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Digital Twins: A New Revolution

Digital twins, or virtual duplicates of real-world products and systems, are considered critical technologies for digital transformation. MarketandMarkets, a global research company predicted that the digital twin market will grow at a 52.5% annual rate by 2025. In accordance, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) would like to introduce why digital twin technology is in the limelight, growing concerns over the technology, and the changes it will bring in the future.

What Is Digital Twin Technology?

Where Did Digital Twins Start?

Digital twin technology refers to a computer program that uses real-life data to create simulations that predict how a product or process is performed. A digital twin replicates the real world that communicates and interacts with reality on a real-time basis. A comparable idea was present as early as the 1960s. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) developed a simple form of twin technology in April 1970 to repair technical issues brought on by the Apollo 13 oxygen tank explosion. An actual spacecraft model, identical to the one launched, was created to troubleshoot the situation. Dr. Michael Grieves then identified the notion of digital twins in 2002 during the explanation of the ideal model of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). He introduced the basic idea of digital twin technology: real space, virtual space, linking mechanisms for the flow of data and information of the two, and named it the “Mirrored Spaces Model.” Then, in 2010, Dr. John Vickers gave it the name we use today. Since then, digital twin technology has been used in a variety of industries, including construction and automobile manufacturing.

Applied Areas of Digital Twin Technology

Digital twin technologies are typically used for complex, large-scale objects and processes. It is primarily used in urban planning or building design in the construction industry. In 2018, the government of Singapore cloned the entire city and implemented it as a three-dimensional (3D) virtual reality called “Virtual Singapore.” When designing Punggol Town, also known as the mini Silicon Valley in northern Singapore, the government’s city planning officials used a digital twin platform. The digital twin was used to anticipate the airflow before the buildings were finished, allowing the government to devise the ideal building design with the best ventilation. Additionally, digital twins can be adapted to real-world product sales processes. For instance, the French grocery chain Intermaché built digital twins of its physical stores with the help of the Internet of Things (IoT). The digital twin utilized motion sensors and smart shelves to analyze customer foot traffic and purchasing patterns to find the best product exhibition locations. Lastly, when designing products for the automobile sector, digital twins allow for the implementation of the finalized prototype in virtual reality, allowing for experimentation and conducting various trials.

Virtual Singapore (meed.com)

Why Are Digital Twins Viral?

Revolution of Industrial Process

Digital twin technology can improve various industrial processes. As digital twin technology develops, automatic process control will effectively be executed in the manufacturing process. In the past, most fault detection in the manufacturing process relied on the expert’s domain knowledge and experience. However, with digital twin technology, it is now possible to rely on manufacturing data to successfully detect abnormal conditions in processes, analyze them objectively, and identify the most effective solution. Hence, digital twin technology is key to future development, making it a fundamental component of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Professor Dong-hee Lee of the Department of Systems Management Engineering at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU), stated, “Artificial intelligence (AI), data analysis, optimization algorithms, and other methods studied in industrial engineering will be actively used to develop digital twin technology in the near future.” In short, in existing predictive models and simulations, humans had to assign variables and substitute data, which had to be developed according to the phases and conditions of the products. Meanwhile, digital twin technology is linked to the changes in the real world, so it can collect real-time data and instantly reflect it in the virtual world. Thus, when a problem arises on a digital twin, it can be solved and avoided in the real world.

A New Paradigm for the Medical Industry

Digital twins are now being applied to the medical industry, giving birth to the concept of medical twins. The medical twin reproduces the same internal organs in a virtual space so that doctors can carry out test operations to determine the treatment’s efficacy — this aids in preparing surgeons for unanticipated accidents before the actual surgery. For example, metaverse medical company Medical IP’s product “MEDIP PRO AR” provides a real-time view of the size and location of the brain when the surgeon places a special pad on the patient’s head, which allows doctors to simulate the surgery beforehand. Furthermore, when developing new medicines, creating a digital twin of mice can minimize animal testing. Also, clinical trials can be applied to the patient’s digital twin, preventing any errors that may spontaneously occur in real life. These medical twin technologies are essential for providing patients with individualized care. The patient’s medical twin is designed to collect and process the patient’s health status, drug response, treatment effectiveness, and surrounding environment, which is why it is considered a rising medical innovation. Also, the patient can continuously receive the best medical care by using multiple AI-powered models on their digital twin. Lastly, chronic illnesses such as diabetes and asthma can also be managed since doctors can remotely monitor digital twins of patients or the elderly who are unable to visit the hospital.

MEDIP PRO AR (dailymedi.com)

The Future of Digital Twins

Protection of Digital Privacy

It takes a large amount of data to build and maintain digital twins, which could raise moral concerns regarding online privacy. Digital privacy refers to the protection of an individual’s information that is used or created while using the Internet on a computer or personal device. However, there are currently few legislative restrictions on digital privacy, and no clear legal guidelines for data collection and use of digital twins exist. Thus, as digital twin technology develops, it is essential to enact laws on digital privacy. The vice minister of the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT), Park In-gyu, stated in an economic briefing that establishing a proper order is very important. Although there are laws related to personal information and health data, more regulations are required for the collection and usage of all human-generated data. They should be implemented to prevent businesses from indiscriminately gathering data from search engines like Google and Naver. In response, the MSIT introduced the Korea Digital Strategy this September and announced that it would enact the Digital Society Basic Act in 2023. Hence, as digital privacy is emphasized, the government must create an appropriate legal framework accordingly.

Digital Privacy at Stake (leadersedge.com)

Intellectual Property of Digital Twins

The question of who owns the intellectual property rights to the data generated by digital twins will become relevant in the future. Due to the high initial investment costs, only major organizations create and employ digital twins as of now. However, as minor-scale digital twins become commercially viable in the future, ownership of digital twins should be assigned. Digital twins can be divided into primary and derivative digital twins to define ownership. The primary digital twin is the original digital twin with the most data and is the central digital twin. The derivative digital twin is any digital twin that draws information from the primary digital twin to support a related process or service. Ownership of the primary digital twin is given to the firm that paid for creating the digital twin. The owner of the primary digital twin can now distribute intellectual property rights to other organizations, including the digital twin platform company, which can be a realistic solution.

The revolution that will be brought about as digital twin technology advances is regarded as phenomenal. Industrial processes will be more precise, and personalized care for patient s may come true. However, digital privacy and ownership issues must be appropriately addressed for this to happen. It is important to consider how much digital twin technology will influence society in the future.

김영민  swimskykim@g.skku.edu

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