NVIDIA’s GPU Technology Conference is this week, and, as expected, it is a showcase of where AI is and where it is likely to go. One of the most exciting sessions at GTC was the CEO keynote by Jensen Huang. In many ways, it was a masterclass in how to do a keynote that both talks about and underscores the power of NVIDIA’s visual technology.
One of the most impressive moments came right at the end when it was revealed that Jensen’s kitchen was fully rendered, including the sub-elements like hinges, drawer slides, and even the power plugs. This closing element was also a demonstration of something Jensen called “digital twins,” or the creation of digital elements indistinguishable from their physical counterparts. Two in-depth demonstrations showcased the value of digital twins: one created by Bentley for new architectural projects and the other by BMW for their factories.
When I worked in commercial construction my first large project was severely damaged because the guy who laid out the commercial space didn’t know what he was doing. As a result, the support elements were poorly placed and roof support elements, instead of being hidden in the walls, intruded into the interior space. It was an unsightly and inconvenient mess.
As a result, I’m a big believer in creating a virtual representation of a project first and then doing all of the changes to that virtual representation of a building before breaking ground. When we were planning to build a house in Belize, we created our dream house virtually. Sadly this project didn’t work out, but we were left with this digital memory.
At GTC Bentley’s iTwin offering takes this concept one critical step further. Once the digital version of the building is created, it can be maintained, remain synced with the actual building, and used for future upgrades, maintenance, redesigns, and remodels. You can use it to maintain an accurate digital version of the building for anything that later needs to be done with it. It could be invaluable in researching a crime in the building, thinking about integrating green elements later as those elements evolve, or adjusting security elements. At some future point, you could likely populate the virtual building using cameras in the physical building and highlight anyone that was behaving strangely or who was not authorized to be in a particular location.
It is like the story of Dorian Gray: the picture represents both age and change together. And, as mixed reality advances, you could potentially have meetings that blend digital and the natural elements to seamlessly integrate remote attendees into a physical meeting while mirroring the visual elements in both. This technology could be a game-changer for building maintenance, security, and management by reducing disruption, costs, and mistakes connected with changes.
BMW also uses digital twins technology to emulate their factories — allowing them to virtually change, optimize, and improve manufacturing lines without touching them until the modifications are agreed upon and the improvements validated. Without impacting manufacturing performance, BMW can digitally remove large pieces of equipment without impacting the line itself. This allows BMW to look at the physically obstructed line elements and diagnose the problem that would otherwise require the line to be shut down. At some future point, BMW could even have an AI autonomously work in the background, constantly looking for and testing improvements until optimums are reached. The result should be higher quality cars produced at lower costs.
The Future of Digital Twins
I can see digital twins technology evolving to ships, fleet automobiles, airplanes, or anything else that needs to be maintained and potentially modified during the twinned element’s life. Imagine, for instance, an in-flight equipment failure and the remote engineering team being able to bring up the digital twin of the specific airplane that was having the problem. The team will be able to identify the problematic element and connect the problem back to who or what caused it. After a crash, you could run simulations on the crashed airline’s digital twin to determine the cause without having to reconstruct the plane.
How about a digital twin of you with all of the procedures you’ve had done? A remote doctor could look at that twin and you may avoid an office visit. Whether we are talking about a vehicle, building, or body, keeping track of the things that happen over a significant period is problematic. However, done right, a digital twin could solve that problem, resulting in substantial operational benefits.
As we move to mixed reality, these digital twins could become foundational elements to blended virtual worlds like the ones that will be created in NVIDIA Omniverse. They could be the critical missing link as we move to a blended mixed reality future.