Protecting Protectors: How GPUs Help the U.S. Army Build Better Blast-Proof Vehicles

by Samantha Zee

Among the greatest concerns for soldiers in conflict areas: hidden improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and the harrowing risks they pose.

It’s the mission of CertaSIM, a northern California startup, to help protect them, said its founder Wayne Mindle, who spoke at our recent GPU Technology Conference.

CertaSIM uses GPU technology to develop simulation programs that help design blast-proof vehicles, such as Humvees and Joint Light Tactical Vehicles deployed by the U.S. Army.

GPUs are well suited to computing the physics of discrete particle interaction –the way dirt, rocks, and shrapnel move – when a blast occurs. The solver technology is called the discrete particle method (DPM) which is a strong predictive tool for simulating blasts.

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CertaSIM uses a Tesla K40 to speed up its sophisticated simulations.

One particular area that CertaSIM models is blast shields, the vital girding that protects the underside of military vehicles from IEDs, which are often hidden and thus hard to predict. When they’re underground, most of their damage comes from soil and rocks that erupt around a vehicle from an explosion, Mindle said.

“It’s the soil around that causes impact from a buried mine and if it’s wet, it’s a bigger weight in a blast,” he said.

Mindle’s team has developed different equations, using DPM, for soil that’s wet and dry.

“With GPUs this is easy,” Mindle said. “Combine DPM with parallel processing of the GPU and you’ve got an efficient and cost-effective tool.”

Simulations are run repeatedly over 96 hours on vehicle hulls based on the structures of military vehicles, and holding Hybrid-III dummies, the kind used in auto crash tests.

But using a Tesla K40 GPU, Mindle says these same simulations can be run in a fraction of the time, speeding up the development of better and safer armored vehicles.