This post was originally published in Spanish at Leequid “Gemelos digitales para tiempos distópicos”
In this article we try to shed some light on what is a Digital Twin (DT) and how this technology could be applied in the context of the new coronavirus, currently designated as COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO).
What is Digital Twin Technology?
Roughly explained, a Digital Twin (DT) is a technology that creates a digital representation of a real asset (physical product, system or service), that is, they are an exact digital replica of something that exists in the “real” world. This technology allows us to discover, through computer simulation, ways to improve our operations, designs and test products before investing in them and avoiding possible disruptions in the supply chain. This translates into greater efficiency through the exploration of hypothetical scenarios.
The idea that we would like you to stick with is that, in this virtual environment, we are able to “experience the future” applying it today in a real environment. DT allows us to develop and test an asset faster and more economically than it is possible in real life.
How can this technology help us fight the COVID-19?
From the beginning of the pandemic, the WHO and various Governments have adopted measures related to “big data and analytics” in their strategy to face this situation. The data obtained from these techniques can be used to create reliable simulations. In this sense, we believe that DT can help in several aspects. Firstly, by measuring and predicting its spread; secondly, by controlling the infection and thirdly, by healing the patients.
How to predict its spread?
Predictive models can be built from historical data on people’s movement patterns, from real data on COVID-19’s ability to transmit from person to person, and making assumptions about unknown relative factors. The model is updated as it is fed with new information, connects the data in relation to the information we ask for, and makes predictions.
Recently, a large number of Startup-ups based in big data and analytics, have emerged. They use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to develop systems that navigate data in order to map and prevent diseases. Such is the case of BlueDot that predicted the SARS pandemic and that alerted a possible coronavirus outbreak in December 2019.
These technologies, in addition to saving time and resources, provide professionals with relevant information so that they know where to invest efforts, how to manage health services, which routes to control at airports, which events to cancel, etc.
How to control the infection?
DT can help enhance the use of hospitals by predicting specific scenarios that help organize patients, visitors and health professionals flows, as well as to evaluate the impact of different designs and models of specific wings within the hospitals such as waiting areas or ER’s. DT can also be used to perform operational stress tests in a specific department or throughout the entire hospital.
We could simulate, for example, how the massive increase of patient arrivals in ER’s would affect the hospital and therefore be able to better optimize resources (health personnel, space and materials), configure viable scenarios in an environment that changes at a dizzying pace, and help make smarter decisions.
How could patients be cured through this technology?
DT allows us to create avatars (high resolution models of individual patients) on which we can apply thousands of medications to find the optimal one without the patient being in danger.
For this, we need large amounts of information that can be obtained through portable digital devices, electronic devices, images, electronic medical records, etc.
However, this technology is not just about managing and analyzing data. It is a transformative approach to creating a complex computing architecture that connects different parts of an entire system, be it an individual patient and their body systems, or the systems of care within the healthcare ecosystem. The goal is to extract actionable ideas that enable better decision-making and, ultimately, better results for patients.
Digital Twin Technology is a practical and scalable solution to specific problems, but will it require the promotion of national initiatives. According to the latest report “Spain Digital Nation: A vision of the state of digitization in Spain” written by the Spanish Association of Digital Economy (Adigital): “in the current context, the only way to maintain competitive advantages and move up the global value chains, lies in the ability to design and develop innovative products and processes, a necessary environment for this being a favorable environment, with strong involvement of both the public and private sectors.”
Digital Twins were valued at $ 3.8 billion in 2019 and are expected to reach a global value of $ 35.8 billion in 2025. In this regard, Gartner predicts that by 2021 half of all large companies will use this technology to some degree and that this will improve its effectiveness by approximately 10%.
From a productive and economic point of view, any company that understands the benefits of this technology, should already be studying how to integrate it into its processes.