“Digital Twins: Status Update, Opportunities, and Challenges Towards a Productive Metaverse” promoted discussion of various factors and concerns in digital twin technology at the Metacenter Global Week conference in Orlando, Florida, Oct. 17.


Moderating the discussion was Michele DiSerio, a partner with IBM Consulting. Panelists included Trista Pierce, senior digital strategist with Booz Allen Hamilton; Elizabeth Baron, founder of Immersionary Enterprises; Dr. Carolina Cruz-Niera, University of Central Florida professor; and Jim Van Rens, senior vice president for RIEGL USA.


A digital twin is a model of a physical product or a system. The twin serves as a digital equivalent for certain development purposes, such as simulation, testing and maintenance, among others.


Discussion began by addressing why digital twins had gained such significance, and Cruz-Niera said that digital twins didn’t represent a new technology per se.


“I think it’s a new way of thinking,” Cruz-Niera said. “How do we think about our businesses, our operations, and what’s going to happen next? It’s a combination of a lot of work we’ve been doing for many years in areas of modeling, simulation, extended reality, cloud services, and anything that allows us to stay connected.”


Van Rens agreed that key building blocks of digital twins, have been developing for some time.


“Manufacturing was using digital twins ages ago,” Van Rens said. “Twenty-five years ago, we were scanning parts of the world and creating a digital model, so those elements have been around for a long time – but not every piece of the puzzle is in its place – and that’s what we’re addressing now.”


When DiSerio asked the panel about challenges to the adoption of digital twins, and bringing them to scale in industry, Baron’s response involved data. Specifically, defining data, sharing it, and providing data from one “silo” to another to create a holistic digital twin that doesn’t function only in one area, but in multiple areas.


“It’s really a trust issue, that’s the barrier,” Baron said. “If I share my data and you find a problem with it, or you misinterpret it, what happens? Will I get yelled at? There are a lot of issues around sharing data. Ultimately, leadership needs to say that’s good to share data, and that everyone will come together as a team to provide a holistic interpretation.”


Baron went on to say that digital twin adoption won’t be fully realized until the use of the twin is dynamic and embedded-in-process, which she described as “the secret sauce,” meaning a potential change in the way people work.


“You can’t just change the way a company makes a product or the way they do things, but it can be a barrier to adoption if [the twin] is not recognized as being part of the way a global product development process rolls out,” Baron said. “[The twin] will be considered in use cases, but it won’t be considered holistically for the value that it provides.”


The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution is a new factor that is increasingly dominating tech concerns. Cruz-Niera said that a new concept tech leaders will soon need to consider, will be how to create a user-centered design for digital twins that allows AI to become part of the team.


“We’ll need to develop interface and interaction models where the AI doesn’t have to be the ultimate decision-maker, but is more on the support team,” Cruz-Niera said. “My human digital twin… is learning how I work to control the digital twin mediation with all the data. Being on the research frontier, I think that’s very exciting because now we’re getting into other issues of – not only trusting the twin to be the model of what I want – but it’s also trusting the virtual, digital teammate that is trying to help me in some other manner.”

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