With accelerated digitalization across the globe, digital twin technology has become an intensely dynamic field as many companies continue to innovate.
According to Accenture, this trend is expected to pick up pace as 87% of executives agree that digital twins are becoming essential to their organization’s ability to collaborate in strategic ecosystem partnerships.
By bridging an organization’s physical operations and digital capabilities, digital twins unveil data that was previously inaccessible – to empower enterprises to completely overhaul their existing processes.
Unsurprisingly, the level of undertaking required to adopt this technology is massive, and that difficulty is raised multi-fold when the physical assets aren’t static – for instance, in a sports race that spans 3,400km across multiple terrains.
Last year, NTT delivered a digital twin of the Tour de France for the first time by leveraging IoT and edge computing technologies to form the world’s largest connected stadium. This year, the digital twin is back bigger than ever, with NTT leveraging 3G gaming and the metaverse to visualize and present a virtual double of the race.
DigiconAsia interviewed Peter Gray, Senior Vice President, Advanced Technology Group: Sport, NTT for insights into this innovative project.
NTT has been instrumental in revolutionizing sports technology and fan experience, especially showcased at the Tokyo Olympics amid a pandemic. How is NTT looking to further advancing the sports industry with digital twins in the metaverse?
Gray: We’re changing the sports experience. Through innovation, we’re transforming some of the world’s most iconic sporting experiences – from Tour de France to Major League Baseball and The Open golf championship.
With our technology, solutions and capabilities we’re creating new fan experiences, giving teams and athletes game-changing insights, and helping sports organizations compete in the digital world:
- Innovative fan experiencesWe bring sports fans closer to their heroes and the action – whether from home, online, or in the stadiums of the future.
- Game-changing insights: Through infrastructure, advanced analytics, robotics and AI, we generate deeper insights into sports strategy, tactics and decision-making.
- Digital transformation: We use technology to transform how sports organizations plan, operate, make decisions, and compete in the digital world.
NTT will deliver a host of new and enhanced digital experiences to engage fans around the world, including:
- Personalized geo-targeted content on the roadside: This year, NTT will offer new location-based content to bring the history of the race to life from iconic and popular locations along the route of the Tour de France.
- The Digital Human: NTT has developed an interactive kiosk featuring an AI-generated realistic human avatar, which is trained on the relevant race and tourist information. This technology will be deployed at the official fan store at the Grand Depart in Copenhagen and also in NTT’s Technical Truck at the end of every stage.
- An enhanced 3D digital twin: Last year, NTT created a digital twin of the event which enabled operations staff to gain real time visibility and ultimately streamline operations to ensure the continuity and resilience of the race. This year, the technology has been improved to be more connected to provide smarter event operations, enabling quicker, more informed decisions in a highly complex and ever-changing environment.
- Strava partnership: NTT’s live storytelling channel, @letourdata, in collaboration with Strava, will be bringing real-time comparisons between amateurs, pros, and King of the Mountain (or fastest known times) to social media and to be broadcasted during the race.
What’s your perspective of the development of the metaverse? What are the key elements making the metaverse a viable reality for businesses and consumers alike, and the security and privacy concerns that need to be addressed in a virtual 3D world we live, learn, play, work and transact in?
Gray: The concept of the metaverse is still evolving, and is likely to do so for some time, however there are benefits for organizations to begin working with some of the underpinning concepts and technologies.
While NTT is currently developing proofs of concept in various formats such as augmented reality and virtual reality applications across regions, the broader concept of metaverse entails a fully immersive virtual environment, replicating reality through digital devices. Globally, NTT’s projects, such as the NTT Tech Truck at Tour de France, that rely on metaverse foundational technologies can be further utilized in retail, entertainment, and sports sectors, among others.
In the case of the upcoming Tour de France, NTT utilizes certain building technological pillars of the metaverse – which includes spatial computing, gaming, shared experiences, virtual spaces, and digital humans – to formulate a bigger and better digital twin of the race.
These technologies provide functions in wider applications such as:
- Spatial computing – utilizing of technology such as AR glasses to support functions such as real-time shopping recommendations at brick-and-mortar locations.
- Gaming – creating of EHS focused multiplayer simulation, decreasing of safety incidents at workplaces.
- Shared experiences – improving workflows, employee connectivity, collaboration and engagement.
- Virtual spaces – hosting live events virtually to increase things such as event participation/participants. Last year, NTT created a digital twin of the event which enabled operations staff to gain real time visibility and ultimately streamline operations to ensure the continuity and resilience of the race. This year, the technology has been improved to be more connected to provide smarter event operations, enabling quicker, more informed decisions in a highly complex and ever-changing environment.
- Digital humans – deploying of digital human as customer service representative, improving net promoter scores. For Tour de France, NTT developed an interactive kiosk featuring an AI-generated realistic human avatar, which is trained on the relevant race and tourist information. This technology will be deployed at the official fan store at the Grand Depart in Copenhagen and in NTT’s Technical Truck at the end of every stage.
What are the key applications of digital twin technology? What challenges do organizations face in leveraging digital twins, and what are the likely solutions and best practices for a smoother implementation?
Gray: Digital twins empower businesses to make data-driven decisions by leveraging the holistic insights that the technology offer into the system and their ability to simulate real and fictitious scenarios.
The technology enhances an organization’s ability to adapt quickly and safely to any business circumstances. By testing new ideas and changes virtually, before making a decision in the real system, it minimizes risks, time and costs for the company.
While much of the talk centers around digitizing touchpoints in the physical world, the same applies to digital interactions. More data around customer interactions can enable a more focused approach to marketing and customer segmentation, key elements in optimizing each engagement to drive a better customer experience.
The digital twin of the TdF race offers NTT and ASO a real-time, data-driven, digital view of the race to enable organizers, partners and teams to make quicker, more informed decisions about race operations to ultimately provide a better fan experience.
Similar to TdF, it is key that organizations looking to deploy digital twins need to digitize enough touchpoints. Once that is achieved, companies will start seeing a more complete vision of their organization, enabling them to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to find patterns and correlations. These are critical in highlighting innovation opportunities for companies.
Digitizing every touchpoint across an organization isn’t something that can be accomplished overnight. And for anyone looking to move further along the path, there are some key areas that should be considered:
- Use every opportunity to capture data about business processes and customers
Even if you’re just starting on your journey, the data you collect today will form the foundation of the future data-driven organization. Intelligence, driven by AI and ML systems, relies on large amounts of historical data, so your efforts today will pay dividends in better insights later. For the Tour de France, we leverage data from seven years of race results to improve the predictions that our NTT Predictor can provide, allowing it to improve every year.
Look at relevant external data
No organization operates in a vacuum. Understanding what external factors can impact on your business allows you to start incorporating the collection of this information early on. For the organizers of the Tour de France, weather data is critically important as it will impact the speed of the race as well as overall safety. Incorporating this into the digital twin model enables them to make decisions quickly, decisions that might prevent serious consequences later on.
Don’t try to do this on your own
Creating the appropriate level of digital visibility isn’t something that any organization can do on its own. The level of expertise required across IoT, networking, cloud and security means that multiple levels of specialist skills are needed and with such a rapidly evolving field, staying abreast of the latest technologies while focusing on your business objectives is extremely challenging.