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From Leonardo Da Vinci to the 2019 NAIAS: A Journey through 500 Years of Transportation Ingenuity

Just hours before the 2019 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) opened its doors for the its Press Preview, another celebration of human ingenuity was coming to an end in Metro Detroit. Sunday, January 13th was in fact the last day to visit the exhibit Da Vinci Machines and Robotics at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

During the closing ceremony I had the opportunity to meet the Exhibition Manager - Tom Rizzo - a brilliant young Australian that has been working with the Artisans of Florence – International for the past decade and world renowned Gabriele Niccolai to research, rediscover, and reconstruct Da Vinci’s machines. About 75 of these marvels – flying devices, nautical innovations, architectural discoveries, and transportation devices based upon manuscripts (Codices) and drawings from the 15th century - are now part of a travelling exhibition that showcases the unparalleled creativity, ingenuity, and intuition of the Italian genius. Seeing the exhibition is a marvelous journey for engineering and creative minds alike. This year marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death and these exhibitions are traveling around to showcase Leonardo’s work, possibly right in your city!
One remark from Mr. Rizzo’s speech that stuck in my mind is the fact that these inventions – if only they were not going to be lost and forgotten for centuries – could have anticipated the industrial revolution by centuries. Which takes me to what is happening this week in Detroit on the NAIAS stage. As much as today’s world is different from that of Leonardo Da Vinci’s hundreds of years ago, one thing that has remain unchanged is the continued celebration of human ingenuity, creativity, and intuition.

Just like Da Vinci was able to create artistic masterpieces along with ingenious machines, today’s cars need to strike a balance between design and function. This year’s Eye on Design Best Concept Vehicle winner - the Infiniti QX 3 Inspiration Concept – was able to achieve that goal with extraordinary elegance, combining sophistication, simplicity, and functionality in one stunning design. Today, designers and aerodynamicists can leverage simulation technology to ideate and quickly realize design alternatives that beautifully combine form and function without compromises. Here is an example that shows the concept study of a car and how the design of a camera side-view mirror can be quickly evaluated and implemented:

Moving to production vehicles, this year’s NAIAS brings to you what you’d expect from Detroit: performance cars like Ford’s all-new 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500, big trucks like FCA’s RAM 1500 and 3500, winner of the North American Truck of the Year Award, and a load of SUVs in various sizes, styles, and trims, like the Infiniti concept mentioned above. One clear trend is the presence – in pretty much every automaker’s lineup – of electric vehicles (EV), including brand new EV platforms across brands like the one GM announced this week.
Altair is at the forefront of this e-Mobility challenge with multiphysics simulation technologies - ranging from smart control design to powertrain electrification and vehicle architecture studies – to develop the next generation of mobility solutions quickly and efficiently.

Another recent industry trend has been brought to the 2019 NAIAS floor in the form of the new 2020 Toyota Supra, co-developed by Toyota with BMW. These partnerships (see also what Fiat and Mazda did recently with the 124 Spider and Miata) are becoming more and more frequent, with automakers eager to produce niche sport cars while striving to reduce development costs.
Once again, simulation can play a significant role in that effort, from faster ideation to virtual validation with no to little physical prototypes. A recent example of this approach is the work done by Gulplug, a small French startup developing an autonomous magnetic-based charging solution for electric vehicles using Altair Flux.

In conclusion, if you are going to be in Detroit over the next ten days or so, I encourage you to stop by Cobo Center and visit the 2019 NAIAS. You won’t be disappointed! The next creative mind we might be celebrating in 500 years from now could very much be one of the designers or engineers involved in the development of one of this year’s newest vehicles!