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Digital Twins take the train

The other day I was waiting on the platform for my train and I noticed this train with a strange load and a sign: Rail 3D – Asset Digital Twin …

Digital twins are becoming more and more pervasive, I know, yet I was surprised seeing one loaded on a train in Verona. As you can see in the photo I took there was a yellow container with the sign: “Rail 3D Asset Digital Twin”. Intriguing.

I did some investigation on the web and I found that I was not the only one having seeing that. Someone even took a video of that (see clip).

First thing I discovered was that this is a train used for checking the railway network. Then, more interesting, that the Italian Railway company (RFI) is developing a digital model of its infrastructure, digitalising all the parts (millions) it is composed of and geo-localising them, including the digitalisation of the environment, like the digitalisation of tunnels to create a single digital model (MUIF project: Modello Unico Infrastruttura Fisica – Single model of the physical infrastructure).

It is not alone. General Electric, possibly the first company to adopt digital twins in their manufacturing and products (turbine) is offering rail companies a suite of software applications to create, maintain and leverage digital twins both for trains (engines and carriages) and for the infrastructure.

According to GE the adoption of Digital Twins can lead to decreasing maintenance cost moving to proactive maintenance, that is not just cheaper since it can be planned, it also avoids downtime and recovery cost. Possibly even more important, coupling trains digital twins with the infrastructure digital twins it becomes possible to detect wear in the rails, loose ballast and track gouge deformation. It is not just detection! Once a problem is detected, the infrastructure digital twin(s) (the application controlling it, based on machine learning and artificial intelligence) can communicate the problem to the train digital twin that in turns send the instruction to activate the breaks, reduce speed or even stop.

I bet that the next decade will see an ever broader application of digital twins and, my bet, the most important evolution will be in the creation of our, humans, digital twins, as we are forecasting in the Symbiotic Autonomous System Initiative, something we will discuss in dept at the coming workshop in San Diego and at TTM 2018 immediately following it.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. He's currently the Chair of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative of IEEE-FDC. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and up to September 2018 he was the Head of the EIT Digital Industrial Doctoral School. Previously, up to December 2011, he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books. He writes a daily blog,  http://sites.ieee.org/futuredirections/category/blog/, with commentary on innovation in various technology and market areas.

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