If I told you that all your design in the future would be done in the cloud with all possible design iterations instantly calculated and all the best possibilities presented in a highly interactive visual format, you would probably look at me holding back a burst of laughter. However, this idea of a web-accessible, model-based design platform is a trend we’ve been seeing lately and the promising future of using offsite computing power for massive amounts of calculations is an option many software companies want to explore. One company building a platfrom of their own is CyDesign. Their product, CyDesign Studio is set to be released this summer, but in this exclusive interview with CEO Serdar Uckun we get a sneak peak at CyDesign Studio and some insight into what makes this cloud-based solution so unique.
SolidSmack: Explain what it is that CyDesign does in a way people can understand while eating corn chips and watching the Super Bowl?
CyDesign: Why did Mom’s bean dip turn out the way it did? Well, it comes down to her rules for the celebration condiment: be nutritious, taste good, be able to sit for the duration of the game and so on. It’s just like building a new truck. It starts with the rules (the requirements). Then all you have to do is design all the possible bean dips (trucks) from all the possible ingredients and chip types (components), evaluate each dip (truck) against Mom’s rules (requirements) and pick one that satisfies all her rules (requirements) best.
Not too hard for Mom, she’s been doing this for years and has only considered a couple dozen possible combinations. However, an engineer might have hundreds of requirements and tens of thousands of potential trucks that could be assembled from the components that are available. Currently, the engineer would probably look at just a few combinations (that are close to what is currently being built) and pick one of those. As a result, some great trucks are never made.
What does CyDesign do? It helps the engineer look at thousands of potential bean dip permutations (trucks) while simultaneously evaluating each dip (truck) against the hundreds of rules (requirements), and provides a visual guide to help pick a dip (truck) worthy of the Super Bowl (fleet). And being a cloud-based environment CyDesign can focus the power of hundreds of computers on solving this problem quicker than ever before.
Who knew Mom was a systems engineer?
SS: What are a few project examples that you can tell us about and how did the client benefit from using your system?
CD: At this early stage in our company’s development, we’re supplying a simulation and analysis toolset to support the DARPA FANG Challenge (http://vehicleforge.org) that’s based on CyDesign Studio, our platform for model-based design optimization. Registrants can use the special FANG edition of CyDesign Studio at no charge to quickly and efficiently conceive, design and verify their entries. That includes requirements management, running simulations on systems models, analyzing the trade space and verifying results. The FANG Mobility/Drivetrain Challenge is the first of three planned design challenges and the winning team will be awarded a $1,000,000 cash prize. Working with the FANG Challengers is great for us because it lets our team refine CyDesign Studio’s core functionality in a real world application, which will then inform our commercial release slated for later this year.
SS: Tell us a little bit about how CyDesign came to be? What is a comparable process that already exists?
CD: CyDesign Labs became a reality while I was the principal scientist and area manager for the Embedded Reasoning Area at PARC. I was looking to apply the principles of PLM to model-based engineering and design, but wasn’t going to go far unless there was a commercial angle. Otherwise, it would have simply been a nice research project with a couple of papers published.
To understand what the impact could be, we talked about taking all the conceptual, early phase design processes – all the pre-CAD engineering efforts – and streamlining them using PLM and model-based methodologies. To support the enormous math that was required at an affordable level, it meant leveraging the scalability of the cloud for simulation and analysis. No one has ever productized this process. We’ve encountered some academics doing one-off’s to prove a theory, but to build a commercially viable solution and execute it, and then giving access to it to everyone – it’s just not on anyone’s radar. But everyone we talk to, when we explain it, their ears perk up because it’s solving a real, underserved problem.
Research has shown that 80% of your product lifetime cost is set before you even launch your CAD program. The crazy thing is those early phases often involve just 1% of your engineering budget. We think there’s an opportunity to move some budget to the earlier phases and make better design decisions so you don’t have to go down a more expensive road.
Pre-CAD is when you’re poking around taking best guesses at what might work based on the requirements you’re being asked to fulfill. The process to get from requirements (including how you hone and revise them) to a design worthy of pursuit is pretty cavalier. We’re looking to make it more predictable and ensure you’ve properly vetted your choices. That way teams can arrive at better designs faster.
SS: Considering how much data you have to work with in terms of working with large and complex model assemblies, how has working on the Cloud performed for you? How has it not?
CD: We’re still early in the process, and learning a lot about what the compute requirements are. We’ve started simulating with known Modelica models assembled with design grammar. So far we’re confident in how it’s playing out. Our platform is architected to take advantage of parallelized hardware. We should be able to run system-wide Monte Carlo simulations in minutes or, worst case, an hour or so. That is essentially 10 to 100 times faster than on standard desktop simulations. When CyDesign Studio is ready for beta users, we’re also going to be constantly tracking how to further optimize the data processing.
Security is always a big concern/talking point for people when it comes to cloud-based solutions. How is CyDesign addressing the stigma around pure cloud-based applications?
CD: What’s the term? “It’s good enough for government work”? Our first customer is DARPA — essentially the United States Department of Defense. We’re doing everything they’re requiring for a cloud-based platform in terms of security. That includes minimizing any type of cross-tenancy issues, using only very secure virtual servers, using proven encryption methods, and locking down all our internal processes to meet rigid security requirements. So, we’re built to answer the cloud naysayers.
We also recognize that not everyone is going to jump into the cloud. That’s fine. Those companies that need more control, we can work with on a private cloud option behind their firewalls or on approved clouds (e.g. Amazon GovCloud).
But there’s a large community of VARs, design partners, freelancers, machine shops, and systems designers and engineers that would rather skip the costs and implementation complexities needed to build simulation infrastructures. CyDesign gives them a simple, affordable, always-on alternative. We also plan to do away with nasty vendor licensing and provide a usage-based pricing model.
I also want to add that there’s also an unfair stigma around the cloud. After all, if you’re under the impression that your laptop or email or even internal IT is any more secure, you’d better start backing up your data now.
SS: What all will be included in the application suite? What percentage of your market would you say is aimed at engineers versus product designers?
CD: We’re still determining our release schedule so what the product will include at launch will likely change. For certain, we’ll offer up the basics: dynamic requirements management and verification, Modelica-based simulation, test benches and analysis tools. After that, we have a long list of functionality we expect to introduce in short order.
Incidentally, that’s one of the major benefits of a web product: updates come in weeks and months rather than years. We deliver new features based on what the user community needs and as they relate to our vision for the product. We can push a release out and everyone gets it. No files to download. No servers for clients to update. No license management. You log in and you always have the most updated feature set. Plus we have no plans to charge a “premium” for features for different types of users. An engineering student at a vocational college in Helsinki is going to get the same full feature set as the Chief Systems Architect at Ford Motor Company.
As it relates to your second question, we’re trying to bridge the gap the question implies. Analysts should understand the engineering impact. And engineers should understand the analysis. The entire team (including business, certification, component vendors, etc.) can use CyDesign as a collaborative hub for design decisioning.
SS: In terms of analysis tools, who would you say are your biggest competitors?
Our competitors encompass the broad hodge-podge of workstation-based point solutions that are expensive and difficult to master. With a few exceptions, these tools are licensed under inflexible enterprise-level agreements that hamper productivity and collaboration (e.g., node-locked licenses, limitations on the number of simultaneous users or seats, restrictions on use).
Besides actual products and vendors, we’re also competing with the status quo. We’re a disrupter, and while that means we have the capability to break with convention, it also means organizations will go through some perception change.
SS: PLM, requirements management, conceptual modeling, high-volume design simulation, and system analysis tools are highly complex as static applications. How exactly does CyDesign make these tools easier to use from a UI standpoint?
CD: Our approach is to bring all these into a highly collaborative, engineering environment. But we also attempt to simplify a lot of the tools by doing a lot of the heavy lifting. The fact that it’s consolidated makes things easier, because we’re not asking you to leave one application for another. It’s all in a centralized view (and all in a web browser). An iPhone’s internal guts are highly dense and incredibly complex, but what the user sees is highly functional, yet simple. Our aim is to hide our own engineering to serve the needs of the user.
The data is also intertwined. For example, simulation results have context with actual requirements (even as they change). A specific design has context within a battery of tests – and back to the requirements. There’s no trucking information back and forth from one platform to another. It’s all in one place.
And finally, we don’t need our users to understand — much less write — differential equations of motion in order to see that a specific engine or transmission won’t work their requirements. We can suppress that complexity and offer a clearer, faster path to the best-in-class designs.
A set of requirements that designs must meet that serves as the basis for evaluating simulation results. CyDesign Studio will let users make manage changes to engineering requirements, provide a workflow for approving requirements, and give the ability to re-run simulations to determine if changes affect the overall design path. Requirements can be physics related, safety related, etc.
The simulations in progress or completed and their high-level results. Easy-to-view stoplight indicators provide immediate feedback into what designs met specific requirements based on their score thresholds.
CyDesign has not released pricing info, but has stated that their plans include a usage-based pricing model and that it will be affordable. You can keep apprised of their activity via the CyDesign blog and website.