Digital Twins for Supporting AI Research with Autonomous Vehicle Networks


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Digital twins (DTs), which are virtual environments that simulate, predict, and optimize the performance of their physical counterparts, are envisioned to be essential technologies for advancing next-generation wireless networks. While DTs have been studied extensively for wireless networks, their use in conjunction with autonomous vehicles with programmable mobility remains relatively under-explored. In this paper, we study DTs used as a development environment to design, deploy, and test artificial intelligence (AI) techniques that use real-time observations, e.g. radio key performance indicators, for vehicle trajectory and network optimization decisions in an autonomous vehicle networks (AVN). We first compare and contrast the use of simulation, digital twin (software in the loop (SITL)), sandbox (hardware-in-the-loop (HITL)), and physical testbed environments for their suitability in developing and testing AI algorithms for AVNs. We then review various representative use cases of DTs for AVN scenarios. Finally, we provide an example from the NSF AERPAW platform where a DT is used to develop and test AI-aided solutions for autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles for localizing a signal source based solely on link quality measurements. Our results in the physical testbed show that SITL DTs, when supplemented with data from real-world (RW) measurements and simulations, can serve as an ideal environment for developing and testing innovative AI solutions for AVNs.
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