Have You Met Your Car’s Digital Twin?

  • January 3, 2024
Creating Digital Twins for cars is totally disrupting manufacturing in the automotive industry, but how about a digital twin of YOUR car? Real-time collection from YOUR car updates YOUR digital twin and schedules preemptive maintenance and service. Of course, how and where you drive is collected. Off-road? On the freeway? Speed? Long trips? Short trips? How many times did you stomp on the brake? Every unique data identifier goes along with it. ⁃ TN Editor

Your mind might turn to science fiction when you hear the term “digital twin,” or maybe to online scammers digitally cloning your credit cards and all your other personally identifiable information.

The reality is a little more mundane—but if you’re in the automotive world, quite a bit more profound. Digital twin technology is one of the most significant disruptors of global manufacturing seen this century, and the automobile industry is embracing it in a big way. Roughly three-quarters of auto manufacturers are using digital twins as part of their vehicle development process, evolving not only how they design and develop new cars but also the way they monitor them, fix them, and even build them.

But what are digital twins? How are they created? And where do they live? Let’s dig into the details.

What Is Digital Twin Technology?

At its core, a digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical object, a simulated clone living in the memory or storage of a computer. Digital twins can be simple or complicated, abstract or detailed, but here, we’re going to focus on digital twins of the more detailed variety.

Let’s start with something simple, like a tire. A tire’s digital twin would start with a 3D model representing its shape, including its exact dimensions. But that’s just the beginning. That representation would also contain its weight and details about its tread compound.

If we’re talking about an advanced digital twin, that virtual tire would even contain enough information for a manufacturer to load it into a simulator and drive on it, calculating things like load ratings and flex at different inflation pressures and under vehicle loads.

Other components, like suspension links or chassis subframes, can likewise be represented and even virtually assembled. Combine enough digital twins together, and you create a digital twin of a complete car, a virtual doppelganger for the real thing that is not only exact down to a fraction of a millimeter but also full of enough information to enable everything from software development to crash testing in a virtual world.

The Benefit Of Digital Twin Technology Is In The Sharing

We know what you’re probably thinking: Driving simulators and virtual crash testing have been around for decades. So how is this new? A big part of this technology is the ability to create a digital representation of an object or a system once then reuse it in multiple places.

Let’s say a development engineer wants to change a structural component to add more stiffness. That component could be changed virtually and then instantly fed into both the development driving simulator and the crash test simulator.

If all looks good in those places, the updated specifications for that component could be sent directly to manufacturing, where the digital twin could be used to configure the stamping, milling, casting, or whatever other process is required.

The technology necessary to represent objects like that in a precise but open way is relatively new. “Advanced technologies like real-time physics simulations, real-time data acquisition technologies, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence contribute to simulating vehicles in their entirety,” Yagil Tzur said. He’s VP of products at Tactile Mobility, a company focused on providing precision data for use in developing digital twins.

“The concept of digital twins emerged in the manufacturing industry in the late 2000s, driven by the need for a more holistic approach to product development and lifecycle management,” Tzul said. “Early adopters of digital twin technology included aerospace companies like NASA and Boeing, who used it to simulate and optimize complex aircraft systems.”

AI Comes Into Play

When testing an autonomous system like this, you’re effectively training an artificially intelligent system to drive a car. Nvidia is developing a system where a second, data-focused AI can create data that’s then used to teach those driving AIs.

Shapiro likens it to something like using Midjourney for creating AI-generated images from written prompts. But instead of creating weird pictures of imaginary muscle cars, Nvidia’s tool auto-generates complex test scenarios.

“We’re able to basically create environments, understand them in 3D, and generate permutations of that scene based on a single drive,” he said. This might mean changing the speed of a passing car or adding a few pesky pedestrians into the mix. The result is more valid test data evaluated more quickly.

Using Digital Twins To Reduce Maintenance And Recalls

All of the examples above apply to vehicles as they’re being developed and manufactured, but digital twin technology has potential throughout a vehicle’s life.

Using unique identifiers, manufacturers can effectively create internal digital copies of vehicles that have been produced. Those copies can be used for ongoing tests and verifications, helping to anticipate things like required maintenance or susceptibility to part failures. By using telematics, in-car services that remotely communicate a car’s status back to the manufacturer in real-time, these digital twins can be updated to match the real thing.

“By monitoring tire health, tire grip, vehicle weight distribution, and other critical parameters, engineers can anticipate potential problems and schedule maintenance proactively, reducing downtime and extending the vehicle’s lifespan,” Tactile Mobility’s Tzur said.

When it comes time for that repair or maintenance, service technicians can use digital twins for training. “If somebody has to repair a pump for the first time, and they have no idea how to do that, they’ll go to the digital twin, and they’ll simulate what that process operation is,” Cisco’s Rojas said.

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