Defining the "Twin" in Digital Twins
All around the world, digital twin technologies are continuing to gain traction. In Australia, a consortium headed up by Telstra has been tasked to develop New South Wales' spatial digital twin in preparation for its planned statewide expansion, with 4D models to be overlaid with real-time data.
While the concept of a digital representation reflecting something in the real world may not be difficult to grasp, the industry tends to throw around buzzwords such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and BIM. Although they include great technology, the words do not mean anything on their own.
With digital twins gaining momentum in Australia, it is imperative to consider the ever-changing nature in all aspects of infrastructure. There are various aspects of data that must be considered and must all come together to fully realise the promise of a digital twin, making digital twins more complicated than they may seem.
Managing Numerous Aspects with an Infrastructure Digital Twin Platform
Digital twins are not just a digital representation; rather, they combine data with real-time visibility and allow for the design of future prospects. They must also connect many types of data and assets, as well as the people who might want to connect to it. Any digital twin platform will have to address these tough challenges.
One proposed solution is to create a platform that can be relevant for various use cases. A platform would address aspects like persistence, visualisation, and the transaction model in a way that combines efforts from each aspect.
Given the vast quantities of data and the need for quick processing times, an infrastructure digital twin should look to implement features, such as scalability and security, to minimise the cost of doing business and adapt accordingly. If scalability is not present within the platform, it is difficult to incorporate it in the layers being built above it. Security consumes an inordinate number of resources in a software development organisation. This feature is beneficial because the whole application is as secure as possible to build upon each layer.
Extensibility is notably one of the most important aspects of an infrastructure digital twin, as the problem with the future is that it is not linear. In designing for many potential permutations, the platform can be used to solve problems both today and in the future. People like the prospect that an infrastructure digital twin can ensure profitability, reduce risks, solve future problems, or integrate many sources of information in new and better ways.
There are only so many promises that a company can make about how great or responsive digital twins will be. But if the infrastructure digital twin platform is open and allows the user to take their data and move it to another system, or even another vendor, the users have peace of mind. They own their data, and they can choose what they can do with it.
Keep Your Options Open: Open Source Ensures Flexibility and Data Ownership
The challenge of tracking and processing large amounts of data might be a daunting task to any organisation. Yet, a potential avenue that has not been properly explored is open source. An open-source strategy has worked extremely well in other industries, but has yet to manifest in engineering, BIM, or CAD. There has not been a platform open enough to allow people the flexibility to layer on it, or even enable competitors to create solutions that work together with it.
This was Bentley Systems' ethos when designing their iTwin platform. With the intention to enable people to use the platform to be able to access data to solve various problems, Bentley Systems fostered an ecosystem of innovation that will grow around a common set of source code and data types that can be defined with open-source tools that are built on open standards. For an open digital platform to succeed, various open platforms would need to be considered to build upon the platform. When combining the platform with user contributions, the ecosystem builds on itself.
Every vendor will tell you how open they are. However, only the ones who mean it are the ones who provide a way to use your data and the code that powers it without a fee. The opportunities of infrastructure digital twins are vastly bigger than any business opportunity seen in the past. Ultimately, working in an ecosystem of innovation, along with partners leveraging the platform, creates a world where the end users substantially benefit.