SolidWorks World: Human Space Flight and Autonomous Flying Robots

January 25, 2013

SolidWorks always puts on a great show. I just got back from SolidWorks World where I was able to go to a number of technical sessions, and understand how CAD design can better complement finite-element analysis. We had a booth there, and it was great to meet a few COMSOL users, who like to use SolidWorks® and COMSOL Multiphysics together via LiveLink™ for SolidWorks®. I also got to meet potential customers-to-be. In typical SolidWorks World fashion, I and the other 4,500 attendees were treated to a great keynote presentation.

Safety is Key for Human Space Flight

This year’s keynote came from the guys who provided a lot of the design and analysis work for Felix Baumgartner (the skydiver who jumped from the edge of space and broke the sound barrier while in free-fall). Two guys from Sage Cheshire Aerospace were interviewed on the stage. They talked about some of the design challenges they faced for putting Baumgartner onto the edge of space and have him return safely. This concerned the module that he jumped from, the balloon that took the module up there, and the suit that he had to wear to keep him adequately pressurized. For one of them it was a five-year project of design work, but necessary to ensure safety. The resulting module is soon to be placed in the main hall of the Smithsonian Institute.

Making Robots Think

On the second day, Vijay Kumar from the University of Pennsylvania presented his flying mini-robots. These are basically small robot helicopters where rotors are placed on the four corners of a square-like framework. Design is important, particularly to reduce weight, as they fly on the limited power resources provided by batteries. Kumar was not afraid to show the design audience the math that goes into controlling these mini-robots that are basically semi-autonomous with their decisions on where and how to fly. A 12D mathematical problem is reduced to a 4D mathematical problem, which provides quick computational decisions on how to keep away from other objects, and to decide on when to pitch, yaw, and hover. For the geeks out there, a more detailed description of what’s involved was produced for a TED talk.

SolidWorks World, It’s all in the Preparation

While it’s easy to entertain an audience of engineers with space and robots, both keynotes were very clear with stressing the need for good and meticulous design and analysis before building and deploying your application. Doing the heavy thinking before doing the heavy lifting is becoming more and more important these days.

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