Cheat sheet: What is Digital Twin?

Ready to start the New Year off with one of the most interesting IoT trends for 2018? Then welcome to the cheat sheet series: your no-jargon guide to all things IoT. In this installment, subject matter expert Matthew Mikell gives us the low down on digital twin.

Digital twin: the background

When we design machines for a connected world, the traditional engineer’s toolbox can look rather empty. We need a new set of manufacturing and construction tools to meet the new realities of software-driven products fueled by digital disruption.

Thankfully, the advent of digital twins offers engineers a technological leap ‘through the looking glass’ into the very heart of their physical assets. Digital twins give us a glimpse into what is happening, or what can happen, with physical assets now and far into the future.

Digital twin in a nutshell

Want a definition you can memorize? Try this on for size:

The digital twin is the virtual representation of a physical object or system across its life-cycle. It uses real-time data and other sources to enable learning, reasoning, and dynamically recalibrating for improved decision making.”  

In plain English, this just means creating a highly complex virtual model that is the exact counterpart (or twin) of a physical thing. The ‘thing’ could be a car, a tunnel, a bridge, or even a jet engine. Connected sensors on the physical asset collect data that can be mapped onto the virtual model. Anyone looking at the digital twin can now see crucial information about how the physical thing is doing out there in the real world.

What this means is that a digital twin is a vital tool to help engineers understand not only how products are performing, but how they will perform in the future. Analysis of the data from the connected sensors, combined with other sources of information, allows us to make these predictions.

With this information, organizations can learn more, faster, and break down old boundaries surrounding product innovation, complex life-cycles, and value creation.

Digital twins help manufacturers and engineers accomplish a great deal, like:

  • Visualizing products in use, by real users, in real-time
  • Building a digital thread, connecting disparate systems and promoting traceability
  • Refining assumptions with predictive analytics
  • Troubleshooting far away equipment
  • Managing complexities and linkage within systems-of-systems

Let’s look at some of these in more detail.

Use cases for digital twin: an engineer’s view

Let’s look at an example of digital twins in action. And since the primary users of digital twins are engineers, let’s use their perspective.

An engineer’s job is to design and test products.  – whether cars, jet engines, tunnels or household items – with their complete life-cycle in view. In other words, they need to ensure that the product they are designing is suitable for purpose, can cope with wear and tear, and will respond well to the environment in which it will be used.

An engineer testing a car braking system, for example, would run a computer simulation to understand how the system would perform in various real-world scenarios. This method has the advantage of being a lot quicker and cheaper than building multiple physical cars to test. But there are still some shortcomings.

First, computer simulations like the one described above are limited to current real world events and environments. They can’t predict how the car will react to future scenarios and changing circumstances. Second, modern braking systems are more than mechanics and electrics. They’re also comprised of thousands of lines of code.

This is where digital twin and the IoT come in. A digital twin uses data from connected sensors to tell the story of an asset all the way through its life-cycle. From testing to use in the real world. With IoT data, we can measure specific indicators of asset health and performance, like temperature and humidity, for example. By incorporating this data into the virtual model, or the digital twin, engineers have a full view into how the car is performing, through real-time feedback from the vehicle itself.

The value of digital twin: understanding product performance

Digital twins give manufacturers and businesses an unprecedented view into how their products are performing. A digital twin can help identify potential faults, troubleshoot from afar, and ultimately, improve customer satisfaction. It also helps with product differentiation, product quality, and add-on services, too.

If you can see how customers are using your product after they’ve bought it, you can gain a wealth of insights. That means you can use the data to (if warranted), safely eliminate unwanted products, functionality, or components, saving time and money.

Unprecedented control over visualization, from afar

There are other advantages, too. One of the major ones is that digital twins afford engineers a detailed, intricate view of a physical asset that might be far away. With the twin, there’s no need for the engineer and the asset to be in the same room, or even the same country.

Imagine, for example, a mechanical engineer in Seattle using digital twin to diagnose a jet engine sitting in the hanger of O’Hare airport. Or engineers visualizing the entire length of the Channel Tunnel from Calais. Thousands of sensors in a dozen modalities, like sight, sound, vibration, altitude and so forth, mean an engineer can ‘twin’ a physical thing from almost anywhere in the world. That means an unprecedented clarity and control over visualization.

IBM’s work with digital twin

IBM has been doing a lot of work with digital twin technologies. Just this year, we announced new lab services for Maximo, bringing Augmented Reality (AR) into asset management. The IBM lab service ‘turns on’ many visual and voice (Natural Language Processing) features for your workforce. This enables you to see your assets in a new dimension, get instant access to critical data, and feed those insights back to others using an AR helmet with voice/video in the visor. This makes ‘interacting’ the next evolution of working.

The future of cognitive digital twin

Digital twin is already helping organizations stay ahead of digital disruption by understanding changing customer preferences, customizations and experiences. It means businesses can deliver products more rapidly, with higher quality, from the components, to the code. Yet the promise of digital twin can still go further.

The use of cognitive computing increases the abilities and scientific disciplines in the digital twin. Technologies and techniques such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), machine learning, object/visual recognition, acoustic analytics, and signal processing are just a few of features augmenting traditional engineering skills. For example, using cognitive to improve testing a digital twin can determine which product tests should be run more frequently and which should be retired. Or cognitive sensing can improve what/when data from sensors is relevant for deeper analysis. Cognitive digital twins can take us beyond human intuition to design and refine future machines. No more “one-size-fits-all” model, but instead, machines are individually customized. That’s because cognitive digital twin is not just about what we are building, but for whom.

Further resources

If you’d like to learn more about digital twin, you might enjoy these resources:

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Cheat sheet: What has blockchain to do with the IoT?

Welcome to this week’s cheat sheet, your guide to the murky mysteries of IoT-related technologies. Our last installment explored the basics of blockchain: a digital ledger where transactions and contracts can be securely recorded and distributed. But what has blockchain to do with the IoT, and how does one help the other? Let’s find out.

A common use case: instrumenting the supply chain

To understand the convergence points between the IoT and blockchain, it might help to take a closer look at one of blockchain’s most common use cases: the supply chain.

Let’s remind ourselves of the steps a carton of milk might take on its journey from dairy farm to table:

  1. The dairy farm: milking and initial storage
  2. Processing: transportation to a dairy processor for testing, pasteurizing and packaging
  3. Transportation: shipping in refrigerated trucks to retailers like supermarkets or convenience stores
  4. Retail: storage in a refrigerated display unit
  5. Consumption: customer purchase and consumption.

In this example, the transport of perishable food stuffs (such as milk) is regulated by specific conditions that ensure it arrives at the point of purchase safely. To keep it safe for consumption, the milk must be chilled. If it rises above a certain temperature, it could be spoiled, and unsafe to drink.

Milk is a great example of the benefits of blockchain; knowing that milk stays at the right temperature helps ensure food safety.

So how can we make sure milk stays the right temperature in transit? One option is to hire a minion to sit with it in the lorry, thermometer in hand, and ring them every ten minutes for temperature updates. Obviously, that isn’t practical. It wouldn’t be much fun for the minion, or for the person paying them, for one thing.

Luckily, the IoT provides an alternative. Lightweight, connected sensors can do both the job of data collection and transmission, and they won’t mind getting cold.

Connected sensors for data transmission

Here’s how it works:

  • Individual packages containing milk are instrumented with an IoT-enabled temperature sensor
  • The sensor stores temperature data locally and sends it via the Watson IoT Platform to the blockchain
  • The blockchain stores the temperature data, where it can be viewed by each party to the transaction

Essentially, the connected sensors collect irrefutable evidence as to how the milk has been handled at each stage in its journey. Because the sensors automatically collect and transmit data to the blockchain, there’s no chance of recording incorrect data. Instead, the information is accurate, timely, and non-partisan.

This protects each business partner by ensuring accountability. For instance, if one of the vehicles transporting the milk is inadequately refrigerated, the milk temperature will exceed recommended limits. This will be picked up by the sensor and transmitted to the blockchain. It will be immediately obvious when, where and why this happened, and who should bear the responsibility.

The video below demonstrates this clearly:

Automated contracts

Another point of convergence between the IoT and blockchain is the fulfillment of smart contracts. Business contracts stored on the blockchain could specify certain conditions that must be met. Controlled temperature might be one of these. When the data from connected temperature sensors reflects that this particular condition has been met, the blockchain can automatically record that this part of the contract has been successfully completed.

The end point: a happy customer

In the end, IoT with blockchain can help businesses keep tabs on the health of their products at every stage of their journey. That means increased trust between business partners and their customers, reduced costs due to food spoilage, and accelerated transactions. The result is a happy customer, and empowered businesses.

To learn more about blockchain, visit the IBM website for videos, tutorials, blogs and more to support you in your transformation journey.

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Cheat sheet: what is blockchain?

This guide is for anyone who has ever nodded politely at the mention of blockchain, while secretly breaking into a cold sweat and praying for a change of subject. I hear you, my friend. Here to help is a no-nonsense, no-jargon explanation of what blockchain entails and what you might use it for.

Blockchain in a nutshell

Before we start, here’s a spiel for you to memorize and regurgitate to the adulation of your friends:

“A blockchain is a highly secure way of recording transactions and contractual agreements. It’s a tamper-resistant, digital ledger, visible to all the individuals, companies, service providers or other parties involved in a business transaction.”

Got it? Good. You now know more than most people. So, let’s take some time to go a little deeper.

Blockchain 101: the basics

The first thing you need to know is this: ‘blockchain’ = ‘digital ledger’.

Once upon a time, a shop owner might record individual transactions in a paper ledger, using one line for each new record. A blockchain uses the same principle, but instead of lines in a ledger, each transaction is recorded digitally in a ‘block’, and linked to records of other transactions to form a chain.

Of course, recording individual transactions doesn’t pose much of a challenge. But what if you want to track multiple transactions, between companies or even across international borders? For example, what if you want to see and manage each step in a supply chain for dairy goods, from farm to table?

If each company or individual involved (the farmer, the processing plant, shipping company, customs official, buyer, to name just a few) keeps their own records, tracking the progress of a multi transaction agreement becomes very difficult. With blockchain, instead of these multiple records, there’s just one, and it’s accessible to everyone who needs it.

Use cases

Generally, a blockchain ledger is used in three ways; to:

  1. Record exchange of money;
  2. Document the way goods move through a supply chain;
  3. Create and store contractual agreements.

The easiest way to understand it is to look at an example, so let’s take an imaginary supply chain as our jumping off point. We’ll imagine the journey a perishable foodstuff (say milk) takes from farm to consumer. It’s something like this:

  1. The dairy farm: milking and initial storage;
  2. Processing: transportation to a dairy processor for testing, pasteurizing and packaging;
  3. Transportation: shipping in refrigerated trucks to retailers like supermarkets or convenience stores;
  4. Retail: storage in a refrigerated display unit;
  5. Consumption: customer purchase and consumption.

Already, there are any number of intermediaries involved in this supply chain, each with their own record of their part in the transaction. If the milk is being shipped abroad, the list grows even longer to include entities like customs officials and port authorities.

The difficulty with a supply chain like this one is that there isn’t a single, synchronized record of the transaction from beginning to end. And this is why we need blockchain. Blockchain is a single, synchronized, immutable record of every transaction, visible to everyone in the supply chain.

The blockchain ledger records the sequence of transactions from the beginning to the end of the supply chain. This means you can easily trace the path from the dairy farm to the consumer with super transparency and security.

Three features of blockchain: Distributed, Permissioned, and Secure

Blockchain’s three main selling points are that it is:

  1. Distributed;
  2. Permissioned;
  3. Secure.

Let’s break it down. ‘Distributed’ means that the record is shared, and cannot be controlled by any single person.

As the record is ‘Permissioned’, each participant has secure access to the record. No new record can be added without the say-so of the other participants, and no individual record (‘block’) can be deleted, period. Even a systems administrator can’t make changes to an existing block.

This makes the blockchain ‘Secure’, because records are safe from manipulation. What you get is an indisputable, audited record of information, for which all parties are accountable.

What are the advantages?

In a nutshell, blockchain is a streamlining genius. It’s a faff eliminator extraordinaire. Blockchain will:

  • Speed up all kinds of processes
  • Lower transaction costs by cutting out the middle man
  • Provide trust and security

Further resources

Now that you’re happy with the basics, you might like to explore blockchain further. Keep an eye on the blog for next week’s cheat sheet to blockchain and the IoT, which will explain how the two technologies interlink.

In the meantime, you might find these resources useful:

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The CIO’s Cheat Sheet For Digital Transformation

You didn’t sign up for this, but your company needs you—desperately.

As CIO, you figured you’d merely lead your IT department. You’d purchase equipment and create new systems. You’d implement policies and procedures around device usage. You’d protect your enterprise from dangerous cyberattacks.

But with new, groundbreaking technologies emerging every day—from the Internet of Things (IoT) to machine learning—your role within the organization has changed. In fact, it’s growing in importance. You’re expected to be more strategic. Your colleagues now view you as an influencer and change-maker. You’re looked upon to be a driving force at your enterprise—one who can successfully guide your company into the future.

The first step in making this transition from IT leader to company leader is to team up with others in the C-suite—specifically the COO—to drive digital transformation.

Increase CIO-COO collaboration and prepare your enterprise for the digital age

The precise roles and responsibilities of a COO are difficult to pin down. They often vary from company to company. But two things about the position are generally true:

  1. The COO is second in command to the chairman or CEO of an organization.
  2. The COO is tasked with ensuring a company’s operations are running at an optimal level.

In other words, the COO role is vitally important. And as technology continues to become more and more essential to a company’s short- and long-term success, it’s crucial for the COO to establish a close working relationship with the CIO. After all, the latest innovations—which today’s CIOs are responsible for adopting and managing—will unquestionably aid an organization’s operational improvements, no matter their industry.

Take manufacturing, for instance. The primary duty of a manufacturer’s COO is to create the perfect production process—one that minimizes cost and maximizes yield. To achieve this, the COO must ensure asset availability, balance efficiency with agility, and merge planning and scheduling with execution. This requires using a solution that provides real-time visibility. It involves harnessing the power of sensor data and connectivity. It encompasses capitalizing on analytics capabilities that enable businesses to be predictive rather than reactive.

And there’s one particular platform that makes all of this—and more—possible.

Experience the sheer power of IoT

In a recent white paper, Realizing IoT’s Value — Connecting Things to People and Processes, IDC referred to IoT as “a powerful disruptive platform that can enhance business processes, improve operational and overall business performance, and, more importantly, enable those innovative business models desperately needed to succeed in the digital economy.”

According to IDC research:

  • 80% of manufacturers are familiar or very familiar with the concept of IoT.
  • 70% view IoT as extremely or very important.
  • 90% have plans to invest in IoT within the next 12 to 24 months.
  • 30% already have one or more IoT initiatives in place.

So while most manufacturers appear to be on the same page about the importance and urgency of adopting IoT technology, there are stark differences in the kind of value they believe it can provide.

Nearly one-quarter (22%) of companies view IoT as tactical, meaning it can solve specific business challenges. Nearly 60%, however, see IoT as strategic. These organizations believe the technology can help them gain competitive advantages by enhancing the current products and services they provide, reducing costs, and improving productivity.

One thing all businesses can agree on is that IoT is essential to spurring enterprise-wide digital transformation—particularly as it pertains to reimagining business processes and products.

Innovate your organization’s business processes

Companies are constantly on the lookout for ways to run their operations smarter. In recent years, IoT has emerged as one of the most formidable methods for achieving this. It paves the way for increasing connectivity and business intelligence.

So what’s the endgame to all of this? Process automation.

While fully automated business processes remain a pipe dream for many companies, plenty of manufacturers are already making great strides in transforming their existing business processes with IoT.

Here are just a few ways IoT is enabling process improvements:

  • Predictive maintenance: IoT offers manufacturers real-time visibility into the condition of an asset or piece of equipment through wired or wireless sensors. By taking a proactive rather than reactive approach to maintenance, businesses can reduce asset/equipment downtown, minimize repair costs, and increase employee productivity.
  • Real-time scheduling: IoT technology empowers manufacturers to evaluate current demand and capacity availability in the moment. This allows businesses to continuously modify production schedules, resulting in higher throughput levels, lower unit costs, and greater customer satisfaction.
  • Environmental resource management and planning: IoT-enabled sensors provide manufacturers with the ability to capture and analyze energy use. By applying cognitive technology across the enterprise, companies can take the proper steps to reduce energy consumption and promote more sustainable environmental practices.

Develop and deliver innovative products

Creating smarter business processes isn’t enough for companies today. They must aspire to develop more intelligent products, too. This capability can help modern-day enterprises provide greater value to consumers, increase revenue, and separate themselves from the competition.

IoT is tailor-made for helping businesses build innovative products. With greater connectivity between organizations and goods, manufacturers can go beyond merely producing products to producing products and selling as-a-service add-ons.

Here are few ways manufacturers are creating smarter products and experiencing greater business success with IoT:

  • Remote management: IoT enables businesses to continuously monitor the health of their products. With remote management, organizations can identify problems, implement corrective actions, and increase customer satisfaction.
  • Quality feedback loop: IoT-connected products keep design and service teams loaded with useful data. Based on the information they collect, manufacturers can continue to refine products and prevent potential product recalls.
  • Product as a service: IoT technology presents organizations with myriad revenue-generating opportunities. Selling as-a-service add-ons with products allows manufacturers to take advantage of more continuous revenue streams throughout product life cycles.

Forget best practices—embrace next practices

When it comes to a company’s digital transformation, the buck stops with its CIO. After all, the CIO is responsible for adopting and managing the cutting-edge innovations that enable organizations to fuel business growth and stay competitive.

But to achieve this, CIOs need to forget about best practices and instead embrace next practices.

IDC describes next practices as “innovative processes that enable businesses to remain successful in the evolving industry landscape and at the same time prepares them for future challenges and disruptions as the scale of innovation speeds up.”

Today, there’s no better way for a company to stay innovative and competitive than by adopting game-changing IoT technology.

Want to learn more? Download the IDC whitepaper.


Internet of Things – Digitalist Magazine

Could users hack and cheat the IoT?

Will users hack & cheat the IoT?

Will we, the users, start to hack the IoT through ‘cheats’ and shared codes if we get the opportunity?

The video gaming community is well known for its proclivity to share secret codes that open up cheats and shortcuts to get fellow gamers through in-game levels and obstacles. This same mentality could, arguably, start to evidence itself in areas of technology where the IoT helps to control our lives.

A large number of hotels in North America and beyond use a standardized Honeywell air conditioning thermostat as shown above.

These same hotels have a habit of setting the room temperature maximum to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, especially as the summer season approaches. While 75 is a comfortable enough 24 degree Celsius, it’s not exactly toasty – and, given the huge drafts of super chilled air that waft down many hotel corridors, it’s often hard to get a room warm enough to sleep in.

Honeywell shortcut

Thankfully, there is a widely shared cheat to get past the Honeywell system as detailed here on BoardingArea.com

  • Hold down the “display” button
  • While holding that button, press “off”
  • Release off, continue to hold down display, and press the “up” arrow button
  • Release all buttons

Once a user carries out the above steps the heat unit can be upped to around 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which should be enough to send most of us off to the Land of Nod. This really works, by the way.

Read more: Smart home product manufacturers must target customers in different ways

When the apps come

The Honeywell unit is not IoT-controlled and does not have a corresponding ‘app’ where the user controls the room temperature via a smartphone or tablet. But this device’s next generation surely will… and we all know that to be true.

Could such hacks and cheats cause wider problems? Hotels will want to be able to use big data analytics to manage every aspect of their ambient environments for control and cost purposes – so what happens if the users (in this case, guests) start over-riding those policies and processes?

Global director for critical systems security at Synopsys Mike Ahmadi spoke to Internet of Business this week about this story. He said that the biggest issue with users being able to override controls could be the potentially cascading tangential effects of doing so.

“If we extend the example here to a scenario where the temperature is controlled by a web-facing application, this opens the potential to allow for a global override, where changes are applied to all devices in the same manner,” said Ahmadi.

As a company that works to produce security controls for IoT devices, autonomous cars, wearables, smart medical devices and secure financial services, Synopsys has an arguably useful view to share here. The company advises that that in sensor-based networks, the sensor used for one system often provides another system with information it uses to make other changes… and this gets passed on.

Cascading knock-on effect

“A user changing one system can cascade into a larger global system of changes. Another issue may be that a user might be able to access central building management systems that control all temperature environments, including refrigerators and freezers. The user may be able to control freezers and inadvertently (or maybe purposely) raise the temperature causing all items to thaw,” postulated Ahmadi.

The end result here (in a worst-case scenario) could lead to food poisoning if everything is thawed and then re-frozen before a hospitality company is aware.

Free mini-bars, here’s how

Fuelled by his colleague’s comments, Synopsys manager for security solutions Adam Brown also spoke to Internet of Business on IoT hacks and cheats. Brown notes that, in their early days, it was relatively easy to bypass the pay-per-view system and watch hotel movies for free.

“Further still, there are other tricks such as using the TV’s online room service commands to unlock the mini bar, or set it as  re-stocked. Given that refurbishments are usually on a six- to seven-year cycle at top hotels (and a lot longer on very large or lower end ones), hotels can be a bit behind when it comes to security,” said Brown.

An attack at the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt reported in January this year saw the hotel ransomed by hackers who locked all guests out of their rooms. The truth is, hackers don’t even need to be in the hotels, or even on the hotel’s Wi-Fi, in order to pull these stunts, if hotel systems are controlled by internet-connected services.

NOTE: Speaking from personal experience, a heating engineer actually showed me this trick five years ago now… the fact that this information now exists on the Internet is kind of inevitable. You thought you were turning up the heating system, but you end up giving 300 people food poisoning. It hasn’t happened yet. But it could.

Read more: Flexibility will be key to dominating the smart home market

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