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New Microsoft IoT service makes physical spaces virtual

Technology News |
By Rich Pell

The Azure Digital Twins platform is designed for “comprehensive digital models and spatially aware solutions” that can be applied to any physical environment. Users can now query data in the context of a space — rather than from disparate sensors — empowering them to build repeatable, scalable experiences that correlate data from digital sources and the physical world, the company says.

“For years now, our partners and customers have been using the Azure Internet of Things (IoT) platform to create breakthrough applications for a wide variety of industries,” says Bert Van Hoof – Partner Group Program Manager, Azure IoT. “Along this journey, we’ve learned that most digital transformation efforts benefit from context about the physical world. As a result, organizations are showing a growing appetite for solutions that provide a deeper understanding of the sophisticated interactions between people, places, and things.”

The new service is designed around the concept of the “digital twin” — a virtual representation of a physical environment that brings in data from a variety of sources. While digital twins have traditionally been used for industrial equipment, says the company, the concept of a digital twin is also broadly applicable to modeling “all the ways we live and work in our physical environment.”

Modeling the complex interactions and “high-value intersections” between people, places, and things, says the company, “is unlocking new opportunities, creating new efficiencies, and improving public and private spaces.” Developed as part of the Azure IoT platform, the new service is aimed at enabling environments of all types — including offices, schools, hospitals, banks, stadiums, warehouses, factories, parking lots, streets, intersections, parks, plazas, and more — to become smarter spaces.

“Most IoT projects today start from a things-centric approach, but we’ve flipped that around,” says Van Hoof. “We’ve found that customers realize huge benefits by first modeling the physical environment and then connecting (existing or new) devices to that model. Customers gain new spatial intelligence capabilities and new insights into how spaces and infrastructure are really used.”

The platform features a number of capabilities:

  • Spatial intelligence graph – an actual virtual representation of a physical environment that models the relationships among people, places, and devices. This includes blob storage — the ability to attach and store maps, documents, manuals, pictures, etc. as metadata to the spaces, people, and devices represented in the graph.
  • Twin object models – pre-defined schema and device protocols that align to a solution’s domain-specific needs to accelerate and simplify their creation. These benefits can apply to any interior or exterior space, as well as to infrastructure or even entire cities.
  • Advanced compute capabilities – allows users to design functions that generate notifications or events based on telemetry from devices and sensors.
  • Data isolation via multi- and nested-tenancy capabilities – lets users build solutions that scale and securely replicate across multiple tenants and sub-tenants by leveraging built-in multi- and nested-tenancy capabilities to ensure data is isolated.
  • Security through access control and Azure Active Directory (AAD) – Role-Based Access Control and Azure Active Directory serve as automated gatekeepers for people or devices, specifying what actions are allowed—and helping to ensure security, data privacy, and compliance.
  • Integration with Microsoft services – lets customers and partners build out their solution by connecting Azure Digital Twins to the broader set of Azure analytics, AI, and storage services, as well as Azure Maps, Azure High-Performance Computing, Microsoft Mixed Reality, Dynamics 365, and Office 365.

Along with the announcement, the company also offered examples of how the service is already being used by its customers and partners from a wide range of industries. The example applications include design, build, and operations; building energy management; space utilization and workplace design; occupant experiences; building exterior; and infrastructure.

Azure Digital Twins will be publicly available for customers to begin building solutions on October 15th.

Azure Digital Twins

Related articles:
Microsoft to invest $5B in IoT
Simulation software lets users easily build, validate digital twins
Swim.AI, Itron team on smart cities, IoT


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