The speed with which ideas can be assessed in this virtual environment – without compromising the fidelity of the answers – may well be definitive in the outcome of the 36th America’s Cup. Every new concept for an improved hull or foil design has traditionally gone through a process of steps, each one examining the idea with increasing accuracy. Each step costs more time and computer power than the one before – the final computational fluid dynamics (CFD) run that will provide a comprehensive answer might cost tens of thousands of pounds and take days to complete.
So the goal is to winnow out the weak ideas and only commit the very best to the substantial resource requirements of this final test… but to do it with sufficient accuracy that no good ideas get cut too early. Part of the answer is having enough compute resources to get more accurate solutions faster at every stage of the process, but it’s also important to streamline the workflow, the process by which ideas travel from someone’s inspiration to each new test.
One of the hindrances to a streamlined workflow is that each step requires the idea to be represented in a different digital format. The velocity prediction program (VPP) needs something different to CFD and so on. And if the idea is new (as opposed to a variation on an existing theme) it can go nowhere unless someone translates it into a computer-aided design (CAD) model. All this can be frustrating for the concept designer, as they may not have the skills necessary to ‘create’ the model in the required digital format.
INEOS Team UK set the goal of removing the frustrations and hold-ups inherent in this process through a project code-named Chimera. The goal of Chimera was to make it possible for a designer to sketch an idea on the screen and for that idea to be able to travel seamlessly and without further intervention all the way to the final CFD run – if, of course, the idea were good enough.
Chimera was a big software project, but it had the potential to be a game-changer in the speed and accuracy with which innovation and design creativity could be handled. It would take a sketched design and add it to a model of the whole boat, running it through the team’s Velocity Prediction Program (VPP) to see if it made the boat faster or slower. If the results of this were promising, then Chimera would take that model and prepare it for a full simulation run across many different boat states in the team’s CFD program.