Maplesoft Blog

The Maplesoft blog contains posts coming from the heart of Maplesoft. Find out what is coming next in the world of Maple, and get the best tips and tricks from the Maple experts.

It’s been nearly ten years since I first walked onto the University of Waterloo campus as a freshly minted undergraduate, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to learn all about electrical engineering. I guess it’s hard to believe the speed with which time passes. It’s actually a bit astonishing how much I can still remember about orientation, or “frosh” week, like 4 a.m. fire drills, a very messy obstacle course, sitting with 800 other young engineering students in a lecture hall, and above all, meeting new friends.

Recently, we were asked by a designer of thrill rides if we could help them define a design tool that would allow them to push the envelope in rider experience, while considering engineering constraints and, of course, rider safety.

This week I decided to do some research and find out the details of how to make model animations with MapleSim, by adding in CAD drawing files of the component parts. To see what I mean, take a look at this quick animated movie that shows a robot arm with five degrees of freedom:

At the recent Vehicle Dynamics Expo in Stuttgart, I presented an example that demonstrates the speed with which you can perform the complete model-development-to-HIL process for a vehicle stability controller using MapleSim. The process begins with the development of a full-chassis vehicle model in MapleSim. This is a detailed model that includes the geometries for a double-wishbone suspension at the front and semi-trailing arms at the rear, with Fiala models for the tires. The stability controller, or Electronic Stability Program (ESP), is a predictive model based on a simplified vehicle model (referred to as the “bicycle model” since it only uses one wheel at the front and rear). When activated, the controller estimates what the desired yaw rate should be from the simple model, compares this with the actual yaw rate, and applies a braking force proportional to the difference to the appropriate front tire.

Through the landmark book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig introduced generations of engineers to formal metaphysics. This engaging story chronicles the journey of a man and his teenage son on a single motorcycle through America. Through their encounters with challenges of all sorts, the man explores and wrestles with the notion of “quality”, in both the mechanical sense – the quality of his machine, and the human sense – the quality of a person or a relationship. I’m a big fan of interdisciplinary education and I was always thrilled to find out that this book is actually mandatory reading at many engineering universities. Today, I think I have a much better sense of where this thrill comes from.

A few weeks ago I made a short trip down to Lincroft, New Jersey, to deliver a Maple training course to a group of math professors at Brookdale Community College. I’d been to Manhattan before, but never New Jersey, and didn’t really know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to fly in over a lush and verdant landscape, with temperatures hovering in the mid-70s. My host, Barbara, had graciously invited me to her home for dinner, and we had a great conversation about teaching math, the Verrazano Bridge, dealing with deer in the backyard (Barbara was originally a Brooklyn girl, used to the concrete jungle!), and of course, what to expect the next day at the college.

Last week was rather crazy…

Monday afternoon, I’m sitting in a canoe on a beautiful lake in the wilds of Ontario…

…Tuesday morning, I’m in Stuttgart for the Vehicle Dynamics Expo to introduce MapleSim 2 to the many automotive engineers that have converged from just about every European nation, and beyond, to learn about new technologies and methodologies for the design of vehicle chassis systems, including  suspensions, steering, tires (or tyres, depending where you come from), and braking systems. One hot topic of discussion is the rapid development of vehicle stability controllers, given that all new passenger vehicle designs must now by law include active stability control. This is very timely for us because we are able to show our hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) demonstration that includes a full-vehicle model developed in MapleSim and running on dSPACE and National Instruments PXI real-time platforms, with a MotoTron prototype controller interfaced to the vehicle model via a CANbus interface. I’ll describe this in more detail in a later blog post.

“Keep Austin weird” is probably the best civic slogan I have ever encountered. Austin, Texas is one of the most charming cities in the US. It’s the capital of the state of Texas and also the self-professed live music capital of the world. In addition, the University of Texas at Austin is the largest university in the US, and its influence on the technology sector has spun off a very vibrant high technology business center as well. This mix of government, the arts, academia, and technology is the quintessential recipe for a very dynamic, vibrant, and yes, weird (in a good way) community.

Ever since I filled out my university application papers, I’ve been faced with the cocktail party question, “So, why did you decide to study engineering?” It’s not surprising, of course, given the low number of women who choose to enter the fields of math or engineering. I’ve actually been asked this question so often that I have a stock answer which I can pull out without having to think about it: When I was considering my field of study, I was equally drawn to the arts and the sciences, but it made more sense to prepare myself to work
in a field where the jobs were. Engineering seemed a good fit, and still provided a sort of outlet for my creative impulses. Plus, it would be easier to pursue art and music as a hobby, rather than anything scientific; it would be much harder to find the resources to pursue any scientific interests on my own.  Why electrical engineering? I’d heard it involved more math, something I was drawn to.

I was fully expecting to write Part 2 of my postcard from China when a life-changing event interrupted my creative processes. My son Eric is thirteen and is about to complete grade 8. Math is not exactly his strongest subject but I blame it all on the fact that he has not started algebra in any substantial way yet… where math starts and that arithmetic nonsense stops.  In classic Eric style, he informed me that he had a math test the very next day and he absolutely needed to have a scientific calculator. “How did you do your homework so far then?”, I naively asked … “I don’t know … I faked it”.  After a moment of disbelief, with a sprinkling of anger, all mixed with a hint of pride that he got a B in math while “faking” the calculations, we got in the car and headed off to Staples.

It wasn’t that long ago that people were thinking that personal rocket jetpacks would be a reasonable means of transportation.  Unfortunately, we’re still a bit of a ways off on that dream.  That being said, we can still do a lot of cool things with rockets.

Rockets find their origins in ancient China.  The availability of black powder to propel projectiles was a precursor to the development of the first solid rocket.  The discovery of black powder by Ninth Century Chinese alchemists led to experiments in the form of weapons such as rocket-propelled fire arrows.

Maplesoft launched a new application center on its website on April 2, 2009. One objective of the update was to make it easier for visitors to find great content for both Maple and MapleSim. We wanted to make sure that all pages list the best applications first. While on many pages, including the home page, the MapleSim content page and the Tips & Techniques page, our editors can control the order of the applications, with almost 2000 applications, editors cannot rank all of the applications manually.

The Canadian Press reported last week the fortune of 13 women working on the 13th floor of an Edmonton bank tower winning a $50-million lottery jackpot. Combine this with the recently released version 13 of Maple and one might claim that notorious number 13's luck is changing.

Early in the development of Maple 13 the question of whether to use "13" was raised. From Apollo 13 to hotels with a missing floor, superstition surrounds this number.  Microsoft Office 2010 is slated to be released as version 14.0; the previous version was 12.0. Corel's WordPerfect Office marketed their version 13 as "X3" -- combining a roman numeral and decimal digit.

The great Chinese philosopher Laozi (aka Lao-tzu) once remarked that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. With my recent business trip to China, I feel that I have a blog posting of a thousand miles ready to burst onto my keyboard but for everyone’s sanity, I’ve chosen to deconstruct my experience and pick a few highlights that I’ll share over a couple of postings. This first one is on the people I’ve met.

A Boston-area comedian by the name of Steven Wright used to say, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to have to paint it.”  Well, that tells you more about my sense of humor than about geography, but it’s true – it is a small world.  And it’s getting smaller and smaller.

What one usually means by “small” in this context is that it’s easier to get around.  Not just because travel is faster in the days of jet planes than it was in the days of caravans, but it’s because foreign places aren’t as, well, foreign as they used to be.
Just 30-ish years ago (ish is too many) I had to bring enough cash with me wherever I went to cover the needs of my trip because ATMs didn’t exist.  I couldn’t (well, wouldn’t) call home because it was horribly expensive.  That is if I could figure out how to use the phone.  I didn’t stay in touch with home at all because there was no email, no IM and no internet for Facebook or Twitter or anything else.

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