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Digital Twins

Time Jan17/Jan24 2022 pp51-53 |the future is already here| “Here and There” “Virtual replicas known as ‘digital twins’ are transforming manufacturing, medicine and more” By Andrew R. Chow

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From models of a human fetal heart to complete cities Virtual Replicas AKA “Digital Twins” are being created using data from various sources like ultrasound, sensors worn on workers, actuators, 3-D renderings etc.

Pioneered in the 1960s, with physical replicas, by NASA to have “workshop solutions on the ground” for problem-solving if a crisis “ensued on an actual vehicle hundreds of thousands of miles away” are now increasingly available “because of several confluent factors, including the increase computing power of cloud-based systems, the spread of 5G networks, improvements in 3-D rendering and the remote work demands of COVID-19.”

According to Richard Kerris (Nvidia) “it’s hard to imagine where digital twins won’t have an impact.” The market for digital twins in 2020 has a value of $3 billion and includes Amazon's IoT TwinMaker and Nvidia’s Omniverse 3-D simulation engine.

Besides some relatively mundane applications like taking children on a virtual safari, tweaking manufacturing plants, testing car and plane prototypes, and crash testing, Polish researchers are “starting with one of the smallest objects…the human fetal heart." The human fetal heart is size of a quarter and beats 100 times per minute.

As it turns out congenital heart disease is relatively common, happening to about one-in-a-hundred newborns. Most clinicians first encounter these conditions in the clinic after limited training. Enter a digital twin that “allows doctors to guide a probe across a belly-like dome in order to study normal and abnormal beating fetal hearts-re-created identically from real-life scans-through a VR headset.” According to Jill Beithon (a retired sonographer and educator) “With the VR, you don’t have to go to expensive courses or try to find a mentor. This is going to replace hands-on experience.” More applications in medicine include planning surgeries and creating “cancer patient digital twins to precisely track a patient’s physical state and adjust treatment accordingly.”

As is typical with fast-moving IT innovations, regulations are lagging and there are concerns about privacy and cybersecurity. Imagine being tracked continuously at work or having your company’s manufacturing floor being hacked. There’s also the concern about “the rise of metaverse, a collection of connected virtual worlds, having an increasing impact-or even replacing-what’s happening in the real world.”


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