The rise of the digital twin

Picture this: You’re on a spaceship with two other astronauts heading for a huge, lava-filled cavity on the moon called the ‘Imbrium Basin’. Your mission is to collect rock samples so you can run geological experiments because you’re nerdy like that.  

You're a little scared because…LAVA. Also, you’re IN SPACE so you’re at the mercy of epic temperature fluctuations. Plus there’s no air and a ridiculous amount of radiation.  

Even though the cold could turn you into a human ice-block in a second, the radiation could cook you like a piece of well-done steak, and a floating fork could stab you in the eye at any moment – it’s unlikely that these things will happen. Because engineers figured out what humans need to survive in space, and then went and built those things into your spacesuit and spacecraft. Smart bunch. And good looking.

 Artist's impression of the Imbrium Basin AKA the lava pit, via: https://bit.ly/2J8putw

Artist's impression of the Imbrium Basin AKA the lava pit, via: https://bit.ly/2J8putw

Houston, we have a problem

Sometimes even the smartest, most attractive people in the world can’t predict what will happen when you send a bunch of space cowboys to the moon in a metal container on ‘roids. So, when NASA launched the Apollo 13 back in 1970, what they did know was:

1. One section of the spacecraft had undergone many ‘improvements’
2. This included an increase in the amount of voltage being fed into the oxygen tank heater

What those studs didn’t know was:

1. As a result, the wiring sitting close to the oxygen tank heaters became subjected to very high temperatures during the final testing (540°C or 1000 F)
2. The oxygen tank was damaged from eight hours of overheating
3. It was a potential time bomb

And when the spaceship and its occupants were 320,000 kilometres from Earth, that bomb exploded. What on earth (…or space) would you do next? Well, 13 minutes later one of the astronauts, James A. Lovell, happened to glance out the window. This is an actual transcript of the conversation that took place next.

Lovell: “Houston, we are venting something out into the... into space.”
Jack Lousma (spacecraft communicator on Earth): "Roger, we copy you venting."
Lovell: "It's a gas of some sort."

And uh, yeah. It was their oxygen. They were 320,000 kilometres up sh*t space creek with an empty oxygen tank for their troubles.

 You guys, it could have been a lot worse for the astronauts. Image via: https://bit.ly/2klHh2F

You guys, it could have been a lot worse for the astronauts. Image via: https://bit.ly/2klHh2F

A rescue plan is hatched

On board the spacecraft, power, water, and removal of carbon dioxide became major concerns. All non-critical resources were switched off, and water consumption was kept to a minimum. It quickly became freezing, which meant the astronauts couldn’t really sleep.

Down on ground level, flight controllers were well and truly in go mode, running analyses to figure out what had happened, and then assessing the systems to figure out a way to get their friends home safely.

Not only did the Earthlings have to act fast, they had to come up with a completely novel method for getting the crew home. And boy did they rise to the challenge. Innovation documents that would usually take months, were written in days. Very quickly, they came up with a solution: they’d slingshot the spacecraft around the moon to bring it back to Earth.

They did it. And it worked. The astronauts were safe and well – aside from the fact that they’d lost 14 kilograms between them: 50% more than any other space crew. The spacecraft eventually touched down into the Pacific Ocean near Samoa.

 Not a bad place to land after being flung around the moon. Though, after that experience, we think landing in a pile of garbage would have been fine too. Image via: https://bit.ly/2LpiZkv

Not a bad place to land after being flung around the moon. Though, after that experience, we think landing in a pile of garbage would have been fine too. Image via: https://bit.ly/2LpiZkv

The idea of the digital twin is born

Incredible story right? And you know us – we love a good one. But what’s truly fascinating is that 320,000 kilometres away from the site of the explosion, engineers were able to mirror the spacecraft systems and situation back on Earth. This allowed them to run scenario after scenario until they landed on the slingshot idea.  

They were still probably shaking uncontrollably when they executed their plan – let’s be real – but it was a plan based on rigorous testing and evidence. It’s hard to believe that a single member of the crew would have had the confidence to suggest it or carry it out had they not been able to run some tests in a risk-free simulated environment first.

So even back in 1970, when NASA had none of the powerful tech we have today, they understood the importance of the digital twin. These days, they do the twinning up front: they design and test virtually to begin with, and then shoot stuff into space.

Many more twins have since emerged. And it’s probably because we understand now, what it would cost to not test our ideas virtually first. GE, Siemans, and IBM have all been connecting their assets and processes to online systems in order to collect data and build digital twins of their own. Tesla’s in on it too: each of their cars ‘reports back’ on a daily basis. Engineers then apply simulation programs to the digital twin in order to discover glitches and provide fixes.

Here’s the thing though: with enough data, a digital twin can be created for anything. Or anyone

 The metal container on 'roids, AKA Apollo 13, taught us all that twinning is winning. Image via: https://bit.ly/2GLz7sY

The metal container on 'roids, AKA Apollo 13, taught us all that twinning is winning. Image via: https://bit.ly/2GLz7sY

The HeadUp Labs app will be your digital twin

Our app will collect your smartwatch data day-in-day-out and use it to create your digital twin. Our data scientists will then apply complex algorithms to your twin, run a bunch of experiments, and do some good ol’ fashioned number crunching to uncover a heap of information about your body.

Then a really attractive writer (who should’ve been a model tbh) will take the data scientists’ findings and present them to you in the form of easy-to-read, bite-sized insights. These insights will be personal, interesting and novel. They’ll tell you what’s going on with your sleep, exercise, and mood, how each of these variables impacts your overall health, and how to make changes to improve your overall health.

As we collect more and more data around your body, our machines will develop the capacity to not only keep you informed in real time, but to identify patterns and predict what might happen next. When it comes to your body, you’ll always be ahead of the game.

We won’t be the only ones running experiments though: you’ll be able to run them too. But no matter who runs the experiment – us or you – you get the evidence delivered to your phone. In this way, you’ll come to understand your body on a level deeper than ever before. Any changes you then apply to your lifestyle will be based on personal and unique evidence and data.

 We want to create your digital reflection. And shut we're not creepy, you are. Image via: https://bit.ly/2s4VAwB

We want to create your digital reflection. And shut we're not creepy, you are. Image via: https://bit.ly/2s4VAwB

Take-home message

Apollo 13 taught us a lot. Mainly that we should check things really thoroughly – especially when there are humans, spaceships and space involved. But also that having a digital twin is possibly the greatest asset a person can have. After all, if a digital twin can help you make wiser, more informed decisions around your health, then it follows you’ll be leading your best life. And we only get one, so we should probably do it right eh? There’s no second chance after all. And if you think there is, you’re reading the wrong blog man.

 

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*Please note: header image via Zuken Blog, https://bit.ly/2IHfZST