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🔥RTN19: "Hardware at software speed"
+ a new superconductor(?), aviation fuels, electric planes and simulation
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Digital Twins, Simulation and AI
In case, you hadn’t noticed we’ve been covering some developments in these separate but interrelated fields of late. Wayve’s world model, Digital Twins in Formula 1, Nvidia’s Omniverse for Industrial, Meta’s Aria, even Apple Vision Pro is a digital twin. There’s a lot of interesting things happening, all at once 👀
Digital Twins is a real-time digital replication of a real-world scene. For example, you can recreate a factory like-for-like in silico. This allows you to monitor, test, query (“what if”) and simulate (“what next?”) environments and outcomes, without expensive and timely real-world issues. You can bring DBTL cycles in real-world processes down significantly, lowering the hurdle to economic feasibility.
Recent progress in digital twin capabilities is being driven by advances in compute, AI, and hardware. Low-cost sensors, 5G connectivity, parallelised computing, and event-driven data streaming are improving connectivity, data processing and training. Inference is benefitting from recent advances in Gen AI. There is a convergence of simulation, AI, and real-time data happening.
Industries like aerospace, automotive, and defence have battle-tested digital twins. Largely, they use legacy tools and vendors like GE, Microsoft, and Dassault that provide platforms, while MatLab and Simulink enable simulation.
We can expect a wider prevalence of digital twins and simulation. More industry-specific tools and applications across requirements, physical product design, operations and training of AI models.
This confluence of techniques is allowing us to predict weather (Atmo) better, simulate and train autonomous vehicles (Wayve, Waymo), test robotics within a digital twin (Nvidia), simulate well fracking (ResFrac) etc. There’s a multitude of real-world use cases that are ripe for new simulation tools.
I’m spending more time exploring this space. If you are too, do respond to this email 🙏🏻
Why it matters: This speaks to two themes 1) the hard problem in electric flight is battery density, this arguably gives an advantage to battery firms versus new aviation upstarts 2) China’s ambitions to become a leader in widebody jets and to cut dependence on Airbus and Boeing
Chinese aircraft upstart COMAC is making moves into electric flight through a new partnership with battery giant CATL
CATL recently unveiled a 500 Wh/kg battery, an energy density that is considered by many a minimum threshold for viable electric flight
COMAC has aircraft manufacturing ambitions that compete directly with Airbus and Boeing. Though playing catch-up in traditional engines, pursuing electric propulsion gives COMAC a chance to leapfrog established players
As you can see being in the widebody jets business is a good place to be:
Why it matters: room-temperature superconductors are a “holy grail” in materials discovery. They would allow for a multitude of hugely impactful use cases across energy, computing and transport
A number of Korean researchers have claimed to have synthesised a room-temperature superconductor called LK-99, which is a huge deal
Normally, materials lose energy as they conduct electricity. This is because electrons flowing through a material find resistance and collide with atoms which causes them to convert to heat. That’s why your phone gets hot
Superconductors, don’t lose energy and they can do things like MRI imaging. However, currently, you need to keep the superconductor at very low temps which is difficult and expensive
Superconductors would allow for a number of improved use cases:
Unfortunately, these claims have been unverified. Some experts have commented on the reports:
“interesting, but not wholly convincing” Professors Susannah Speller and Chris Grovenor, of the University of Oxford’s Department of Materials
Many teams are working over the weekend trying to replicate the experiment to verify its claims, see here
Why it matters: Air travel is 3% of global emissions. SAF gives us a means of reducing this footprint by up to 90% using CO2, biomass and waste as feedstock, whilst retaining existing airplane infrastructure
Startup Twelve, just broke ground on a power-to-liquid sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production facility in the US
Twelve makes SAF by recycling carbon dioxide, captured from nearby industrial operations (pulp and paper factories, corn, ethanol plants, biogas facilities) and then using electrolysis to convert it into carbon monoxide
There’s an ongoing debate about the future of commercial airplanes. With proponents of either new all-electric planes or SAF
Electric planes currently have limited range due to lower propulsion efficiency, lower payload capacity, lower energy density and power-to-weight ratio due to batteries. They also require new charging infrastructure at airports
SAF has up to 90% lower lifecycle emissions than normal jet fuel. The synthetic fuel is “drop-in ready,” meaning it works with existing aircraft and airport infrastructure. The issue with SAF is that feedstock processing is currently expensive, you need access to cheap and available renewables for it to make sense
🚘 🇨🇳 Germany’s automakers tap Chinese manufacturers
Why it matters: VW/Audi have shown an inability to sell EVs, largely due to their inability to build software. They are partly shifting software value creation to China, and might inadvertently shift profits in the key EV segment also. This speaks to Europe’s increasingly conflicted and symbiotic relationship with China
Numerous announcements this week:
These technologies are key to EV deployment and to the Net Zero transition
Whilst the US has made its position on trade with China increasingly clear (US-based semiconductor CEOs have been lobbying Congress to roll back trade restrictions)
Europe is in a bind, and Germany especially so. As we covered last week, German issued a very vague ‘China strategy’ which shows no clear priority between managing the geopolitical threat and maintaining economic export controls