On 3 August 2017, Rolf Henke, Executive Board Member of the German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) responsible for Aeronautics, opened the new DLR Institute of Software Methods in Dresden, together with Martin Dulig, Saxon State Minister for Economic Affairs, Labour and Transport. In Dresden, DLR will focus on product virtualisation in the aircraft manufacturing sector. Before an aircraft can take to the skies, much expensive development work and lengthy tests are required. These processes can be made faster, cheaper and safer when first conducted on a virtual aircraft that behaves just like its real counterpart. In future, therefore, DLR will increasingly concentrate on the challenges posed by the entire process chain, from initial digital design to simulated decommissioning.
The State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Matthias Machnig, said: "Research plays a significant role in creating and safeguarding jobs. By institutionally supporting research establishments such as the one here in Dresden, we are providing our economy with an efficient research infrastructure. Together with universities, non-academic research facilities and local businesses, we are developing innovative clusters and research structures that are promoting the regions and Germany as a whole as a high-tech location."
"With our new strategy and the seven new institutes, DLR is better positioned to exploit its internal synergy potential in the interest of Germany as an economic and scientific hub," explains Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board.
Research into the first virtual flight
"The entire aircraft life cycle – from development and production, through operation and ultimately decommissioning – is undergoing drastic transformations, as all areas are gradually being digitalised," said Henke at the opening of the new institute. "The new DLR institute in Dresden will therefore gather the relevant software research skills and pave the way for the first complete virtual flight in the long term. It will therefore act as a centre for software methods and product virtualisation in close cooperation with other DLR institutes and industrial and research partners," he added.
The use of high-performance computers is key to realising the virtual aircraft. The experts at the new institute will therefore lay the technical software foundations, so that current and future generations of high-performance computers can be efficiently used for complex simulations. They will also develop multi-disciplinary software platforms that will comprehensively analyse and optimise the virtual aircraft.
Collaboration between research and business
"The new institute shows that Saxony is an attractive location for innovation in the software and digitalisation sector. I am delighted that with the establishment of the new DLR institute in Saxony we have gained an internationally renowned partner to expand our research and development capabilities in highly interesting areas," said State Minister Martin Dulig. "Thanks to its focus, the 'Software Institute' will play a vital role in the development of industry-oriented software methods and platforms and promote Saxony as a business hub by collaborating with research and industrial partners. We are therefore strengthening the aerospace and software sectors, not only in Saxony, but throughout Germany and Europe and adding value to a range of different companies."
High-performance computing, simulation environments and software methods
DLR researchers at the newly founded institute will pursue new approaches and methods for the analysis and management of large amounts of data as well as simulation-based certification that significantly reduce the development and approval costs of new products. These should also be made available to other transport and business sectors.
The institute has three departments, which initially plan to employ around 70 people: the High-Performance Computing Department will research and develop new algorithms, and programming, data and memory models, especially with regard to future high-performance computer architectures. These models will then be made available to the respective DLR specialised institutes for specific research. The Simulation Environments Department is designed to reliably archive the extremely heterogeneous and very large data sets generated during high-performance computing and make these available for the multi-disciplinary analysis and optimisation of the virtual product. In addition, the Software Methods Department will research how the information required to test, qualify and ultimately even certify the virtual product in terms of all its properties can be efficiently extracted from the large amounts of data produced. Data and software must also be reliably protected against erroneous modification or random manipulation.
Establishment on the TU Dresden campus
The institute is being set up on the campus of TU Dresden, which provides a suitable environment thanks to its Centre for Information Services and High-Performance Computing at the Faculty of Computer Science, as well as the Institute of Aerospace Engineering and Institute of Fluid Power. The Head of the new DLR institute will be appointed in consultation with the Faculty of Computer Science. The new institute building and new high-performance computers are expected to be developed over the next three to five years in conjunction with the relevant TU Dresden infrastructure. "The establishment of the DLR institute on our campus is an achievement and an asset for TU Dresden, as well as for the city of Dresden and the Free State of Saxony," said TU Dresden Vice-Chancellor Hans Müller-Steinhagen, who was director of a DLR institute for 10 years and also emphasised the collaboration with the non-academic partner establishments. "I regard the DLR institute as a high-profile extension to the portfolio of non-academic research facilities in Dresden and hope that it will become a member of our scientific association, DRESDEN-concept, as soon as possible."
The new Dresden institute will receive annual funding of 8.3 million euro from the Federal Government and the Free State of Saxony, with the German government contributing 90 percent of the total. During the construction phase from 2017 until 2020, the Free State will also provide annual funding of up to 4.2 million euro for the institute's infrastructure and accommodation.
Research and development will be undertaken in close collaboration with the aviation industry. Digitalisation and virtualisation are strategic cross-sectoral topics at DLR. With its research portfolio, the new institute will play a central and vital role in this and also be involved in DLR's key aeronautics, energy and transport areas. DLR is setting up a total of seven new research institutes on the topics of systems architecture, maintenance, virtual power units, software, data science, maritime safety and energy systems analysis, two of which will be based in the eastern part of Germany – in Jena and Dresden.