From The Editor | February 15, 2023

Digital Twins And RF: A Look At How The Two Are Intertwined

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By John Oncea, Editor

Digital Twins And RF A Look At How The Two Are Intertwined GettyImages-1443323134

Digital twins have been around, conceptually, since the early 1990s. Now the technology – which consists of the physical object or process and its physical environment, the digital representation of the object or process, and the communication channel between the physical and virtual representations – is becoming more and more common, including in the RF world.

I wanted to start this by saying, “A couple of years ago I heard a podcast about digital twins.” Then I looked it up and found out IT WAS MORE THAN SIX YEARS AGO AUGH I’M GETTING SO OLD! Seriously, six years ago?

Anyway, the podcast is called LifeAfter and it, along with its precursor, The Message, took “listeners on journeys to the limits of technology,” according to Apple Podcasts. “In LifeAfter, Ross, a low-level employee at the FBI, spends his days conversing online with his wife Charlie – who died eight months ago. But the technology behind this digital resurrection leads Ross down a dangerous path that threatens his job, his own life, and maybe even the world.”

Again, this was six years ago but I do remember enjoying both shows, as well as being surprised to learn that they were both, according to Fast Company, created by General Electric, its ad agency BBDO New York, and the podcast network Panoply (now called Megaphone). So, it was a General Electric ad? Sort of.

“GE’s global chief creative officer Andy Goldberg says the brand wanted to add a podcast to its already formidable collection of brand content and storytelling, not just because the medium has taken off, but also to challenge itself to tell a story that wouldn’t be copying what everyone else is doing, something fundamentally different that hadn’t been done before by a brand,” writes Fast Company. “And so, the GE Podcast Theater was born, a modern twist on the old General Electric Theater from the 1950s.”

“GE’s head of media innovation Alexa Christon says the goal and process behind ‘LifeAfter’ follows very closely to that of [The Message], to tell a really good story that touches on a theme reflecting on the company’s work in science and technology,” Fast Company writes. For ‘The Message,’ that was sound-based medical treatments, but this time the broad theme revolves around digital twinning.”

“Obviously it’s completely fictional in the podcast, but from a business standpoint we talk about digital twins as the virtual twin of a physical product,” says Christon. “Like a jet engine will have a digital twin of its physical object, so as that object performs and does things, the digital version will do the same thing. So, from an industrial standpoint – gas turbines, jet engines, those types of big iron we talk about – the digital twin is crucial in how our customers and how we will manage efficiencies in those big iron products in a virtual way and a virtual space.”

And thus, I was introduced to the concept of digital twins, something that has been a low-level fascination for me ever since. Then I came across this Electronic Design story about using integrated digital twins to continuously assess the 6G testbed and wondered, “Huh, how else are digital twins being used by the industry? And how will they be used in the future?” Then I thought, “Hey. You’re a writer, why not check it out.”

And now here we are.

Digital Twins And RF

Digital twins (which we’ll refer to as DT or DTs for the most part from now on) fuse “ideas including artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), metaverse, and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) to create digital models of real-world objects, systems, or processes,” writes Forbes. “These models can then be used to tweak and adjust variables to study the effect on whatever is being twinned – at a fraction of the cost of carrying out experiments in the real world.”

DTs are being used in many innovative ways, including as a simulation of human brains to build models that can predict the best treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy to creating a digital simulation of every Tesla ever sold.

In the RF world, Mercury Systems, Inc. writes DTs can simulate government customer adoption of the creation and deployment of new technologies and solutions providing them – and the industry as a whole – with the tools needed to do so more quickly and affordably.

Ericsson Technology Review adds, “The digital twins used today in industries such as aerospace, automotive, energy, and manufacturing have been created fit for purpose to improve processes, products, and business outcomes by replicating the relevant aspects of reality in a virtual environment. They add value by combining data and knowledge with various analytics and visualization tools, and they are regularly syncronized to keep the real and virtual worlds in sync with each other.”

They go on to note that DTs “that can carry out network performance evaluations and those that can handle Radio Resource Management (RRM) in factory environments” can potentially deliver significant value. Ericsson offers us two promising use cases: network performance evaluation and radio resource management in factories. Both use cases demonstrate the potential of DTs in the industry and are worth reading about.

Another company thinking about DTs is Keysight Technologies, specifically in the development of 6G technology. “Digital twin development will be an interesting use case to keep an eye on,” writes Keysight. “It is an important tool that certain industries can use to find the best ways to fix a problem in plants or specific machines — but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine if you could create a digital twin of an entire city and perform tests on the replica to assess which solutions would work best for problems like traffic management. Already in Singapore, the government is working to build a 3D city model that will enable a smart city in the future.”

How DTs Might Help Develop 6G

Let’s dig a little deeper into the role DTs can play with regard to their potential use in the development of 6G thanks to this Electronics Design article. “6G technology breakthrough will need to meet a consistent, predictable, and demanding set of service level agreements (SLAs) to support such diverse applications while adapting to an unprecedented level of system dynamics in a consistent manner,” writes the author of the article, Dr. Rajive Bagrodia. He goes on to ask, “How do we test the impact of technology innovations at the end-to-end system level and their eventual impact on provisioning the application-level SLAs?”

The answer is digital engineering, specifically DTs, which “offer a unique opportunity to assess the combined impact of these innovations at earlier stages of the product life cycle, perhaps before significant investments have been made to manufacture, integrate, and deploy them in 6G systems. The use of digital twins, and the potential of digital engineering to shorten product development and deployment life cycles, has gained increased attention.”

Bagrodia proposes “the concept of a 6G integrated digital-twin testbed, as a composite of digital twins of the component, device, subsystem, and network elements, constructed at various levels of fidelity and interfaced using standard APIs.” He goes on to make his case rather convincingly and the entire article is well worth the read.

The Real Deal Or Overhyped?

DTs provide several advantages, writes Blackridge Research, including a boost to operational efficiency, the strengthening of sustainability efforts, a reduction of equipment downtime, the improvement of supply chain agility and resilience, and a reduction in time to market. That’s not to say the technology doesn’t come without any challenges as “a digital twin is not a simple install and deploy solution – it takes consistent efforts, data standardization, and more to develop a reliable and readable digital twin.”

But Blackridge concludes by saying digital twin technology is worth the hype (and investment) and is here to take digital transformation to the next level.