I had dinner at my in-laws over the Christmas break, and my brother-in-law’s father is a retired Boeing engineer in his 80’s that used to work in their wind tunnels. He shared some great stories of how moving from analog to computerized methods solved many problems for him and his team, especially around data acquisition and analysis, and it made me think of startups.
One area in particular that got much easier for them was recording air pressure over airfoils at various speeds and angles of attack. They used to have air pressure sensors attached to dozens of needle gages that were mounted on a nearby board. They’d crank up the fan to the desired speed, adjust angle accordingly and snap a few pictures of the gages. Any change of speed or angle would have them taking more photographs of the gage board.
The reason they’d take a few pictures per setting was that the needle gages had a lot of noise – they’d bounce around the scale and they needed multiple pictures to average/guess what the “real” reading was across all the photographed readings per wind speed and airfoil angle setting.
The time from taking a photo and then having it developed, examined, and compared to others in the series to record the results of the experiment in order to compare the tabulated data against the calculated model could be weeks. You can also imagine all sorts of ways that errors could creep into the dataset using this method.
In engineering today, most of this type of data is now either simulated entirely inside the computer or the computer collects massive amounts of data for further analysis. Data is the new coin of the realm, and the bigger your dataset, the larger the opportunity you have to exploit it for financial gain and hit your target.
Disk is cheap and missing the signal in the noise is expensive.
If your startup isn’t already generating and analyzing datasets or considering which you may create or have, you might as well be taking photos of physical gages in your quest to build a rocket to the moon.