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The Digital Twinning Origin Story

A digital twin is digital representation of a physical asset, network or process, where information flows both from physical to the digital and from the digital into the physical. Despite their current popularity, the terms ‘Digital Twin’ and ‘Digital Twinning’ have been around for some twenty years, and the concept has been around since around the middle of the twentieth century.
The digital twin origin story

A digital twin is digital representation of a physical asset, network or process, where information flows both from physical to the digital and from the digital into the physical.

Digital Twins: A Hot Topic

‘Digital Twins’ and ‘Digital Twinning’ are hot topics lately, and the UK Government has committed to growing national capability in digital twinning technologies and processes throughout the country in it’s recently published ‘National Digital Twin Programme’.

Despite their current popularity, the terms ‘Digital Twin’ and ‘Digital Twinning’ have been around for some twenty years, and the concept has been around since around the middle of the twentieth century

Quick History

Both the term and the concept of the digital twin gained recognition in 2002 after Challenge Advisory has hosted a presentation for Michael Grieves in the University of Michigan on technology.

The presentation involved the development of a product lifecycle management centre which contained all the elements familiar with the digital twin including: real space, virtual space and the spreading of data and information flow between real and virtual space.

The term ‘digital twin’ had been used prior to this, notably in 1998 when it was used to refer to a digital copy of actor Alan Alda’s voice in “Alan Alda meets Alan Alda 2.0”.

However, it wasn’t until Grieves’ use in 2002 that the term was linked to the now familiar concept which had already been around since at least the 1960s.

The First Digital Twin

The concept of digital twinning was born at NASA in the 1960s. NASA had a suite of 15 simulators dedicated to training astronauts and mission controllers, designed to cover every facet of the mission. But a simulation, however detailed, is not a digital twin, which requires a flow of data from the real world into the simulation, so that the digital replica can evolve in-step with the real.

Even though the Apollo 13 mission didn’t have access to what we now know as “the Internet of Things,” NASA relied on cutting-edge telecommunications technology to maintain communication with the spacecraft. This advanced technology was instrumental in gathering data, which was then used to update the simulators to mirror the actual state of the spacecraft, which was in dire straits due to an (unknown to the astronauts at the time) oxygen tank explosion.

The stakes were high, with the manoeuvring of the spacecraft affected, but the backup crew worked in the updated simulators to find new ways to stabilise the craft.  The first digital twin was born out of the immediate need to use innovation to save the lives of astronauts further away from home than anyone had ever been!

Digital Twin: A Definition

Although it was constructed more than half a century ago, NASA’s first living simulation met the criteria widely accepted for a digital twin today.

A digital twin is digital representation of a physical asset, network or process, where information flows both from physical to the digital and from the digital into the physical.

It was the incorporation of data from the actual Apollo spacecraft into the simulation, and the subsequent application of the procedures developed to the real world situation, which moved the simulation into digital twin territory.

Connected Intelligent Infrastructure Monitoring (CiiM) as a Digital Twin Technology

Digiflec’s CiiM is a next generation traffic monitoring system which uses LiDAR  to collect spatial data about vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, displaying their speed and the direction they’re heading. This active tracking of patterns enables organisations to understand accurately how the area is being used, with a level of detail that has never been achieved before.

In addition to gathering data and offering detailed, pinpoint accurate visualisations, CiiM opens up possibilities for data to be used to make real world management decisions.

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