Digital twins are practically digital replicas of physical entities. A digital twin may be a copy of a device, an infrastructure project or even an actual physical process. The concept was initially conceived by NASA when scientists utilized this idea for space exploration missions.
A digital twin is a product of complex physics and mathematical equations that are employed to create a replicate of a physical object and simulate the exact physical conditions of the environment that the actual object exists. A digital twin can be created before the actual object to study its behavior.
If the actual model is realized, the interaction of the digital twins is enabled by utilizing sensors in the real object to collect real-time data that are then incorporated in the digital object.
The technology is very interesting and is currently one of the top technological trends worldwide, according to experts. Nevertheless, their application in civil engineering projects has been limited.
Currently, infrastructure monitoring is being conducted via in-situ assessments. However, if wireless sensors are installed and digital twins of the existing structures are created, monitoring will radically change. Inspections will be reduced, a fact that would decrease the operational costs and would increase the safety of engineers.
However, creating a digital twin in infrastructure is a challenging task. Many scientific fields including wireless technology, structural behavior, 3-dimensional visualization technology and the Internet of Things, must cooperate to generate a representative digital model of a structure and its surrounding environment.
If this process is successful, engineers would be able to keep track of buildings real-time quantities such as deformations, stresses and cracks by using the digital model.
According to current estimates, if this technology is implemented, the total savings of infrastructure monitoring can reach up to 30%. In the United States, bridges' monitoring and inspections cost about $1.35 billion annually. Therefore, the profit margin is very high. Except for the economic benefits, digitizing infrastructure is important as it facilitates inspection from any given place. For example, the current COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of everyday life. Inspections were not enabled in many parts of the world due to lockdowns and social distancing. Digital twins would resolve this issue in case of a similar situation.
Experts suggest that there will be secondary benefits from applying this technology. These include a reduction in CO2 emissions since commuting for inspections will be highly reduced and better working conditions for engineers.