TIME Magazine – How Digital Twins Are Transforming Manufacturing, Medicine and More (by Andrew R. Chow)

A version of this article was published in TIME’s newsletter Into the Metaverse. Subscribe for a weekly guide to the future of the Internet. You can find past issues of the newsletter here.

There are two versions of a BMW factory in the medieval town of Regensburg, Germany. One is a physical plant that cranks out hundreds of thousands of cars a year. The other is a virtual 3-D replica, accessed by screen or VR headset, in which every surface and every bit of machinery looks exactly the same as in real life. Soon, whatever is happening in the physical factory will be reflected inside the virtual one in real time: frames being dipped in paint; doors being sealed onto hinges; avatars of workers carrying machinery to its next destination.

The latter factory is an example of a “digital twin”: an exact digital re-creation of an object or environment. The concept might at first seem like sci-fi babble or even a frivolous experiment: Why would you spend time and resources to create a digital version of something that already exists in the real world?

But digital twins are now proving invaluable across multiple industries, especially those that involve costly or scarce physical objects. Created by feeding video, images, blueprints or other data into advanced 3-D mapping software, digital twins are being used in medicine to replicate and study internal organs. They’ve propelled engineers to devise car and plane prototypes—including Air Force fighter jets—more quickly. They allow architects and urban planners to envision and then build skyscrapers and city blocks with clarity and precision.