Digital Twinning in the Metaverse

April 13th 1970: The Apollo 13 spacecraft is 220,000 kilometres from Earth when an explosion rocks the crew and tears off one of the two oxygen tanks from the spacecraft. The blast destroyed one side of the transport, not only removing the oxygen supply from the crew but also water and some electrical systems. This disaster echoed across the world as astronaut Jack Swigert radioed to NASA control, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

NASA capsule

From that moment, engineers and scientists at NASA rushed to put their heads together to find a solution to Apollo’s problem. The engineers needed to solve the issue using what the Apollo crew would have to hand, but crucially, without physically seeing the damage firsthand. In the end, the fix was simple; NASA instructed the crew to use cardboard, plastic bags and tape to patch up the craft enough to get them home.

There’s not much NASA could have done at the time to foresee the issue; building several spacecraft to stress test every possible outcome would have burned through budgets swiftly. When the Apollo 13 disaster occurred, NASA engineers could no longer rely on their original designs, as the craft had failed due to an unforeseen hostile environment. The crew in Houston needed a model on Earth that directly mirrored the craft in space.

The Digital Twin

In 2002, NASA coined the term ‘digital twin’, though the original concept is a little older. A digital twin can be described as ‘a digital copy of a physical object: mechanism, building or concept based in reality’. For example, a car manufacturer may create a digital twin of their main assembly plant and use it to implement new safety protocols or install new machinery, by first trying it within a digital safe zone.

Healthcare professionals can use digital twinning to simulate rare illnesses and practice care first hand – albeit digitally – and learn the correct techniques. Planning departments in government can replicate dense population areas of cities to see how new infrastructure will impact the city and society. Environmentalists are simulating extremes of climate change on digital twins based on rainforests and oceans.

A digital twin is a living model of something physical, which, to metaverse aspirers will sound familiar. Digital twins are becoming much more popular and with the advent of more immersive technology – Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) – the concept of digital twinning is becoming more mainstream. Not only that, but it points to where the metaverse can aid industry and where digital twinning can benefit from creating the metaverse.

The Impact

To fully realise a digital twin of a location or person, sensors can be placed in the physical space to gauge temperature, humidity, footfall traffic, heart rate, etc. This data is then sent to the digital twin to be replicated and be shown in almost real-time within a 3D metaverse-style space.

The opportunities for this technology are vast and far-reaching and while the positives can be seen, there must be a balance in data use. Any sensors and personal data being beamed back and forth to digital twins must be heavily encrypted and safeguarded. Landmarks and buildings would likely contain blueprints and maps on the interiors and any personal data relating to users must be made safe.

The idea of constant monitoring may be off-putting for some, given the decentralised nature of the metaverse. If the metaverse is to be hosted by millions of users across a blockchain network such as Bitcoin or Etherium, it would make the data much harder to hack, given the security of the ledger technology. Whereas a centralised server hosting this information may be more liable to attack.

Metaverse Possibilities.

Where digital twinning can be used within the metaverse is in representing aspects of reality that cannot be accessed by all. When we imagine the metaverse, we often do so by picturing fantastical and grandiose buildings or processes. In theory, the metaverse could host a shopping district where brands might create a neon-soaked, futuristic 3D building to house their products, or they may use a digital twin of their store from London, Milan or New York.

This theory can be applied to famous landmarks and buildings also. You might think to yourself “why would we need a metaverse version of Buckingham Palace or the White House?” There’s a great benefit of being able to step into these 3D realised locations when physical travel isn’t possible due to economic, geographical or even cultural limitations. These buildings and the people who operate within them can be studied in a whole new light.

Ultimately, there are many educational reasons for these landmarks to be created within a VR metaverse; digital visitors can observe and learn about everything from business management to architecture, particularly if these are ‘living, breathing’ twins full of sensor data, which show a wealth of information.

If we look at our above example of a fashion house hosting a storefront in the metaverse, we could see sensors or transaction data change the contents of the metaverse shop’s shelves and rails to reflect the demand in the real-world store.

Of course, this can work in reverse also. Shopping trends within the metaverse can adjust stock levels in the real world store, ordering the most popular products to be stocked in reality; people stopping in front of an exhibit in a metaverse museum may cause curators to move the exhibit in the real world to an area with higher footfall traffic. Metaverse members could even stress test an environment digitally to aid in real-world planning development.

Digital twinning within the fashion sector is already starting to grow with consumers able to purchase digital accessories paired with a physical item; in March 2021 RTFKT facilitated a sale of a pair of NFT sneakers designed by FEWOCiOUS. Potential buyers were able to virtually try on the sneakers using AR technology and the eventual buyer bagged the NFT kicks as well as a pair in reality also.

New Realities

In 2018 Microsoft and Mojang partnered with Great Ormond Street charity to build the famed London hospital within Minecraft. The purpose was to allow children who would become patients to explore the building and become more comfortable with the surroundings before attending an appointment in person. Digital twinning can use more graphically sophisticated software to do similar things, but maybe it’s not a hospital, maybe it’s a wildlife sanctuary for a post-pandemic school field trip or a trip to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of Apollo 13.

These examples are great on a 2D desktop or TV display, but they become a more immersive experience when using Mixed Reality (MR). Where digital twins are used already, they benefit greatly from the use of AR or VR technology. VR allows for that immersion; walking through the hallowed halls of an ancient castle or exploring a virtual shopping centre due to be built physically in your neighbourhood.

Augmented Reality, on the other hand, still utilises the reality around us, rather than blocking out the natural world. So, to reach back to our previous examples, you might be walking those hallowed halls, but instead, use a tablet or your smartphone to see a digital overlay delivering information or dramatic reenactments. Or, for those in particular industries, such as retail or construction, the 3D shopping centre, constructed from planning permission blueprints can help those to realise a new vision by swiping through digital layers of construction.

Within the metaverse, whole buildings can be constructed and filled with digital twinning tools to fully allow remote training for new jobs or treating rare health problems. And this is all done within a digital environment, meaning fewer financial losses and the full safety of users. In the metaverse, anything can be tried. 

Have you seen the movie Soul, by Pixar? In that film, a potential Earthbound soul tries many different careers and pastimes to find her ‘spark’ or ‘passion’ on which her life will hang. What’s to say we won’t be able to wander the halls of potential careers, try them out and then pursue them? Or learn something new about ourselves which will change our lives for the better?

Jargon Busting the Metaverse: What the Heck Does it All Mean?

The metaverse might be the buzzword on every tech-savvy person’s lips but even for the most well informed some of the developing lingoes can be difficult to keep up with or understand. This stems from companies creating their own terminology as new technology is born, creating a landscape both confusing and richly rewarding if you know how to navigate it. Breaking down some of the mystique, here are some of the most commonly used terms.


So let’s start with the main culprit, where the hell has the metaverse come from? And why gamers to CEO’s are getting giddy for the term. The name was coined back in the ‘90s by writer Neal Stephenson in his novel Snow Crash, combining “meta” – the ancient Greek for ‘Beyond’ – and “universe”, to describe a virtual world where people interact. More recently the term became better-known thanks to Ernest Cline’s book Ready Player One – which Steven Spielberg turned into a movie.

So essentially a metaverse is any digital realm, one where you can hang out, connect with or make new friends, work if you so wish, watch a movie or play a videogame. There are no limits other than the rules and tools a platform creator wants users to stick to. A lot of worlds marketing themselves as metaverse platforms will allow creators to build their own mini-worlds within worlds, whilst backend systems ensure people feel safe and secure – a huge priority within the community.

All of that might sound straightforward, envisioning these numerous platforms and their digital worlds. However, when bigwigs like Facebook’s – now Meta – Mark Zuckerberg and Epic Games’ Tim Sweeny talk about the metaverse the scope is far larger, a new version of the internet where everyone can have experience not possible on a flat-screen via an app or browser.


That means interacting with these digital worlds in new ways, namely virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), all bundled under the XR (eXtended Reality) abbreviation. Quite often XR – or one of its contributors – get bundled into the jargon and hype either too often or in entirely the wrong fashion. There are platforms such as Decentraland which are by definition a metaverse, you can build, buy and sell digital items, enjoy events and more. Yet quite often they’ll be mentioned alongside VR when they don’t actually support the technology – it is on Decentraland’s roadmap – it’s just assumed they’re “VR compatible”.

The difference is like day and night, and one of the main reasons why it can be confusing. Putting on a head-mounted display (HMD) – as they used to be called – transports you into a metaverse in a way a flat monitor or phone can’t. You’re surrounded by it, can step into in, grab items in it and in some cases even walk through it. That creates what many in the industry call a feeling of “presence” where you almost forget that you’re actually in your living room.

There are platforms that bridge the two, Rec Room for example started as a VR-only app, broadening its scope by launching on numerous devices including iOS and Android.

Oculus Quest 2 player

Web 3.0

Web 3.0 is one term you’re going to hear a lot about in 2022. What happened to Web1 and Web 2 you may ask? Well, these were previous evolutions of the internet. We’re currently in Web2 which is dominated by tech companies like Google and Facebook. In the Web3 era, tech evangelists envision a future that’s no longer dominated by tech giants, where regular users have more control of their online existence, can earn money through investments, buy digital content such as virtual land and so much more. This is where blockchain, cryptocurrencies, NFTs and so much more come into play.


When delving into blockchain the technology can seem incredibly complex – and it is. But it’s also part of the foundation of Web3. Simply put, you can think of blockchain as a public database that contains the history of every crypto transaction. This is the central nervous system of the entire crypto world and once the transaction has taken place and the data is written, it can’t be undone. Most importantly, blockchains are decentralised. So unlike the banking system which is centralised – owned by select organisations – this decentralised system means that no one particular entity controls it.  


Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, Litecoin and a gazillion more, are all virtual currencies that can be used to buy and sell in individual metaverses rather than traditional currencies like the Dollar, Pound or Euro for example. While you may have already heard of Bitcoin – El Salvador recently made it an official currency – Ethereum is favoured by platforms like Somnium Space and is typically used for NFT transactions. You’ll need an online crypto wallet to store your currency with metaverses like Decentraland helping you set one up to get the most out of their platforms.



One of the very latest buzzwords when it comes to digital investments, Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are digital assets that can be bought and sold on the blockchain. Think of NFTs as individual, original collectables that contain metadata linking their content to the buyer, all within the blockchain. And like any other collectable you can then sell it on marketplaces like Opensea and hopefully turn a profit.

There is money to be made if you’re smart and fast enough. Artists, in particular, have embraced NFTs, being able to sell digital copies of their works with one of the most widely known NFTs to come to public attention being Everydays: The First 5000 Days. Created by an artist called Beeple, this particular piece sold for $69.3 million USD! And then there are collections like CryptoPunks with individual images selling for a few million apiece.

Digital Twinning

Fairly self-explanatory in comparison to the rest of the list, Digital Twinning is all about creating a digital twin of something real. That could be a building, location or an object for example, obviously having massive potential in the metaverse when it comes to entertainment, education and training.

Teachers could take a class on a virtual field trip that’s physically not possible, colleagues could sit in a virtual recreation of their actual office or you could step inside the latest hypercar, the possibilities are endless.


This stands for Decentralised Finance where you don’t need to rely upon traditional financial systems like banks or brokerages. Another intrinsically linked to blockchain and crypto.

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