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Covering New Ground with Digital Twins

Following the rapid advance and applications of geospatial technology has always been a fundamental aspect of the GoGeomatics community. As the study of earth systems has often relied on advancements in geospatial research, finding and harnessing new applications is crucial as the science progresses. 

This is where the recent report made on behalf of the World Geospatial Industry Council (WGIC) comes into play, as its most recent findings have pointed to both the application and staying power of digital twins technology. The recently published report cites how making 3D models based on geospatial data will allow for further expansion within the geospatial community, whether these applications be agricultural, industrial, or incorporate mapping techniques.  

Barbara Ryan, the Executive Director of the WGIC and overseer of the digital twins report, was able to share some insights on the current genesis of digital twins research, its integration, and the pitfalls that come when trying to apply any new technology. 

“The whole way we approach earth science is not in a systematic way, so my efforts are to really bring things back together in a systems approach, and that’s where I think digital twins are so phenomenal,” says Ryan. 

Ryan further elaborates on how the nature of geospatial applications has ‘very much’ stayed locked within separate spheres and hasn’t branched out into the larger global community as a whole — something she believes will change with the integration of digital twins. 

“I, personally, think digital twins are finally going to give us the visualization and predictive capabilities for looking at how the earth interacts. So for me, it is ‘the’ tool to get us to model the earth’s systems,” says Ryan. 

Barbara Ryan, Executive Director of the WGIC

Keeping this in mind, Ryan stresses that digital twins are not something that has been built from the ground up for geospatial applications, as their use heavily originates from manufacturing and engineering fields of study. Where the connective tissue lies between those outside domains of analysis and potential application in the geospatial community is what can be further discovered by those who have been using digital twins to their industry’s advantage for years. 

“They’ve been traditionally used in the manufacturing setting. Why? Because manufacturers want to see how the product they are going to build behaves in its new environment… It’s a tool to observe what has been built and how it’s going to perform, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have brought that same technology to talk about how the earth behaves,” says Ryan. 

While the scope of digital twins can be utilized for full-scale earth systems research, it can also narrow its focus to more specific applications, all of which pertain to geospatial sciences. 

“It still can be very microscale in its observations, it could in fact, just be mapping how rain is impacting a particular piece of geography, it doesn’t have to be all observations of the entire earth.”

As for appropriately applying digital twins to the scope of geospatial sciences, Ryan further adds,

“So I’m kind of agnostic when it comes to the scale. The vision that’s put forward in the WGIC report is whether you’re doing a digital twin of a desk, office, house, country, town, and all the way up to the earth itself — it’s about how are we going to do a good job of integrating and linking those digital twins.” 

How the WGIC aims to accomplish this integration is by cultivating a series of potential practices that are tied to the report and its surrounding study, then taking said data to federal authority and proposing its wholesale application. While both Ryan and the WGIC want to reach this point as soon as possible, they are not unaware of how any movement in furthering scientific applications takes time and patience. 

“It’s not a silver bullet, and it doesn’t come easily or quickly, because there are a lot of intimate challenges that are built into it… The technical challenges are easy to solve, when it comes to government structures and people getting involved, that’s when it becomes more difficult.” 


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