I remember when my son first got hooked on video games with Microsoft’s original Xbox. Over the years, that progressed into more sophisticated Xbox stations as well as the PlayStation systems from Sony. What really grabbed my attention was the mind-blowing realism that these inexpensive gaming modules were able to deliver. It became harder and harder to tell the difference between a car race or sporting event in a video game and its real-life counterpart.
Eventually, this extreme level of realism came to smartphones and tablets. As a technology enthusiast, I was drawn into the video game experience by the amazing advances that were being made in software and hardware. Unfortunately, my skills did not match my enthusiasm, and so I was soon sent away in shame by most any elementary kid who had mastered the controller combinations. Consequently, I haven’t paid a lot of attention to video game development in the past few years. Until recently, that is, when I came across some news about how video game engines are now being used as the framework for building digital twins for manufacturing.
In the early days of computer technology, advances were primarily driven by either big business or government programs like space exploration and defense. Today, however, consumer product development is driving the advances that have the biggest impact. Business users and manufacturers reap the benefits of new technology, but only after it has been proven and refined by a few cycles of consumer adoption. Smartphones and other mobile devices, intelligent assistants like Siri and Alexa, and even modern web frameworks all had to reach quantities of scale only possible by delivering consumer products to the masses before finding their way into the business world.
One of the great benefits of this process is the equalization effect, wherein these highly sophisticated solutions are available to companies of all sizes, and not just multi-billion-dollar enterprises. Small and medium businesses can compete and even outpace much larger competitors through the adoption of technologies that have been made possible through consumer productization.
Circling back to the topic of video game engines, and their impact on digital twins for manufacturing, we find ourselves on the verge of the next big leap in the transformation of manufacturing for the digital age. It turns out that the same algorithms that allowed video games to accurately simulate light reflection, particles, gravity, and other aspects of the real world also make it possible to accurately model manufacturing systems, products, buildings, and even cities. These models, called digital twins, make it possible to test out ideas, improve customer experience, or improve efficiencies much more quickly and cost-effectively than ever before.
Perforce Software is one company that has seen the advantage of using game engines such as Unreal Engine and Unity to develop digital twins. The Unreal Engine was originally developed by Epic Games for a videogame called Unreal, a first-person shooter. Unity was released in 2005 at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference as a Mac OS X-exclusive game engine. Perforce has helped companies develop digital twins for manufacturing, IoT, retail, buildings, and automotive use cases.
According to their website, “Digital twin technology allows teams to use real-time data, simulations, algorithms, and machine learning to create a virtual representation of a physical object, process, or service. Because they are cheaper than actual prototypes, teams can build and test thousands of versions to find the ideal solution.”
Automobile manufacturer Audi uses digital twin technology created with Perforce’s solutions built on the Unreal gaming engine to show corporate executives their new vehicle designs. Even before it has produced any real product or prototype, it can deliver a realistic experience to vet new ideas for a fraction of the cost this would previously have required.
The developers at Epic Games, the makers of Unreal Engine understand that their gaming technology is being used for digital twins. In fact, they encourage it and have provided some resources to help you get started with understanding digital twin technology and how to use it for your own company. Check out Epic Games’s digital twins hub to see how Unreal Engine is being used to create digital twins for architecture, engineering, and construction.
The next time you are playing a video game (or maybe watching your kids blast their way through aliens or zombies), take a close look at the realism provided by these gaming engines. Appreciate the fact that this impressive technology serves more than entertainment purposes; it also brings the power of digital twins right to companies of all sizes, with use cases limited only by your imagination.