How multiverse simulation can speed up innovation

When it comes to research and development for new products, time matters. And multiverse simulations can shave off years from start to final product. Just ask the military.

Apparently, during the pandemic, I spent so much time-consuming digital content, I stopped reading print magazines. Last weekend I tried to catch up on reading my Popular Mechanics magazines — from 2021 — and one article blew my mind a bit. The story, “How the Air Force Secretly Designed and Flew a New Fighter in a Year” (here's another piece on the topic from DefenseNews), described how simulations helped designers go from concept to viable, finished product in a fraction of the time it once took to conceive, model, build, test, re-test and then risk death as pilots worked the bugs out of the design.

In simulation, you can safely crash the jet an unlimited number of times with no lives lost and deliver a product that, even in its initial prototype form, is likely far safer to fly than many production aircraft. This was with technology that’s now two years old in a segment we now loosely call the metaverse — and it’s advancing incredibly quickly. It suggests that the time needed to design and build almost any product is being massively compressed.

Let’s talk about how simulation increases the speed of innovation. 

The Omniverse

The platform I’m most familiar with that’s in heavy use for simulation is Nvidia’s Omniverse (Nvidia is a client). Nvidia shared the development of this platform at its last event, and it’s been so successful that every major car company is using it to create autonomous cars. While not every car company is using Nvidia’s full hardware stack, I expect some will regret not doing so. Saving a few bucks on a critical safety system tends to end badly. If it results in the loss of a human life, it implies the firm valued a few dollars of savings over someone’s life. I(f a jury buys this argument, the related judgements and settlements tend to set records.) 

Before the arrival of the Omniverse, we were largely talking about autonomous cars around 2030. But several car companies, including Jaguar and GM, have now indicated they’ll have commercial Level 4 systems in market in the 2025-26 timeframe. 

This is a major improvement in the timeline. When you consider Level 5 autonomous cars are likely to be restricted by regulatory approvals, not technology, it may have had an even bigger impact on the autonomous car time-to-market than we anticipate.

Why time-to-market matters

When I first went into competitive analysis, I studied the Ford/GM response to Japanese cars in the 1960s: the Pinto and the Vega (from Ford and GM, respectively). Both would have been very competitive with Japanese makes in the late 1960s but weren’t competitive at all when they showed up in the early 1970s.

What happened? GM and Ford bought Japanese cars, did a full tear-down analysis of them and, from that analysis, developed the Pinto and Vega. The entire process took around five years. But, during that time, Japanese cars advanced, so when the Vega and Pinto showed up, they were already five years out of date. 

If you cut down the typical five-year development time for a car to one (it’s hard to do it faster given regulatory testing requirements), car companies could respond more quickly to competitive threats — and the coverall car market would advance much faster year-to-year. 

The military advantage

As “Popular Science” pointed out, when it comes to weapons, simulations can provide a huge advantage. Often, the weapons used at the end of a war have advanced greatly since the war began — often at the cost of lives lost by those that must test these fast-evolving platforms.

With simulations, an army could have next-generation weapons based on what’s been learned on the battlefield in under a year, weapons that have been better tested than weapons systems created in a more traditional R&D effort. They’re likely far cheaper, too (because you can optimize them under simulation). And they can be custom designed for the unique requirements of the current conflict. 

The country that can do this would have a tremendous advantage on the battlefield. 

Simulations and complexity

Simulation allows for a relatively safe increase in time-to-market for new products, whether it that’s weapons or autos. As you would expect, the military is showcasing its capability already by creating a mature, next-generation fighter in a year’s time. In wartime, that could be done faster, allowing a company to adapt its major and minor weapons systems to the unique needs of an on-going conflict within months. 

For vehicles and other complex products, simulation technology will allow companies to better respond to competitive threats and move more aggressively to mitigate them. If you already think things are changing fast, hang on to your hat, because change, thanks to advances in simulation, is about to arrive even faster. 

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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