AirTags (2/3). 5 Use Cases Beyond Lost & Found

Concept Design for Apple's AirTag

In the last blog post we discussed how the concept underlying Apple’s upcoming AirTag is much more powerful than the actual product itself. This is why we believe that the AirTag’s initial use case of retrieving consumer items is only the tip of the iceberg. The true value creation will take place in the B2B space. So below is a list of 5 use cases that the digital twin will enable.

1. Increasing supply chain visibility and avoiding disruption

Loosing keys and other personal items is irritating and Apple’s AirTag are a great solution to this. However, most of the time we find the lost item in the confined spaces of our home. If not, loosing these items have at least limited financial impact. In contrast, lost items in a corporate setting are harder to retrieve and by far more costly. An article from 2016 mentions that one in three companies suffers losses of more than $1 million every year from supply chain disruptions. One of the top reasons given for disruptions is the loss of supply chain visibility. Corporate supply chains do not only expand beyond a single company, but often beyond multiple locations of a single company. The area size in which items get lost is larger by an order of magnitude. Manual search for items is impossible. Here the concept of the Digital Twin can add great value to retrieve missing items. The different form factors for tags available today enable the tracking of small to large items.

2. Live overview of human resources, equipment & locations

Given the pandemic in 2020 anybody can imagine overrun ER departments trying to help as many as possible during a crisis. Such situations require tools and technology to cut through the chaos. Digital Twin technologies can play a vital role in establishing a live overview of human resources, equipment and locations to then aide in allocating them in the most efficient manner. The use of live digital dashboards can be expanded to any complex process involving humans, equipment and location, for example manufacturing, warehouse management or luggage handling at airports.

3. Rule-based robotic process flows

With advancements in robotics, we expect a future in which robots and humans work hand in hand. The most advanced and hence, expensive robotic technologies will most likely rely on computer vision. However, cheaper robots can rely on proximity-based technologies enabled by the Digital Twin. Given the connection to another human, object or location via a tag or built-in BLE capability, certain work processes and instructions can be unlocked for the robot. For example, a robot is carrying luggage following a hotel guest equipped with a tag that is simultaneously a room key card. As soon as the guest reaches his assigned room and a triangular connection is established between the room, key card and robot via tags, the robot drops the luggage and returns to the lobby. In addition to the execution of such rule-based process flows, the Digital Twin technology will be used to develop such systems. Live dashboards as mentioned in the previous use cases will be used to verify and monitor the functioning of the rule-based process flows.  

4. Processes Optimization

Probably the most powerful application of the Digital Twin technology is its ability to replay the past. We can now analyze interactions between humans, objects and locations over time. This allows for manual- and, more importantly, ML/AI-driven process optimization. For example, productivity can be improved by analysing and optimizing human and equipment workflows. In addition, having process data in digital form allows it to be integrated with other IT (e.g. ERP and work orders) or operational data (e.g. time series and events). This enables next-level enrichment of process data and optimization, as well as the creation of predictive process models/scenarios.

5. Pandemic Response

Covid-19 while being a devastating global pandemic with a total of 106M cases and 2.4M deaths as of this article’s publication date, is fortunately not the deadliest pandemic mankind has experienced. The 2.2% death rate is no comparison to, for example, Ebola’s 25-90% fatality rate. However, Ebola spreads slower than Covid-19 since the victims fall sick immediately preventing them from interacting with other humans or surfaces. If humanity ever faces a virus with the fatality rate of Ebola and the reproduction capability of Covid-19, debates over contact tracing technologies would be short-lived. The Digital Twin would be able to capture and trace any interaction between a positive case, objects and locations within minutes. This would be highly effective in building sanitation plans and preventing mass deaths.

These are some of the use cases we have been thinking about. However, many more will still be developed as the technology matures. If you have any other interesting use cases, let us know in the comments section on Medium!


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