A lone developer from the company that provided aerodynamic analysis for the cars in the popular PlayStation game Gran Turismo has applied the tooling to demonstrate the spread of germs with and without wearing a mask during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
When the Tokyo office building where MSC Software’s Irie Tomohiro worked was hit by a confirmed case of COVID-19 in January, every company situated there was ordered home. At the same time, a debate was beginning to unfurl around the world about whether it was prudent or not for the public to wear face masks to slow the spread of germs.
At the turn of the 20th century, Japan was hit by an influenza outbreak that saw the first mass adoption of surgical masks as a preventative tool. They continue to be used during other public health crises, including after earthquakes or in areas of high air pollution.
Masks are useful in preventing the wearer from spreading germs to others. Now, in cities throughout east Asia, masks are even a common fashion item. Culturally, wearing them is a total no-brainer.
Baffled by the international response, Tomohiro set out to prove that they do, in fact, help.
MSC, which was bought by Hexagon in 2017, is a computer-aided engineering simulation software and services firm. It specialises in creating simulations for designers and engineers to understand how their products are going to act in the real world: think digitally testing out a part of a vehicle to understand if it is going to work, without having to physically produce it.
A commercial piece of software called Cradle – which originated in Japan in the 1980s – was recently acquired by MSC. It helps simulate the core dynamics of fluid – also applicable to air or liquid, under the field of computational fluid dynamics. Cradle was designed from the start to be easily used by designers and engineers, unlike most simulation software, which was rooted in academia and highly complex by nature.
For Gran Turismo 6, it was introduced for aerodynamic analysis to help understand the drag factors on a car, or fuel efficiency, for example, but also for fluid or thermal motion.
“Most traditional mechanical engineering software is good at block-y stuff, being technical,” Keith Perrin of MSC Software tells Techworld. “Look at the car or the mechanical components – it’s all fairly prismatic.”
Achieving sound organic models that accurately represent people can be a major challenge. One traditional issue in developing for video games, for example, is in allocating resources to modelling human hair – there’s an enormous amount of organic complexity that Perrin says is “orders of magnitudes harder” than traditional mechanical engineering.
But, given MSC and Cradle’s history in working within healthcare (for example, CT scans and arterial flow) as well as fluid modelling for clients operating clean rooms, such as semiconductor fab plants, it wasn’t “too much of a problem”.
Nonetheless, Tomohiro’s initial sneezing simulation – which appears short, sweet, and simple to the viewer – ran on 144 cores in a cloud environment and took an hour to run.
After producing three simulations, Tomohiro found that as far away as 2.4 metres – more than the recommended 2 metres in many nation’s social distancing guidelines – will still give someone a “face full of cough”.
The next simulation, a sneeze into an elbow, reduced the spread to 1.5 metres. But with the mask on, the sneezer spreads their germs to just under half a metre – an 80 percent reduction.
MSC has also encouraged staff to volunteer towards tackling COVID-19. Perrin says there’s an employee in Belgium printing masks with a 3D printer, while another is working on the core elements of 3D printed mask design itself. It’s also lifted restrictions on its software so that it can be accessed remotely, and has put out a notice to health professionals and scientists across Europe and the USA to offer its simulation expertise for free.