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A Multi-User, Interactive and Multimedia Modeling, Analysis, and Computing Environment for Concurrent Engineering Design

Jeffrey T. Fong and William F. Mitchell, ACMD
Zhengdong Wang, Visiting Scientist, ACMD
James J. Filliben, Statistical Engineering Division
P. Darcy Barnett, Distributed Computing & Information Services Division
Barry Bernstein, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL
Earl J. Craighill and Ruth E. Lang, SRI International, Inc., Menlo Park, CA

Since July 1988, the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense has funded a 6-year, $107.4-million and 5-phase program named DICE (Defense Initiative in Concurrent Engineering). The primary purpose of DICE is to foster development, validation, and transition of technologies that integrate design perspectives and applications in a "virtual team" environment in order to aid the interaction of multiple facets of a product's design (i.e., participants, manufacturers, management, quality control, accounting, etc.)

The first four phases of the program during FY88 through FY91 centered on a research and development agenda designed to identify and develop the requirements of an open environment that would support concurrent engineering practice. The final phase of the program, which began in 1993 and ended in 1995, emphasized on the "hardening" of pilot programs and proven concepts by completing and transitioning DICE and related technologies into the defense industrial base.

At the invitation of Dr. H.L. Buchanan, Director of ARPA Defense Science Office, and through Dr. Brian C. Belanger of NIST Advanced Technology Program, Fong was appointed technical program manager of two projects in the final phase of the DICE program. One of the two projects involved the research and development of a multi-user simultaneous communication environment with shared audio and video screen of text and graphics, using a toolkit named SCOOT (synchronous collaborative object-oriented toolkit). Developed by Dr. E.J. Craighill, R.E. Lang, et al., of SRI International, Inc., SCOOT provides real-time multimedia collaboration by synchronizing application states and ensuring shared tool control with a minimum amount of impact on a user's working style or an application's code or structure.

This project is important because ARPA has invested more than $100 million in the DICE program and SCOOT represents one of the few successes ($2.5 million over three years) that warrant further testing before commercialization. As technical manager, Fong simulated a test environment at NIST and conducted beta-test of SCOOT to ensure its robustness and reliability. SCOOT is better than others on the horizon because it is application-software independent. If proven robust and commercialized, SCOOT may help launch the nation's information highway project to a higher level where engineers with access to complex software packages (e.g., Fortran codes of 0.5 million lines or above) will benefit.

The software prototype project was being monitored at ACMD because of (a) availability of expertise and computing environment, and (b) close working relationship between code developer and tester. The project is time-critical because there is a schedule to meet in getting the prototype software to the market.

On Oct. 19, 1995, Fong and his colleagues successfully demonstrated the conferencing capabilities of SCOOT using four application software packages, namely, (a) xfig, a figure-drawing tool to be turned into a white board, (b) FrameMaker, a text-editing tool for writing joint papers by collaborating authors, (c) DATAPLOT, a NIST-developed statistical analysis tool for assisting on-line analysis of experimental data and planning of new experiments, and (d) ANSYS, a general purpose finite element analysis package for on-screen modeling, analysis and design of critical engineering components.

In May 1996, Fong initiated a follow-up research project with Dr. E.J. Craighill and his colleagues at SRI as a spin-off of the DICE program whereby the conferencing capabilities of SCOOT can be implemented on the Internet through the use of a new language named Java. Implementation of this initiative depends on adequate funding which is being applied for.

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Next: Cryptology and Number Up: Mathematical Software for Previous: Tools for efficient

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