How Digital Twin Startups Are Changing How Data is Visualised
There’s been a lot of talk in recent times around healthtech, fintech and e-commerce. But there’s another burgeoning sector that’s slipped under most people’s radars, while attracting increasing interest from investors. We’re talking about digital twins.
According to recent research by Fortune Business Insights, the global digital twin market will reach an estimated $8.9 billion this year. This is set to rise precipitously in the coming years, to over $96 billion by 2029.
The phrase ‘digital twin’ has a striking, sci-fi resonance, and indeed it was first popularised by NASA technologist John Vickers, who describes it as ‘model-based everything’. The basic concept is pretty straightforward: a digital twin is simply a virtual replica of a physical object or system, which can be used to monitor, analyse and optimise its real-world equivalent.
Numerous data streams can be gleaned from real-world sensors and then integrated to create the perfect digital twin, whether you’re virtually recreating an office block, a helicopter, a wind turbine, or even a human body. Unlike traditional simulation modelling, which tend to be static representations of possible products, digital twins are active, ‘living and breathing’ replicas of products that currently exist in the real world (though digital twins can also be created for prototypes and initial concepts).
As a result, digital twins can make it easier and cheaper to conduct in-depth research and design, and maintain close monitoring of systems throughout their lifespans.
Digital Twinning the Power Grid
One company that’s demonstrating the potential of digital twin technology is Australian startup Neara, which raised $14 million in a Series B earlier this year. The company creates fully interactive 3D models of utilities infrastructures like electrical grids that can be subjected to real-world scenarios.
Everything is replicated through the SaaS platform, from the terrain to the poles to the power lines, so as to allow an energy company to assess how their infrastructure will behave over time. This includes how power lines will bend and expand in different weather conditions, how surrounding vegetation may affect their service, which areas may be susceptible to wildfires, and which assets might fail in a storm.
Concerns around increasing climate instability and extreme weather events mean that Neara’s tools can play a significant role in future-proofing power networks. The digital twin models can also test how renewable assets can be integrated into existing infrastructures, which is a pressing consideration as companies seek to fulfil ESG responsibilities.
Virtual Human Beings
He may not be a household name, but Jahangir Mohammed is a trailblazing tech entrepreneur who way back in the year 2000 founded Kineto Wireless, a company that pioneered mobile Wi-Fi technologies. He’s behind a more recent San Francisco company, Twin Health, which last year raised $140 million in a Series C.
As the name suggests, the company applies digital twin models to human beings, with the aim of monitoring and curbing chronic metabolic diseases like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. It creates a virtual representation of a patient’s metabolism, which it calls the Whole Body Digital Twin. This is derived from data that’s collected over a set period of time from wearable sensors, like glucose monitors and fitness watches.
Utilising the data, the platform provides patients with individualized guidance on factors like nutrition, sleep habits and even breathing. Mohammed, who bootstrapped the company to begin with, has poetically described the human digital twin as something that ‘lives alongside you, giving you a view into your beautifully complex biology, continuously learning about your metabolism and telling you what you can do to improve your health.’
The concept seems to be working, with a clinical trial recently showing that six months using the platform saw metabolic improvement in 95% of a cohort of 199 diabetes patients.
Turning Drone Data into Virtual Worlds
Last year, German company Twinsity raised a seven-figure seed investment to further scale its SaaS platform that creates 3D replicas of buildings and industrial plants using drone data. This makes it far easier to carry out important inspections and monitor any infrastructural problems that may arise.
The technology removes the need for drone images to be manually reviewed by contractors, engineers and architects – a hugely time consuming job. Instead, Twinsity’s TWINSPECT solution uses drone imagery to create photorealistic digital twins of the structures, with all the data instantly shareable across the cloud.
As Juan Rodriguez, managing partner of the VC firm which led the funding round, has put it: ‘With the integration of the Digital Twin solution into the inspection process, a significant reduction of potential security risks, as well as an increase in efficiency and cost savings will be achieved.’
A Whole Metaverse of Real-World Data
One of the more recent funding rounds seen in the digital twin space was achieved by London-based Spinview. In July of this year, it raised £5.5 million in a pre-Series A, a cash boost that will help the startup develop its platform for visualising everything from a single building to an entire city.
Its proprietary software suite is called VQvision, which combines Internet of Things data with immersive tech like VR and AR to digitally recreate any given environment – including weather and pollutants. This way, clients are able to assess operational efficiencies, possible anomalies, and the environmental impact of their structures.
The company’s creation of a B2B metaverse has earnt it a partnership with Transport for London in 2022. This agreement means that Spinview will apply its tools to digitally map out the tunnels and tracks of the Underground network. The 3D, virtual version of the Tube will optimise maintenance tasks and provide real-time information on noise, heat levels and carbon emissions.
All of this highlights the sheer versatility of digital twin technology, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the phrase enter more popular usage in line with the expansion of the metaverse.