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!

Insights from Optimized Codes on Cineca’s Marconi

February 15, 2019

What can you do with 381,392 CPU cores? For Cineca, it means enabling computational scientists to expand a large part of the world’s body of knowledge from the nanoscale to the astronomic, from calculating quantum effe Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

What Will IBM’s AI Debater Learn from Its Loss?

February 14, 2019

The utility of IBM’s latest man-versus-machine gambit is debatable. At the very least its Project Debater got us thinking about the potential uses of artificial intelligence as a way of helping humans sift through al Read more…

By George Leopold

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 of bankruptcy proceedings. According to Dutch news site Drimb Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Systems With Intel Omni-Path: Architected for Value and Accessible High-Performance Computing

Today’s high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) users value high performing clusters. And the higher the performance that their system can deliver, the better. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Medical Research Powered by Data

“We’re all the same, but we’re unique as well. In that uniqueness lies all of the answers….”

  • Mark Tykocinski, MD, Provost, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Thomas Jefferson University

Getting the answers to what causes some people to develop diseases and not others is driving the groundbreaking medical research being conducted by the Computational Medicine Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Read more…

South African Weather Service Doubles Compute and Triples Storage Capacity of Cray System

February 13, 2019

South Africa has made headlines in recent years for its commitment to HPC leadership in Africa – and now, Cray has announced another major South African HPC expansion. Cray has been awarded contracts with Eclipse Holdings Ltd. to upgrade the supercomputing system operated by the South African Weather Service (SAWS). Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Insights from Optimized Codes on Cineca’s Marconi

February 15, 2019

What can you do with 381,392 CPU cores? For Cineca, it means enabling computational scientists to expand a large part of the world’s body of knowledge from th Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

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

UC Berkeley Paper Heralds Rise of Serverless Computing in the Cloud – Do You Agree?

February 13, 2019

Almost exactly ten years to the day from publishing of their widely-read, seminal paper on cloud computing, UC Berkeley researchers have issued another ambitious examination of cloud computing - Cloud Programming Simplified: A Berkeley View on Serverless Computing. The new work heralds the rise of ‘serverless computing’ as the next dominant phase of cloud computing. Read more…

By John Russell

Iowa ‘Grows Its Own’ to Fill the HPC Workforce Pipeline

February 13, 2019

The global workforce that supports advanced computing, scientific software and high-speed research networks is relatively small when you stop to consider the magnitude of the transformative discoveries it empowers. Technical conferences provide a forum where specialists convene to learn about the latest innovations and schedule face-time with colleagues from other institutions. Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake, STEM-Trek

Trump Signs Executive Order Launching U.S. AI Initiative

February 11, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) today launching a U.S Artificial Intelligence Initiative. The new initiative - Maintaining American L Read more…

By John Russell

Celebrating Women in Science: Meet Four Women Leading the Way in HPC

February 11, 2019

One only needs to look around at virtually any CS/tech conference to realize that women are underrepresented, and that holds true of HPC. SC hosts over 13,000 H Read more…

By AJ Lauer

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

Assessing Government Shutdown’s Impact on HPC

February 6, 2019

After a 35-day federal government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, government agencies are taking stock of the damage -- and girding for a potential secon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quantum Computing Will Never Work

November 27, 2018

Amid the gush of money and enthusiastic predictions being thrown at quantum computing comes a proposed cold shower in the form of an essay by physicist Mikhail Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Unveils Shasta, Lands NERSC-9 Contract

October 30, 2018

Cray revealed today the details of its next-gen supercomputing architecture, Shasta, selected to be the next flagship system at NERSC. We've known of the code-name "Shasta" since the Argonne slice of the CORAL project was announced in 2015 and although the details of that plan have changed considerably, Cray didn't slow down its timeline for Shasta. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

AMD Sets Up for Epyc Epoch

November 16, 2018

It’s been a good two weeks, AMD’s Gary Silcott and Andy Parma told me on the last day of SC18 in Dallas at the restaurant where we met to discuss their show news and recent successes. Heck, it’s been a good year. 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

US Leads Supercomputing with #1, #2 Systems & Petascale Arm

November 12, 2018

The 31st Supercomputing Conference (SC) - commemorating 30 years since the first Supercomputing in 1988 - kicked off in Dallas yesterday, taking over the Kay Ba 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

Contract Signed for New Finnish Supercomputer

December 13, 2018

After the official contract signing yesterday, configuration details were made public for the new BullSequana system that the Finnish IT Center for Science (CSC Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

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

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

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang Delivers Vision for the New HPC

November 14, 2018

For nearly two hours on Monday at SC18, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, presented his expansive view of the future of HPC (and computing in general) as only he can do. Animated. Backstopped by a stream of data charts, product photos, and even a beautiful image of supernovae... Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

Intel Confirms 48-Core Cascade Lake-AP for 2019

November 4, 2018

As part of the run-up to SC18, taking place in Dallas next week (Nov. 11-16), Intel is doling out info on its next-gen Cascade Lake family of Xeon processors, specifically the “Advanced Processor” version (Cascade Lake-AP), architected for high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and infrastructure-as-a-service workloads. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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