What PLM technology can connect virtual and physical worlds?

We live in a physical world. Everything in this world seems to be created in a parallel, virtual space. This space is in our heads, in the computer systems we use to design this physical world, and in the global enterprise systems that manufacture, support, and dispose things in this physical world. Certainly, there is a connection between these worlds that we can discover and use. But how? I’m sure this is a long journey. In this post, I will think out loud about some possible technologies that are available or emerging today to help us to establish this connection.

Practically, to create links we need to establish two elements of connection – (1) stable identification system; (2) technology for keeping the identification of this information.

Identification system

Probably the best resource identification system today is the URI based system from which the Internet was founded. There is some interesting research that I found in the area of creation of persistent unified resource locators (PURL). Such a system can be potentially adopted to indentify virtual objects. This system eventually can be used to enhance identification of today’s virtual models created with CAD/PDM/PLM and other manufacturing systems. On the physical side, technologies like RFID cards, QR (Quick Response) codes and smartcards can be the most common.

 Proxy objects

These identification technologies can be connected together by proxy objects. Information on the virtual side can be organized in the various cloud services and locations as an organized network of virtual objects describing everything that has been designed, manufactured and has existed. Now, on the physical side, various technologies (cameras, RFID readers etc) can be used to scan information from physical devices. What is missing is a sufficient amount of cloud services that will allow us to store and keep track of this information online.

 This idea is a little futuristic, but considering some of the products already available, I can see that some already show ideas and prototypes for this futuristic future.  For example, an idea is the ability of created physical objects to react to their environment, –  is something I may be expand upon in  future posts.

 Below are some examples of existing development and applications that inspired me in writing this post.

 When Blobjects Rule the Earth


(Bruce Sterling, SIGGRAPH 2004, August 2004.) Bruce Sterling’s speech at SIGGRAPH 2004 describes a vision of objects that are con­nected to information related to their design, creation, and use; end-user reviews, ideas, and improvements; and where they are at all times.

 UWTeam Researches a Future Filled with RFIDChips


(Kristi Heim, The Seattle Times, 31 March 2008.) Researchers at the University of Washington are exploring the positive and negative aspects of using RFID tags to track the movements of people in a social setting — by tracking them­selves.

 Home-Based Health Platform


Researchers at the University of Florida are developing an ambient system to measure a person’s vital signs as he or she enters the house, transmitting the information to family or doctors, as a way of monitoring at-risk individuals or the elderly.

 And one more… The book (Shaping Things) by Bruce Sterling influenced me to  think differently about the  world in which we design, manufacture and live today. While Bruce is indeed a futuristic writer, a lot of good ideas in this world originated in futuristic writing. I hope you will enjoy the following interview with Bruce about his concept of SPIMES- virtual and physical objects:  


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