Metaverses vs. Digital Twins: Here are the differences between the two
Facebook’s discussed name change could signal a focus on creating a metaverse
There’s a lot of talk about the metaverse these days thanks to an impending rebrand from social media juggernaut, Facebook. According to the Verge, the company could announce a new name for itself by the end of October and that move could be tied towards its focus on building a metaverse.
But what is a metaverse, exactly?
Well, that’s a little hard to pin down as it’s not something owned or operated by a single company (for now, at least). That said, current visions for metaverses revolve around a digital space where users enter to interact with other people virtually. That’s pretty true to author Neal Stephenson’s vision of a metaverse that he first coined in 1992 with his novel, Snow Crash.
Fast-forward to today and the closest examples of metaverses include video games like Roblox, where players can craft virtual avatars of themselves and interact with others, Minecraft where users can create open-world environments other participants can join in on, and Fortnite where players can battle to the death of custom-built islands or chill out and watch virtual concerts.
If that level of world-building sounds a bit like a digital twin, that’s because they share some similarities. Like Fortnite, 3D Cityscapes’ digital twins are also powered by EPIC Games’ Unreal Engine. But broadly speaking, a digital twin is “the connection between a physical asset and its virtual counterpart. By using IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, data connect the two to allow for real-time monitoring and can help run simulations,” says Alex Ramirez, an associate professor of information systems at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business in Ottawa.
Ramirez is also part of Imagining Canada’s Digital Twin, a federally funded project with Carleton University investigating what it would take to build a national digital twin of Canada.
Much like metaverses, it’s possible to build entire worlds and populate them with avatars within digital twins. Both can scale and grow as developers see fit but there are some limitations.
For starters, metaverses can be created from the ground up since they don’t need to be tied to any physically existing asset. Digital twins, on the other hand, require an object or process to mirror and that has to do with sensors.
This brings us to our next difference-maker: data. Digital twins live and die by data integration. By utilizing sensors attached to a real-world asset, real-time data forms that bridge connecting it to its virtual counterpart. Metaverses don’t necessarily need sensor data to exist on their own, though the potential to connect with real-time data could be down the road.
There is another aspect that separates metaverses from digital twins, according to Ramirez.
“Metaverses require a level of immersion that digital twins do not.”
While digital twins can be utilized by anyone in the real world, metaverses typically ask users to immerse themselves by entering a virtual space. That also means there is a certain level of accessibility separating the two. While a digital twin can be viewed on a tablet, phone, or computer, immersive metaverses often require a virtual reality (VR)or augmented reality (AR) headset.
Given that Facebook purchased Oculus, a company specializing in VR back in 2014, that could hint at the direction the company will take when it comes to building their own metaverse.
The metaverse is “going to be a big focus, and I think that this is just going to be a big part of the next chapter for the way that the internet evolves after the mobile internet,” Zuckerberg told The Verge’s Casey Newton earlier in the summer. “And I think it’s going to be the next big chapter for our company too, really doubling down in this area.”
Facebook is expected to announce more at their Connect Conference on Oct.28.
What makes you more excited for the future of visualization: metaverses or digital twins? Let us know in the comments below.
What’s Powering 3D CityScapes’ Digital Twins?
Unreal Engine, sensors, and a heck of a lotta data
In their simplest form, digital twins are virtual counterparts of real-world assets and processes that are connected by real-time data.
But what goes into building digital twins is a bit more complex. Over at 3D CityScapes, a Canadian tech startup specializing in building digital twins, the award-winning 3D visualization models are rendered in Unreal Engine by a team of seasoned developers and brought alive via real-time data integration.
Data (and lots of it)
What makes a digital twin different from any other 3D model is its integration with data sets. Any good model will offer a snapshot of an object at any given time. But by pairing it with a cloud-based system, digital twins are able to pull information from application programming interfaces (APIs) and display real-time conditions in and around an asset.
The result is a living, breathing interactive 3D rendering that visually communicates complex data to its users. This allows users to see, understand, and proactively use the data available to increase efficiency, reduce risks, and monitor the status of any given asset. And even if the data doesn’t exist (yet), digital twins allow for modelling of hypothetical scenarios. Now with the cloud-streaming features, end users can access the digital twin application from anywhere, on any device with an internet connection.
Speaking of data, that’s largely collected by IoT (Internet of Things) sensors. At its core, IoT sensors are devices connected to the internet for easy collection, processing, and dissemination of information. 3D CityScapes doesn’t collect data itself but instead partners with groups like Sinay, a maritime data solutions company,to use their sensor networks. By teaming up, we’re able to visualize information like noise pollution, water contamination levels, and the movements of vessels and containers, adding a layer of value within our digital twins of smart seaports.
This partnership allows pockets of information that would usually sit siloed from each other to now be visualized together in a way that allows for predictive modelling, historical tracking, or real-time analysis.
A POWERFUL RENDERING ENGINE
3D CityScapes’ digital twins are distinct due to their photorealistic look. That’s thanks in part to the rendering software of choice, Unreal Engine 4. By using a proprietary mix of plug-ins, 3D CityScapes’ developers are able to use the engine to compile different images and data, and stitch them together in Unreal with ease and efficiency.
If you’re a gamer, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Epic’s Unreal 4 as the engine powering games like Fortnite, Gears of War 5, or Kingdom Hearts 3. But the crossover from gaming to 3D visualization is more natural than you might think, according to David Weir-McCall, business development manager for architecture, engineering and construction at Epic.
“With digital twins, it’s really again about creating that thing people have been doing for many decades in the games industry, which is crafting a story,” said Weir-McCall.
He likens it to communicating large volumes of data that might be dense for anyone not from an architecture background through a visual medium.
“It’s what we like to call digital storytelling in a sense that we’re able to custom create your own user experience through your design or through your building.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Unreal engine makes things easy on the eyes.
“New features like ray tracing and path tracing help add to the realism, giving our version of Unreal a long stride ahead of any other rendering system,” said Francesco Guido, 3D CityScapes’ lead developer. “With a large list of benefits like the engine being open-source, an extensive list of documentation, a huge community, and a great profiler for developers, it was the best choice to kick off all our new projects with.”
The results are digital twins that stand out for two reasons, for David Weir-McCall.
“There are a couple of aspects to them that are really unique for us. Firstly, the size and scale you guys are working with and then the level of fidelity that we see coming from you guys as well,” said Weir-McCall.
A TERRIFIC TEAM
Data and powerful visualization software are great items to have, but at the heart of it all, is 3D CityScapes’ team of developers who take the two and marry them together. Schedule a meeting with 3D CityScapes to start a conversation via the booking button below.
What industries do you think digital twins could have the most impact on?
3D Visualization and Air Travel: Meet the Airports Embracing Digital Twins
Airports in Vancouver, Singapore, and Amsterdam have taken off with creative applications of 3D visualization
As international and domestic air travel ramps up to pre-pandemic levels, airports represent a ripe opportunity to become smarter and more efficient for everyone coming and going.
That’s largely thanks to advancements in 3D visualization, particularly with digital twins — virtual and interactive models of buildings and infrastructure next brought alive through real-time data.
Here are three airports that’ve committed to 3D technology and how it’s helped their business.
Like just about any organization around the world, the Vancouver Airport Authority had to pivot when the pandemic shut down travel in 2020. It opened up a technology testbed, partnering with the British Columbia Institute of Technology as a lab for Internet of Things initiatives (IoT).
Other partnerships include a collaboration with Unity Technology and GeoSim Cities to create a digital twin of YVR in order to better plan for the future, according to Vancouver Airport Authority President and CEO, Tamara Vrooman.
“This work presents a broad range of future possibilities, from assessing how we could adjust terminal layouts to account for COVID-19 rapid testing, to testing the effectiveness of accessibility features and optimizing our airfield movements to reduce greenhouse gases,” said Vroonman in a release.
When it comes to collecting geographic information system (GIS) data, Schiphol Airport has been in the game since 1985. Using its trove of spatial and geographical data, the airport rolled out a multi-year renovation project in 2017. Part of that included a digital twin of the airport.
“The airport’s digital asset twin provides the opportunity to run simulations on potential operational failures throughout the entire complex, which saves us both time and money,” Kees van ’t Hoog, head of the Development Operations team at Schiphol Airport, told ESRI writer Jim Baumann.
The digital twin helps tracks more than 80,000 assets found inside and outside the airport. Sensors collect information on networks, runways, lighting systems, information booths and down to fire extinguishers.
They’ve since built on the twin with aggregated passenger tracking data. In 2018, AMS partnered with Veovo, a tech company specializing in operations optimization to monitor indoor foot traffic. Sensors detect passengers’ wireless devices, giving them a unique I.D. that’s encrypted and time-stamped. The system then measures travel time and movement patterns to help make decisions about queue lengths and traffic flow.
When you’ve built a digital twin of your entire city, building a digital twin of your airport sounds like a no-brainer.
In 2014, Singapore’s federal government announced its plans to digitalize the entire country. The goal? To have a virtual and interactive model in 3D to aid in planning and decision making, virtual test-bedding and experimentation, along with research and development.
Vouse was at the Singapore Airshow 2020!
We were proud to unveil the Smart City Solutions interactive display for our client.
The real-time simulation is a city-building game. It let users upgrade the city using our client's urban & infra facilities & see the city transform! pic.twitter.com/aMhpluKGn0
— Vouse (@VouseSG) March 18, 2020
The city’s Changi Airport had similar ideas in mind when they teamed up with local 3D design consultancy Vouse to create a digital twin of Terminals 1 to 4. By melding architectural blueprints with data collected on site, airport authorities could test certain decisions before committing to them in real life. One example includes trialing the visibility of road signage in a driving simulator to see how it would help visitors navigate around the airport.
SIN’s twin now has the potential to integrate with real-time flight data and ground traffic information to help with travellers better plan their trips.
How would you like to see a digital twin improve your local airport? Sound off in the comments below.
Preventing the Next Shipping Container Cargo Crunch with 3D Imaging Tech
Visualization software can help smooth out kinks in supply chain management
If the shelves at your favourite stores are looking a little bare or you’re encountering sticker shock over your latest grocery bills then you’re not alone. A global supply chain crunch is making delivering imports tougher than usual and driving up costs of certain goods higher for anyone lucky enough to find what they need.
A perfect storm of COVID-19 outbreaks and labour shortages going back to the summer has resulted in shipping container delays and rising costs in major ports in the U.S. and China. Ningbo-Zhoushan Port, located south of Shanghai, shut down for two weeks in August 11 after a dock worker tested positive for COVID-19. It’s the world’s third-largest shipping container port with a volume of 27.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), according to Shipa Freight.
This is likely to be felt via rising prices and continuing shortages of certain goods, including in the Christmas trade.
In Southern California, a 73-boat backlog has popped up due to a lack of dock workers able to unload cargo containers. Cargo ships have been stuck outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for up to three weeks just to upload their goods, reports the Wall Street Journal. A lack of storage space has prompted shipping companies to jack up the prices, leaving shoppers footing the bill in the end.
“The terminal closures in China are leaving their mark and dampening the exchange of goods,” said Vincent Stamer, head of Kiel Trade Indicator, a German think tank.
“There are no signs of a sustained easing of the situation, which clouds the outlook for international trade. This is likely to be felt via rising prices and continuing shortages of certain goods, including in the Christmas trade.”
Exposing The ‘Frailty’ of the system
While cargo ship jams and closed ports are recent examples of the supply chain crunch, the root causes can be traced back to the early days of the pandemic, according to M. Johnny Rungtusanatham, the Canada Research Chair in Supply Chain Management and a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University.
“The pandemic stifled demand for certain goods and as we are coming out of the pandemic, we’re seeing demand peak… a lot of the manufacturing capacity that was already tight before has become tighter and there are new shocks in the system,” said Rungtusanatham.
Rungtusanatham points to a myriad of factors behind the stress in the supply chain, such as an energy crisis in China, labour strikes at ports, a pivot to creating personal protective equipment and government financial assistance funding people’s spending habits.
“It’s a confluence of factors that have exposed the frailty of supply chains and supply chains are very long and are a small number of critically placed nodes. That’s the situation we’re in right now.”
How 3d Technology Can Help
We can increase our resiliency to such supply chain disruptions if we leverage technology better.
While there aren’t many quick fixes to getting the supply chain running back up to pre-COVID-19 levels, visualization technology, when paired with the right data, can help avoid future headaches, according to Raza Jafri, CEO and founder of 3D CityScapes.
“Whether it’s a seaport, airport, manufacturing facility, or the entire supply chain, visualizing can greatly and effectively help you make better decisions around the movement of goods and services,” said Jafri.
“We can increase our resiliency to such supply chain disruptions if we leverage technology better. 3D CityScapes creates a front-end visualization to decipher this information in the most meaningful, efficient, effective, and clean way possible.”
Some of that information is readily available. When it comes to keeping seaport and terminals operational, workers collect data like the number of boats approaching and leaving the port, loading and unloading operations, customs and port call administration, along with surrounding road and railway traffic.
But even with all that information, seaport and shipping authorities are still operating with an incomplete picture, according to some marine data specialists.
“Ports are often relying their activities on geographical based software (GIS). However, these technologies only provide 2D visualization with limited possibility to see three-dimensional data such as bathymetry (seabed depth),” said Marie Besson-Leaud and Jacques Everwyn with Sinay Maritime Data Solutions. (Disclaimer: Sinay is one of 3D CityScapes clients.)
“It is common for port authorities to have [an incomplete] awareness on their environment in relation with their activities.”
What Needs To Come Next
Besson-Leaud and Everwyn say companies looking to avoid future cargo shipping jams like the one in California should focus on vessel visibility by paying closer attention to collecting and tracking automatic identification system (AIS) and the prediction of estimate time of arrivals and departures.
With global shipping traffic expected to grow anywhere between 240 per cent and 1209 per cent by 2050, depending on the country, digitization will be become increasingly crucial.
Once that information is collected, it can then connect to a digital twin of a seaport that allows owners to monitor the situation but more importantly, predict and simulate operations in a worst-case scenario.
In the meantime, the worst-case scenario shoppers can expect is having to pay more at the stores this holiday season, according to Professor Rungtusanatham.
“Things are going to get a little more expensive because the cost of bringing goods to the shelves is going up.”
What items have you noticed gone up in prices lately? Have your deliveries been delayed more frequently? Let us know in the comments below.
3D CityScapes Teams Up with Sinay to Breathe New Life into Seaports
A new age of digitalization for ports is here
By combining Sinay’s Artificial intelligence algorithms, expertise in data and sensor information, and maritime industry knowledge with 3D CityScape’s visualization prowess, seaports are about to be brought into a new era of digitalization.
For years, Sinay has helped the maritime industry make smarter decisions by collecting and analyzing data to help clients find efficiencies and minimize environmental impacts. 3D CityScapes specializes in turning data into visuals using cutting-edge technology used in game development.
“We are excited about this partnership with 3DCityScapes which will allow us to combine our expertise in maritime data management with an extraordinary 3D visualization tool, thus providing seaports and maritime actors with a competitive operational solution.” –David Lelouvier, Managing Director at Sinay
By integrating with Sinay’s data, 3D CityScapes will now build Digital Twins – interactive and immersive virtual representations – of seaports, smart cities, smart buildings, and more, which mirrors their real-world counterparts at any given time.
“Creating a real-time digital twin means you have accurate forecasting. Seeing data in real time – seeing where ships are coming in, where people are going around, where containers are at – opens up a bunch of possibilities that can help you manage the port better.” – Founder and COO James Borst
The result means seaports will have their own visual platform to monitor their facilities and surrounding environments in real-time, providing them with a powerful tool to save time, reduce costs and better respond to environmental changes.
“This partnership will create living, breathing digital ports.” – Director of Digital Experience Salman Hussain
For more on this exciting new partnership, check out the video here.