Digital Twin takes an interdisciplinary approach to lead and enable a new era of digital technology
The concept of digital twin was introduced in 2002 by Michael Grieves, when he proposed the need to replicate and build identical models of real objects. In the decade that followed, numerous scientific research results and experimental cases verified the advancement and development of digital twin, which is in a new stage of research and application.
As the first generation of researchers focused on digital twin in China, Professor Fei Tao and his team from Beihang University were early adopters and advocates of digital twin, and witnessed the rapid development of digital twin in China, and then, step by step, in the rest of the world. Thanks to significant innovation and booming academic research and application, digital twin has started to receive widespread attention.
To support the worldwide knowledge creation and application of digital twin, Beihang University partnered with F1000 and Taylor & Francis to launch the world’s first open research publishing Platform on this subject – ‘Digital Twin’ – in April 2021. The first articles of Digital Twin were officially published on July 28, 2021. Most recently, Digital Twin was selected for the ‘Excellence Action Plan for China’s STM Journals’ as the ‘High Starting Point New Journal’ on September 21, 2022.
In its first year, Digital Twin gained significant attention, support, and recognition from researchers in related fields. We are delighted to invite Prof. Fei Tao, Chief Advisor at Digital Twin, to give an in-depth introduction to this publishing venue. He shares his experience of managing and operating Digital Twin and the journey of engaging and interacting with researchers. As the leader of one of the world’s top research teams in digital twin, Professor Tao discusses the development, application and the potential future of digital twin.
This interview focused on three central themes:
Part 1: Digital Twin: Connecting researchers to the advanced network
Part 2: Development, opportunities, and challenges: The future growth of digital twin
Part 3: The future of interdisciplinary research
Part 1: We can see Digital Twin‘s significant achievements in the first year of launching. What do you think are the advantages and strengths of the Digital Twin Platform? Can you share with us some best practices?
Prof. Fei Tao: I think Digital Twin cannot advance without the strategy and actions below:
First, what has been vital to Digital Twin’s success so far has been promoting the connection between the digital twin research community on a regular basis through daily discussions, a monthly forum and an annual conference.
‘Daily Discussion’ aims to activate a discussion on high-quality academic research among ‘Digital Twin Friends’ – researchers in the field of digital twin and who contribute to our ‘online chat group’. The topics are taken from the latest articles published on Digital Twin, with input from advisory board members. These are shared in the chat group in a timely and efficient manner and result in an open and lively discussion among ‘Digital Twin Friends’.
‘Monthly Forum’ aims to provide more opportunities for researchers to share their latest digital twin research. The Digital Twin Global Forum (DTGF) is hosted monthly by inviting researchers whose output stands out and is in discussion among ‘Digital Twin Friends’. Therefore, the forum gathers eminent professors and well-known researchers across digital twin technology. Meanwhile, we pay special attention to the Q&A and discussion session where ideas and research can be exchanged. At the same time, participants can get a more in-depth and specific understanding of the studies.
‘Annual conference’ is the large-scale annual Digital Twin International Conference (DTIC) which has been held these last two years. In the future, we plan to host this offline conference in person to provide ‘Digital Twin Friends’ with the opportunity for face-to-face discussion. Connection and open discussion are two critical ways for peers in academic research to make the digital twin research group more extensive and robust. This networking is not only for those in academia, but also needs to combine the practical application demands from enterprises and the market, and so we invite authors and researchers to connect with enterprises who are applying digital twin to their products. This way, Digital Twin has been a bridge to integrate enterprises, applications, and researchers.
Secondly, we are effectively enhancing researchers’ sense of involvement and participation by inviting them to conferences and forums. We invite researchers to report and share their high-quality, advanced, and innovative research in the forum and conference proactively, regardless of age and seniority. By doing so, early-career and middle-career researchers can see the significant contribution they have made to the field. We want to continue to create opportunities to support early-career and middle-career researchers who are dedicated and devoted to high quality studies.
Thirdly, we cannot achieve our goals without the collaboration and dedication of team members. Digital Twin is a collaboration of many teams and members, including Taylor & Francis, F1000, me and my digital twin research group, and many peer and partnership groups. The success of Digital Twin relies on the contributions of all team members and the strong support from the Advisory Board Members.
The above three reasons are key in helping Digital Twin to achieve its goals. These are also good practices for engaging and interacting with researchers by encouraging them to connect and discuss various topics proactively and by providing practical ways and methods for their research development.
Part 2: Can you share the development trends and challenges for digital twin technology in the foreseeable future? Which areas will potentially be of critical growth?
Prof. Fei Tao: From an academic researcher’s point of view, I think digital twin research focuses mainly on the following areas of growth:
The first one is Industry 4.0, an area which particularly benefits from the development of digital technology, especially advances in integrating innovation with established industrial practices. Digital twin has immense potential for Industry 4.0, which impacts multiple industries, for instance, manufacturing, healthcare, energy, and environmental sciences.
The next growth areas to consider are ‘Digital Transformation’ and ‘Intelligent Upgrade’, which also impact various industries and fields.
Various industries must now think about digital transformation and upgrading software and hardware. In the future, I think we’ll see an increase in demand for academic research about digital twin and also industrial applications of it – even the development of software and hardware for industries. It could be said that we are entering the influx point for digital twin development and application.
Using today’s advances in science and technology, we can operate, communicate and collaborate virtually. The global research on digital twin shows an excellent growth trend: both in the quantity of published articles and the strategic potential. This is especially true in the arena of digital twins in medical healthcare where the number of international studies saw a rapid increase after 2020.
However, alongside the growth of academic research and the increasing demand for industrial applications, digital twin technology has also encountered many challenges.
First of all, there is no consensus on the concept of a digital twin. We’ve observed that across manufacturing and industry, smart city developers and healthcare, there are different perceptions and definitions of digital twinning. Each builds their understanding from each industry’s unique use cases, needs and demands. Therefore, an academic publishing platform is absolutely essential to discuss and exchange ideas so there can be a mutual consensus on the core theory and concepts. I think progress is hindered because we don’t have a clear and aligned digital twin concept.
Secondly, a relatively complete theoretical system of digital twin is not finalized in academia yet. As we all know, many disciplines have fairly comprehensive theories or curriculum systems, but digital twin is an application-oriented theory facing specific application scenarios. It will undergo many changes, but there is no complete theoretical system. I think researchers must explore it, gradually practice it industry-by-industry, and finally form products and solutions.
From the academic point of view, there are many problems that we need to explore: specifically, regarding the model of digital twin (building, grouping, integrating, experimenting, calibrating, managing), which is very difficult, including how the digital twin data can be collected, transferred, processed, and used.
From the application point of view, the concept is not unified, and the technology is still in development, which makes it challenging to set standards. Lacking standards, it is difficult to promote the application of digital twin in practice. How do we go about creating future standards?
As a first step, we set up a particular topic on the Digital Twin Platform. There are four major areas to focus on in the development of digital twin: the concept, theoretical system, standards, and unified software tool platforms.
Among all the challenges we face, the most crucial one is talent cultivation. In this interdisciplinary field, knowledgeable and experienced practitioners are vital, so Digital Twin is also aiming to be a Platform where more potential professionals can find and engage with the current discourse in the field and provide support for training new talent. I think the above are the challenges facing digital twins at present.
The digital twin originated from industrial manufacturing, but its trajectory may change in the future. From the perspective of development trends, its most mature application scenario may not necessarily be in the industrial field since the digital twin has shown great potential in the Smart & Digital Cities space, very positively and effectively.
Another development I am thinking of is the use of digital twins in healthcare. Research and application in the medical field, including ‘virtual doctors’ and ‘virtual humans’, may see the most growth. In particular, as an essential basis of the Metaverse, digital twin technology also has potential to grow and evolve as the Metaverse itself develops.
Part 3: You have mentioned several times that digital twin is an interdisciplinary subject focusing on application. Can you please share with us some of your views on multidisciplinary research?
Prof. Fei Tao: We’ve seen that when the existing industry of technology is relatively mature, several mature technologies, from multiple industries, will combine to produce new technologies and paradigms. For example, think of the origin of smartphones. The combination of the mobile internet and conventional mobile phones created a powerful tool which has transformed every aspect of our lives. So, I think interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary efforts will be essential to developing the economy and society in the future.
So, more theoretical and original research and knowledge creation can take place in academia; industry stakeholders can focus their energy on creating products and solving practical problems. However, academia should be based on the needs and demands of products and applications, which is also interdisciplinary research.
In addition, for some of the new models, when we examine the model itself, it’s made up by some simple or traditional technologies. However, the combination and integration bring new applications. For example, in a Virtual Solo Vocal Concert, all the aspects of the process can be digitized: from ticket sales to publicity to the final live performance. It is a real-world example of the integration of traditional art and information technology.
Everything is changing, including (but not limited to) the user experience, the user’s sense of acquisition, and the business model. All these changes will create more application scenarios and more application opportunities.
About the Digital Twin Platform: Digital Twin has an open and transparent peer review process and a mandatory open data policy to provide full and easy access to the peer review discussions around academic work as well as the source data underlying the results. It covers digital twin research spanning many fields and offers a variety of article types, from traditional research articles to study protocols, registered reports, data notes, case studies and much more. Visit the Digital Twin Platform for more information: https://digitaltwin1.org/
About F1000: F1000 fosters a culture of innovation to accelerate the reach of knowledge and put it in the hands of those who will shape the future. We provide open research publishing solutions and services to organizations such as the European Commission, Wellcome, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as directly to researchers through our own publishing Platform, F1000Research. F1000 is wholly owned by the Taylor & Francis Group, an Informa Group company. https://www.f1000.com/
About Taylor & Francis: Taylor & Francis Group is an international company originating in England that publishes books and academic journals. Taylor & Francis Group is a market-leading publisher in engineering, environmental sciences, and technology, offering advanced, emergent, and applied content that advances research, supports education, and provides solutions to real-world problems across all engineering disciplines. The subjects covered agriculture, chemistry, education, engineering, geography, law, mathematics, medicine, and social sciences.