Innovating in Education, Analytics and Engineering: Thirty Years Using Wolfram Technology
October 4, 2019 — Brian Wood, Lead Technical Writer, Document and Media Systems
Robert Prince-Wright has been using Mathematica since its debut in 1988 to develop computational tools in education, business consulting and offshore engineering. We recently talked to Prince-Wright about his work developing simulation models for deepwater drilling equipment at safety and systems engineering company Berkeley & Imperial.
His latest work is cutting edge—but it’s only part of the story. Throughout his career, Prince-Wright has used Wolfram technologies for “modeling systems as varied as downhole wellbore trajectory, radionuclide dispersion and PID control of automation systems.” Read on to learn more about Prince-Wright’s accomplishments and discover why Wolfram technology is his go-to for developing unique computational solutions.
Simplifying Complex Ideas
When Mathematica Version 1.0 was released, Prince-Wright was in a PhD program in probabilistic modeling at the University of Glasgow. At the time, Mathematica was sold as a specialized tool for symbolic algebra. Its unique treatment of differential equations and linear algebra made it indispensable to Prince-Wright in his research on reliability analysis.
Over the next few years, while teaching engineering mathematics, he found the symbolic approach of the Wolfram Language helpful in demonstrating math concepts intuitively. In particular, he used it to show students how the use of vectors and complex numbers made location and rotation algebra much simpler than trigonometry. He also notes that even this early interface produced higher-quality visualizations faster than any other software at the time.
Publishing Interactive Models
Eventually, Prince-Wright moved to the private sector—analyzing engineering systems, presenting findings and making policy proposals for a range of clients. Though he tried other software, he always gravitated toward the Wolfram Language for its highly automated interface construction (after all, he was a civil engineer, not a programmer). In the early 2000s, he began taking advantage of the publishing capabilities of Wolfram Notebooks. He could readily demonstrate custom models to clients anywhere, either by sending them full-featured standalone notebooks or by generating interactive notebook-based interfaces that connected to pre-deployed models on the back end.
Ongoing improvements in Mathematica’s modeling and analysis functionality also allowed Prince-Wright to tackle new challenges. In 2005, he helped develop a new well-control algorithm for a major oil company that combined concepts from several engineering domains. He was pleased by how easy it was to repurpose the language to create this sophisticated multiphysics solution: “What was remarkable was thinking back 14 years and using the skills I developed using Mathematica as a teacher to solve real-world problems.”
Unified Analysis and Simulation
In 2012, while working in safety and systems engineering at Berkeley & Imperial, Prince-Wright discovered Wolfram SystemModeler and its Wolfram Language integration features. He began leveraging this new Modelica interface to test and improve models he’d built in the Wolfram Language. Combining the drag-and-drop simulation workflow of SystemModeler with the real-time analysis of the Wolfram Language allowed him to achieve unprecedented speed and accuracy in his models.
Around that time, Prince-Wright heard about the Wolfram Connected Devices Project. In addition to improved integration with low-level devices, he soon realized the project gave him a framework for comparing system models to the actual systems they represent—in his words, “integrating the language with the real world around us.” This workflow turned out to be ideal for simulating and testing the kinds of embedded systems used in deepwater drilling. Since then, he and his team have continued to push this concept further, exploring the use of digital twins and hardware-in-the-loop simulations to continue improving his models.
An Ever-Evolving System
In many ways, the modern Wolfram technology stack has advanced in parallel with Prince-Wright’s career path, growing from a symbolic math tool to a cross-platform computational system to the full-featured modern engineering and analytics suite available today. Like his work, Wolfram technology can be applied across a diverse range of engineering fields. And the Wolfram Language maintains consistent syntax and structure throughout, making it easy to try different techniques—and complementing Prince-Wright’s approach of constantly pushing the boundaries. These qualities combine to provide lasting value for innovators like Prince-Wright: “The evolution of the Wolfram System has been very carefully designed to ensure that the core language was honored through the process. What that means now is that using the Wolfram Language gives you an opportunity to solve even bigger and more complex problems.”
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