One of the greatest pleasures of my job is meeting users and learning first hand of their achievements (hopefully with our products). Last week was a particularly eventful week and a distinct highlight was a visit our friends at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in Montréal.
Every kid who dreams of becoming an engineer probably has thought romantically about space at one time or another. At least for me, growing up with Apollo lunar missions and Skylab, space exploration defined engineering. So any time I get a chance to meet with real rocket scientists about Maplesoft matters, I get a double thrill. First, it’s about space, and second it’s about how our technology has played a key role in modern space exploration. The most prominent examples are the various space robots designed by the CSA for both the Space Station and shuttle missions. The famed Candadarms I and II and more recently, DEXTRE, are some of the most complex robots the world has ever produced and the models required to simulate these systems were generated with Maple-driven software produced by the CSA (see [CSA User Story]).
By now, you’ve probably been suitably bathed in the first generation of product info on MapleSim – automatic model equation generation, high performance multidomain simulations, and advanced multibody dynamics applications, etc. Prior to the introduction of the MapleSim concept were various engineering groups exploring these advanced modeling concepts on their own and the CSA was arguably the most active users of Maple in this sense.
Long before the days of rich GUI environments and push button simulation of MapleSim, CSA engineers programmed an impressive set of custom tools in Maple to generate highly complex models of space arms that included dozens of degrees of freedom – a task that was basically impossible to do by hand or with whatever software was then available. But with some imagination and a solid command of the capabilities of the Maple system, they were able to get the job done and in the end delivered a critical component that ensured the success of so many manned space missions.
For me, the success of the CSA with Maple technology is more than an interesting user story though. It’s really about validation of new engineering and scientific ideas. About 15 years ago I had the pleasure of meeting one of the current senior managers within CSA at a meeting on applications of Maple in engineering. I recall the very spirited chats I had with him on these fancy notions of automatically deriving equations of motion for physical systems but at the time the thought of such techniques scaling beyond the idealized contexts of academic examples seemed like science fiction. But in this case, reality did catch up to art and our CSA colleagues literally went to heaven and back with these techniques.
Today, MapleSim represents the leading front of modeling science but it’s heartening to know that a lot of the more innovative elements have been built on a fairly long history of precedent applications and techniques pioneered for and by real engineers and scientists. A lot of our visit to the CSA centered on the modeling needs for very ambitious upcoming missions such as the return to the Moon or missions to Mars. This time though, it felt a lot better as we’re now working from a pretty solid foundation of dedicated modeling technology … so now it’s on to figuring out how to model warp drives, teleporters, and holodecks.