Digital twins, the metaverse, and (virtually) modeling the future

Digital twins have been used for several years to model projects in a virtual world before committing money and resources to build them physically. They are commonly used for tasks ranging from modeling manufacturing processes to simulating behaviors to try and prevent failures in systems and cities. They’re now being called the “building blocks of the metaverse.”

The metaverse isn’t actually brand new, and contrary to a lot of press stories, Facebook didn’t invent it. It’s been around for some time, with the term first coined in 1992 by author Neal Stephenson to describe a virtual world in his novel Snow Crash. Our budding metaverse – or metaverses, since there will be many different ones rather than merely one – takes a similar form to Stephenson’s depiction. It’s a virtual world where VR goggle-wearing users inhabit 3D avatars they choose.

This is similar to the concept of digital twins. Gartner defines digital twins as “a digital representation of a real-world entity or system, an encapsulated software object or model that mirrors a unique physical object, process, organization, person or other abstraction. Data from multiple digital twins can be aggregated for a composite view across a number of real-world entities, such as a power plant or a city, and their related processes.”

A crossover of virtual and immersive

It seems to me that digital twins are a forerunner of the metaverse for many applications or projects. While the metaverse promises us immersive virtual and augmented reality experiences, it will also operate as a testbed for replication of real-world things.

For example, you can now use a digital twin to virtually replicate processes from a smart factory to collect data and predict how the factory would perform in the physical world. In the metaverse, you will be able to expand that modeling to a virtual factory that you can walk around and explore and get up close and personal with production lines and processes.

Digital twins began life being used to optimize the operation and maintenance of industrial equipment in the automotive and aerospace industries, but quickly expanded to other areas. Ones that appeal to me in MEA are urban planning and construction. Being able to map out a 3D visualization of a city and test applications and services in it before committing resources to its physical reality looks interesting.

Testing and trialing smart cities in the metaverse

As the next logical step forward from digital twins, the metaverse could provide the next perfect testing ground for smart cities, buildings and services. We already leverage the power of digital twins to model smart city initiatives. So the metaverse could allow us to explore truly immersive representations of smart cities and buildings and try out the next generation of urban projects and services.

As an extension of digital twins, the metaverse will rely on data to make improvements to trial models. Smart cities, replete with their many thousands of IoT-connected sensors, gather data 24/7. This data makes up the continuous insights city governments use to make better-informed decisions about services they deliver to citizens. The metaverse can give cities a platform to more fully test services designed to improve things like air quality, energy consumption and supply, available parking spaces, pedestrian and bicycle traffic, the number of vehicles on the roads, and more.

It’s an exciting prospect, and initiatives are already underway in forward-looking cities to become “metaverse cities.” The South Korean capital Seoul has unveiled plans to become an “emotional city of the future” as part of the Seoul Vision 2030 scheme, which includes smart city technology elements like artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor sewers and water treatment plants.

Dubai recently announced plans to create a digital twin in the metaverse, designed to give companies and residents a virtual world where ideas can be shared and projects tested. To me, that would seem to present an ideal environment to test out new smart city services or allow companies to check smart buildings before moving their staff into them in the real world. Dubai’s metaverse project is forecast to add over $4 billion to the economy and create more than 40,000 jobs.

Testing and trialing smart city services and applications in the metaverse seems a sensible way to reduce risk and ensure things work effectively before you commit real-world resources to them. And with spending on smart cities technology in MEA set to double in the coming four years, from $1.3bn to $2.7bn, minimizing risk looks like a wise move.

Next-level smart modeling

It helps to think of the metaverse in terms of what you want to get out of it. Some in the technology world question what the metaverse might mean for them, but I find it helps to focus on specific, potential use cases. Smart cities seem like a perfect balance of virtual testing possibilities informing physical, real-world projects.

In construction terms, think of the metaverse as the next logical step forward in digital twins and the evolution of building information modeling (BIM).

In BIM, you work with not only actual geometry and placement of geometric elements but also descriptive information. That information tells you, for example, where a building is located on a site and how many floors, rooms, corridors, stairs and other components it contains. BIM helps inform construction methods, deadlines, costs, maintenance operations, and so on. Digital twins give us constantly-updated sources of information, ongoing intelligence about how a model is working and where we can make improvements to it.

Marry those two things together in an immersive virtual model that lets you walk around a smart city and experience it before you go there, and the potential for the metaverse could be huge.

If you would like to talk about smart city initiatives in MEA, and how Orange helps our partners in the region succeed and thrive, please contact me on: sahem.azzam@orange.com.

Sahem Azzam
Sahem Azzam

Sahem Azzam is VP Middle East & Africa at Orange Business Services. He is an experienced senior business leader with extensive experience in the Middle East region and emerging markets and a strong track record of achievement in the information technology and services industry. Sahem has developed special interest and expertise in business and sales management leadership, partner management, go-to-market strategy development, infrastructure services, IoT, Big Data, Smart Cities, Blockchain and IT service management.