Model the world with Wolfram’s new software for engineers

The wise carpenter has a simple philosophy: measure twice, cut once. Wolfram, the uber-geek’s software company of choice and organization behind the WolframAlpha “computational knowledge engine,” takes a slightly different tack: test as many times as you want, build once.

Today the Champaign, Illinois company announced SystemModeler. Showing the same charming modesty as founder Steven Wolfram, author of “A New Kind of Science,” the company said this tool ushers in “a new era of integrated design optimization.” What that means, more or less, is that SystemModeler allows you to create complex simulations of actual systems, run them, adjust variables, and then check what impact your changes have made.

It can be used to make models for a huge array of things, including airplanes, spacecraft, cars, ships, this ice breaking propulsion pod, industrial robots, joysticks, energy consumption, and health simulations.

What does that mean, practically? Let’s look at an example.

Imagine you are an engineer designing a new car. Fuel efficiency is critical, and you’ve decided you want to try a different compression ratio in your pistons. You might have an idea what impact that will have on efficiency, but what impact will it have on engine durability, power, gear ratios, and a million other factors? You don’t know … and building a version of the engine to test it might cost millions of dollars per test. So you model the engine — and in fact the entire car — in SystemModeler.

In a statement released to the press, Wolfram director of research Roger Germundsson said: “Agility to iterate between modeling and engineering phases will be a key driver of tomorrow’s design optimization.” Translated from the geek, this means: the faster you can try stuff virtually before building things in the real world, the better your designs.

The key different between Wolfram’s SystemModeler and competing solutions, according to the company, is complexity and depth of modelling. Jan Brugard, SystemModeler manager, says that most of today’s tools are simplistic: “You wouldn’t build a skyscraper just with stone blocks, so why model your future innovations just with block diagrams?”

The software allows for drag-and-drop modelling once you’ve created predefined components, and allows you to chain models together in order to build complex models out of simpler subcomponents.

SystemModeler is available for Windows and Mac in both 32 and 64-bit versions and costs $3,495 and up, depending on licensing. A $75 student version is also available.

Chris Hennick
Chris Hennick

Will this be of any use to the social sciences? If anyone needs a dose of quantitativeness, they do.