HPC Powers Bobsled Team to Olympic Gold

By Michael Feldman

March 9, 2010

For the first time in 62 years, the four-man Olympics bobsled team from the US captured the gold medal, setting a course world record in the process. The winning bobsled, piloted by Steve Holcomb and his winning Night Train crew, had some state-of-the-art engineering behind it, including CFD software from Exa Corporation. As it turned out, that software may have proved to be the margin of difference in the race.
bobsled simulation

While bobsledding doesn’t enjoy the same level of popularity (and ensuing money) as NASCAR and Formula 1 racing, the engineers that design the sleds need to apply the same aerodynamic principles to their designs. Prior to this season, US bobsled teams relied almost exclusively on European-built hardware, which was all designed via traditional wind tunnels. Exa thought its CFD software could give the US teams a critical edge by offering the advantages of HPC simulations. Using the computational horsepower of a mid-sized cluster, Exa software would be able to simulate the airflow and drag of the sled and its crew.

According to Brad Duncan, Exa’s director of aerodynamics applications, it’s much easier to optimize the sled in the computer since, unlike the wind tunnel, you can actually see and quantify the airflow. And no matter how skilled the European engineers are, they can’t access that level of detail in the tunnel. “It’s not that we’re smarter than they are,” says Duncan. “We just have more data when it comes to interpreting the results and designing the sled.”

In 2008, the non-profit Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project, founded by former NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine, tapped Exa to help them design and build home-grown bobsleds for the US team. Exa contributed both software and engineering services to the effort, becoming a non-official sponsor. Using a 19-teraflop IBM cluster (x3550 and x3450 blades), loaded with Exa’s CFD software, Bo-Dyn was able to optimize the aerodynamics of the sled and minimize the drag. Around 30 simulations were performed over a period of a couple of months, iteratively refining the design.

Through the CFD simulations, they were able to improve sled aerodynamics by around 2 percent. According to Duncan, every 1 percent of drag translated into 0.1 seconds of extra speed on a typical run. So the Bo-Dyn engineers were ecstatic to get 2 percent, because that could lead to a 0.2 second faster time per run, and potentially 0.8 seconds for the four runs that make up the Olympic event.

Eight-tenths of a second might not seem like much of an edge in a competition that runs for nearly three and half minutes of track time. But in Vancouver, Night Train’s cumulative margin of difference over the second place finisher (Germany) was a mere 0.38 seconds, and just 0.39 seconds over the third place finisher (Canada). A track record was established by the US team during its second run. Night Train’s Olympic success follows a first place finish in the 2009 World Championship games in Lake Placid, New York, which was the first time the US had captured that title in the last 50 years.

Bringing HPC-style NASCAR engineering to bobsledding is a natural extension of Exa’s mainstream CFD/CAE business. The software maker’s principle customers are ground transport companies — manufacturers of automobiles, race cars, tractors, trains, etc. It has accounts with most major automakers, including BMW, Ford, Renault and Chrysler, who use Exa’s flagship PowerFLOW fluid dynamics software to optimize the aerodynamic, aeroacoustic and thermal properties of vehicles as well as individual components.

The strength of the PowerFLOW software, according to Duncan, is that it supports fully transient flow rather than just a steady state solution. So instead of an approximation, PowerFLOW delivers a high fidelity, time-accurate simulation. The better accuracy is the result the employing Lattice Boltzmann methods (LBM), rather than the more traditional Navier-Stokes equations. At this point, PowerFLOW is the only commercially-available CFD solver based on LBM technology. In line with that high-end approach, Exa also provides application-specific engineering support to help customers solve specific design problems — everything from brake cooling to incorporating aerodynamics into styling.

The overall strategy has served the company well, especially with its auto manufacturing customer base. In good times, Exa claimed 40 percent year-over-year growth. But the company’s heavy reliance on revenues from automobile manufacturers put a hold on double-digit expansion during the 2009 downturn. As the auto industry and other manufacturers dig out of the recession, Exa is looking to get back on track in 2010.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Is Data Science the Fourth Pillar of the Scientific Method?

April 18, 2019

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang revived a decade-old debate last month when he said that modern data science (AI plus HPC) has become the fourth pillar of the scientific method. While some disagree with the notion that statistic Read more…

By Alex Woodie

At ASF 2019: The Virtuous Circle of Big Data, AI and HPC

April 18, 2019

We've entered a new phase in IT -- in the world, really -- where the combination of big data, artificial intelligence, and high performance computing is pushing the bounds of what's possible in business and science, in w Read more…

By Alex Woodie with Doug Black and Tiffany Trader

Google Open Sources TensorFlow Version of MorphNet DL Tool

April 18, 2019

Designing optimum deep neural networks remains a non-trivial exercise. “Given the large search space of possible architectures, designing a network from scratch for your specific application can be prohibitively expens Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE and Intel® Omni-Path Architecture: How to Power a Cloud

Learn how HPE and Intel® Omni-Path Architecture provide critical infrastructure for leading Nordic HPC provider’s HPCFLOW cloud service.

powercloud_blog.jpgFor decades, HPE has been at the forefront of high-performance computing, and we’ve powered some of the fastest and most robust supercomputers in the world. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Bridging HPC and Cloud Native Development with Kubernetes

The HPC community has historically developed its own specialized software stack including schedulers, filesystems, developer tools, container technologies tuned for performance and large-scale on-premises deployments. Read more…

Interview with 2019 Person to Watch Michela Taufer

April 18, 2019

Today, as part of our ongoing HPCwire People to Watch focus series, we are highlighting our interview with 2019 Person to Watch Michela Taufer. Michela -- the General Chair of SC19 -- is an ACM Distinguished Scientist. Read more…

By HPCwire Editorial Team

At ASF 2019: The Virtuous Circle of Big Data, AI and HPC

April 18, 2019

We've entered a new phase in IT -- in the world, really -- where the combination of big data, artificial intelligence, and high performance computing is pushing Read more…

By Alex Woodie with Doug Black and Tiffany Trader

Interview with 2019 Person to Watch Michela Taufer

April 18, 2019

Today, as part of our ongoing HPCwire People to Watch focus series, we are highlighting our interview with 2019 Person to Watch Michela Taufer. Michela -- the Read more…

By HPCwire Editorial Team

Intel Gold U-Series SKUs Reveal Single Socket Intentions

April 18, 2019

Intel plans to jump into the single socket market with a portion of its just announced Cascade Lake microprocessor line according to one media report. This isn Read more…

By John Russell

BSC Researchers Shrink Floating Point Formats to Accelerate Deep Neural Network Training

April 15, 2019

Sometimes calculating solutions as precisely as a computer can wastes more CPU resources than is necessary. A case in point is with deep learning. In early stag Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

Intel Extends FPGA Ecosystem with 10nm Agilex

April 11, 2019

The insatiable appetite for higher throughput and lower latency – particularly where edge analytics and AI, network functions, or for a range of datacenter ac Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia Doubles Down on Medical AI

April 9, 2019

Nvidia is collaborating with medical groups to push GPU-powered AI tools into clinical settings, including radiology and drug discovery. The GPU leader said Monday it will collaborate with the American College of Radiology (ACR) to provide clinicians with its Clara AI tool kit. The partnership would allow radiologists to leverage AI techniques for diagnostic imaging using their own clinical data. Read more…

By George Leopold

Digging into MLPerf Benchmark Suite to Inform AI Infrastructure Decisions

April 9, 2019

With machine learning and deep learning storming into the datacenter, the new challenge is optimizing infrastructure choices to support diverse ML and DL workfl Read more…

By John Russell

AI and Enterprise Datacenters Boost HPC Server Revenues Past Expectations – Hyperion

April 9, 2019

Building on the big year of 2017 and spurred in part by the convergence of AI and HPC, global revenue for high performance servers jumped 15.6 percent last year Read more…

By Doug Black

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

Why Nvidia Bought Mellanox: ‘Future Datacenters Will Be…Like High Performance Computers’

March 14, 2019

“Future datacenters of all kinds will be built like high performance computers,” said Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang during a phone briefing on Monday after Nvidia revealed scooping up the high performance networking company Mellanox for $6.9 billion. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ClusterVision in Bankruptcy, Fate Uncertain

February 13, 2019

ClusterVision, European HPC specialists that have built and installed over 20 Top500-ranked systems in their nearly 17-year history, appear to be in the midst o Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Reportedly in $6B Bid for Mellanox

January 30, 2019

The latest rumors and reports around an acquisition of Mellanox focus on Intel, which has reportedly offered a $6 billion bid for the high performance interconn Read more…

By Doug Black

It’s Official: Aurora on Track to Be First US Exascale Computer in 2021

March 18, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy along with Intel and Cray confirmed today that an Intel/Cray supercomputer, "Aurora," capable of sustained performance of one exaf Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Looking for Light Reading? NSF-backed ‘Comic Books’ Tackle Quantum Computing

January 28, 2019

Still baffled by quantum computing? How about turning to comic books (graphic novels for the well-read among you) for some clarity and a little humor on QC. The Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s Read more…

By John Russell

Deep500: ETH Researchers Introduce New Deep Learning Benchmark for HPC

February 5, 2019

ETH researchers have developed a new deep learning benchmarking environment – Deep500 – they say is “the first distributed and reproducible benchmarking s Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 18 Virtual Booth Video Tour

Advania @ SC18 AMD @ SC18
ASRock Rack @ SC18
DDN Storage @ SC18
HPE @ SC18
IBM @ SC18
Lenovo @ SC18 Mellanox Technologies @ SC18
NVIDIA @ SC18
One Stop Systems @ SC18
Oracle @ SC18 Panasas @ SC18
Supermicro @ SC18 SUSE @ SC18 TYAN @ SC18
Verne Global @ SC18

IBM Bets $2B Seeking 1000X AI Hardware Performance Boost

February 7, 2019

For now, AI systems are mostly machine learning-based and “narrow” – powerful as they are by today's standards, they're limited to performing a few, narro Read more…

By Doug Black

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

Arm Unveils Neoverse N1 Platform with up to 128-Cores

February 20, 2019

Following on its Neoverse roadmap announcement last October, Arm today revealed its next-gen Neoverse microarchitecture with compute and throughput-optimized si Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

France to Deploy AI-Focused Supercomputer: Jean Zay

January 22, 2019

HPE announced today that it won the contract to build a supercomputer that will drive France’s AI and HPC efforts. The computer will be part of GENCI, the Fre Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Cascade Lake Xeons with Up to 56 Cores

April 2, 2019

At Intel's Data-Centric Innovation Day in San Francisco (April 2), the company unveiled its second-generation Xeon Scalable (Cascade Lake) family and debuted it Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Oil and Gas Supercloud Clears Out Remaining Knights Landing Inventory: All 38,000 Wafers

March 13, 2019

The McCloud HPC service being built by Australia’s DownUnder GeoSolutions (DUG) outside Houston is set to become the largest oil and gas cloud in the world th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Reflections and (Mostly Hopeful) Predictions

December 19, 2018

So much ‘spaghetti’ gets tossed on walls by the technology community (vendors and researchers) to see what sticks that it is often difficult to peer through Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Extends FPGA Ecosystem with 10nm Agilex

April 11, 2019

The insatiable appetite for higher throughput and lower latency – particularly where edge analytics and AI, network functions, or for a range of datacenter ac Read more…

By Doug Black

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This