Digital Twins and the Future of Real-Time Data

4 min readMichael Carroll on Dec 6, 2022

A Digital Twin is the virtual representation of a real-world physical counterpart. The things could be factory machines, cars, buildings, wind turbines, and even entire cities. Some scientists predict that in the not-so-distant future, every human that is born will automatically get their own digital model that will serve as a mechanism to test treatment options and aid in decision-making if that person is ever diagnosed with an illness or condition. 

The way that Digital Twins work is that sensors (or some other input mechanism) on the object collect data and are mapped onto these Digital Twins in the virtual model. Digital Twins can be used to illustrate a product lifecycle and understand how the real physical objects are actually performing, as well as to simulate (or predict) how they might perform under certain conditions. The Digital Twin idea consists of three parts: the physical object or process and its environment, the digital representation of the object or process, and the communication channel that transmits the real-time sensor data between the two.

Though the concept of Digital Twins was first introduced in 2002 by Michael Grieves at a Society of Manufacturing Engineers conference, the first practical definition is credited to NASA, who in 2010, used Digital Twins to improve the physical-model simulation of spacecraft. The concept of–and use cases for– Digital Twins have evolved over the last two decades, however, but one thing remains the same: the need for real-time data input.

Use of Digital Twins

In 2017, Gartner named Digital Twins to its list of the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends and said that by 2022, “billions of things will be represented by digital twins, a dynamic software model of a physical thing or system." Though that prediction hasn’t quite panned out, Digital Twins continue to garner attention from the research and consulting firm. In fact, Gartner now predicts that the Digital Twin market will cross the chasm in 2026 to reach $183 billion by 2031.

Some Digital Twin verticals are finding traction sooner than others, with civil engineering and the automotive industry being among the most prevalent users. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation had a Digital Twin of the city’s transportation infrastructure created, the Shanghai Urban Operations and Management Center has a Digital Twin of the entire city, and automotive manufacturer Tesla makes a Digital Twin for every one of its vehicles to reduce the probability of the car needing to be taken in for servicing.

Benefits of Digital Twins

While some industries are embracing the uses of Digital Twins more than others, any industry that benefits from real-time data will find it useful.

  • Healthcare - As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Digital Twins provide healthcare with many preventative and treatment opportunities. If using Digital Twin technology to treat their patients, healthcare providers can predict how a patient’s illness or chronic condition will respond to specific treatment modalities. They will also be able to illustrate to patients, how lifestyle changes could positively affect their overall health and wellness, possibly leading to quicker and easier adoption of healthy lifestyle changes. These capabilities are especially important now that the adoption of telehealth services is more widespread.

  • Automotive - While car manufacturers like Tesla already incorporate Digital Twins into their manufacturing process, others would benefit from the real-time data that are collected in order to cut costs and improve operational efficiency.

  • Manufacturing - Manufacturers are always looking for ways to streamline manufacturing processes, and secure and optimize their supply chain. With Digital Twins, they can find areas to make changes without worrying about downtime or interrupting workflows. For example, modeling changes to Fleet Tracking and Dispatching could realize efficiencies that will lead to not only cost savings but also further an organization’s sustainability initiatives.

  • Civil Engineering - With theInternet of Things (IoT) being a part of our everyday lives, it’s no surprise that entire cities have become Smart Cities and Digital Twins are at the center of that digital transformation. Whether it’s tracking the status of the world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge or building the world’s most cutting-edge sports and entertainment venue, Digital Twins are being utilized to gather real-time data and answer questions for everybody from engineers to event organizers to maintenance departments.

  • Sustainability - Together with Artificial Intelligence, Digital Twins are being utilized by both cities and organizations to determine how to reduce their environmental impact. Now planners can use these technologies together to understand how to reduce emissions, pollution, and other environmental hazards by analyzing data from various sources and testing different variables in the virtual model.

PubNub and Digital Twins

A key element of many Digital Twin initiatives is real-time data which could be bi-directional. This is unlike a normal IoT cloud platform type of use case where data from many sensors fan into the central cloud. With Digital Twins, there is a 1-1 mapping between the digital twin and the physical asset and it is almost like real-time messaging between the two. Additionally, since physical objects might be interconnected in some way, that means digital twins will mimic that, sending messages to each other as well. 

As an expandable, real-time messaging platform,PubNub is uniquely positioned to partner with organizations that are working on Digital Twin offerings. Are you interested in learning more about how to work with PubNub to power your data-driven product? Our team is here to help answer any questions you may have or you can sign up for a free trial and get started test-driving our platform.