At the same time, actions and events can be modelled with unprecedented accuracy effectively offering the ability to experiment in a non-live environment of the real world.
Overcoming global challenges
Digital twins have the potential to profoundly impact on almost all areas of our life. They are increasingly used in manufacturing, engineering design and logistics, and it is estimated that they could provide $1.3 trillion in economic value by 2030 across five specific use cases alone.
Agriculture, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and energy networks can all benefit from this technology ,which provides the possibility of testing hypothetical problems and solutions in a virtual environment.
They are expected to have a significant impact on our achievement of net zero and our changing environment, improving our ability to:
- model changing weather and ocean conditions
- predict and determine responses to floods and traffic incidents
- forecast air quality
- predict renewable energy generation rates days in advance, as well as our expected usage as a nation.
Even human behaviours can be modelled alongside other factors to determine optimal responses to disasters such as floods, fires and pandemics. This can be used to suggest actions to improve outcomes as the situation develops in real time.
Ensuring the resilience of medicine supply
Research at the Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Continuous Manufacturing and Advanced Crystallisation (CMAC) is developing a ‘digital twin’ of the medicine manufacturing process using advanced computer modelling and simulation.
Acting as a flight simulator, the digital twin enables scientists to virtually design a full-scale manufacturing process and trial their formulations in virtual reality before heading to the development labs. This process dramatically reduces the cost of developing new approaches and improves efficiency, reduces waste and minimises batch-to-batch variability.
Enhancing engagement of historical sites
Digital twins also have the potential to revolutionise education, as well as preservation and engagement with our historical landmarks including sites such as Notre Dame and Palmyra, to prevent historical information from being lost forever.
An operational digital twin of sites such as these would enable their exact reconstruction, as is currently the case with Notre Dame, but they can also provide regular updates on their condition to improve preservation and accessibility.
Future digital twins
EPSRC is investing in this area from across our portfolio and has already had some notable successes in this field. More recently we have invested over £11.2 million with a further £20 million of leveraged private investment, in four prosperity partnerships with strong links to the development of digital twins. These are:
SINDRI: Synergistic utilisation of INformatics and Data centRic Integrity engineering
Focused on assessing the conditions of components of energy generators, such as nuclear powerplants, led by EDF and partnering with University of Bristol, University of Manchester, Imperial College London and STFC.
Digital roads: Towards a digitised, self-monitored, and proactive road network
A collaboration between Costain, Highways England and the University of Cambridge to look at constant monitoring and repair of our physical road infrastructure using digital twins and robotic systems.
Advancing probabilistic machine learning to deliver safer, more efficient, and predictable air traffic control
Developing the fundamental science to deliver the world’s first AI system to control a section of airspace in live trials delivered by NATS and the Alan Turing Institute.
FAIR – Framework for responsible adoption of Artificial Intelligence in the financial seRvices industry
A collaboration between HSBC, Accenture and the Alan Turing Institute to validate and test digital tools, including digital twins, to improve trustworthy, data-driven decision making by financial service providers.
Find out more about digital twinning
Finally, as announced in the Innovation Strategy, the UK government will launch a consultation later this year. It will seek input from business, academia and individuals across the UK on the potential value of and options for a UK capability in digital twinning and wider ‘cyber-physical infrastructure’ to help unleash innovation.
Top image: Credit: Getty