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K supercomputer racing to match expectations

Kyodo

The K supercomputer in Kobe has been kept busy since it went into full-scale operation in September last year, reflecting the high expectations of its advanced simulation capacity.

More than 100 projects using the supercomputer are currently under way. While K is preferentially assigned to calculations for national strategies promoted by the government, there were also some 300 applications for its general or corporate use.

Developed jointly by Fujitsu Ltd. and the government-backed Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science, K is expected to change the development process of automobiles in connection with aerodynamic simulation.

Automakers repeat wind tunnel tests for prototype vehicles to examine their resistance to air in a bid to develop fuel-efficient and comfortable cars. But as the costs are high, they have been seeking alternative ways of accurate simulation.

Using K, a project undertaken by 13 major automakers and other companies as well as a number of universities successfully simulated a gust of wind as small as 0.5 mm and analyzed complicated flows of air created when an automobile switches lanes or cars pass each other.

“A calculation, which used to take one year, was completed in a day,” said Makoto Tsubokura, an associate professor from the graduate school of engineering at Hokkaido University who was involved in the project.

The supercomputer was able to simulate “actual and irregular” flows of air that cannot be measured in conventional experiments, he added.

K was completed at a cost of ¥111 billion in June last year under a government-led development project that started in 2006. Capable of carrying out more than 10 quadrillion computations per second, it has twice ranked first in the world in computing speed but fell to fourth place in the rankings in June 2013.

In the field of natural disasters, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, is using the supercomputer to project damage in the event of a massive earthquake in the Nankai Trough located south of Honshu.

A simulation of damage to the city of Kochi shows how 100,000 citizens could escape from big tsunami on a 3-D map, making it possible to study how to help them find the shortest routes or efficiently lead them to safety.

The agency plans to develop a program that can immediately inform people of optimum routes to safety if a big quake occurs.

Yoshiyuki Kaneda, head of the study team at the agency, said, “We want to make it possible to project damage with other computers as well and transfer the technology to Southeast Asia and other quake- and tsunami-prone regions.”

K has already generated such other achievements as simulating the heart’s movements for cardiac treatment and analyzing chemical reactions within a lithium-ion battery.