MathWorks release of MATLAB 6 piques interest of military users

Feb. 1, 2001
Experts at the MathWorks have released the next generation of their popular design and development software, MATLAB 6.0, and have numerous military and aerospace customers ready to upgrade.

By John McHale

NATICK, Mass. — Experts at the MathWorks have released the next generation of their popular design and development software, MATLAB 6.0, and have numerous military and aerospace customers ready to upgrade.

The tool's new features, such as improved visualization and faster performance for Fast Fourier Transforms (FFT), sprang from information that extensive customer research uncovered.

"Most if not all our aerospace and defense customers will be moving toward" MATLAB 6 and the company's other upgrades, says John Binder, manager for the aerospace and defense market for MathWorks in Natick, Mass.

Binder lists the following as some customers that have already announced their intent to move to the new release:

  • the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.;
  • the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.;
  • Northrop Grumman Electronic Sensors and Systems Sector in Baltimore;
  • Lockheed Martin in Bethesda, Md.; and
  • Raytheon Co. in Lexington, Mass.

MATLAB 6 is shipping as part of Release 12 of the MathWorks product family, which also includes new and updated add-on products for use with MATLAB. This software suite includes several new tools that simplify common tasks such as importing data, performing quick analyses, and creating high-quality, informative graphics, MathWorks officials say.

Binder claims that MATLAB is the perfect example of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software. Users buy the product right off the shelf from MathWorks and may tweak the software for their particular application themselves, he explains.

Previous versions of MATLAB have been in use among NASA experts at the Smart Systems Research Laboratory, based at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. These experts are applying MATLAB to neurocontrol technologies that would detect and adapt to changes in spacecraft conditions.

Another group of users are engineers at the Boeing Phantom Works in St. Louis to help design and model a guidance, navigation, and control system for the U.S. Air Force X-40A Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV), Binder says. The tool is also being used in computer security to help develop fingerprint recognition software, he adds.

"Guided by feedback from our users, The MathWorks combined the latest advances in user interface design, usability, Java technology, numeric computing, and graphics to deliver MATLAB 6," says Lisa Kempler, MATLAB marketing manager at the MathWorks. "New and experienced users will find the tools in MATLAB make common tasks more straightforward and complex tasks more approachable."

Based on their research conclusions, MATLAB officials found that a frequent user request is to make common analysis, plotting, and visualization tasks easier to perform and repeat without programming. As a result, MathWorks experts added new point-and-click interfaces that enable users to edit, annotate, and customize their MATLAB graphics, and to export them to other applications such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.

New data statistics and basic fitting tools enable users to superimpose statistical calculations and curve fits — text and graphics — directly on their MATLAB products, MathWorks officials say. The new MATLAB version also adds functions for viewing 2-D images, surfaces, and volumes as transparent objects and visual tools for controlling point-of-view, they add.

Signal processing features

MATLAB 6 optimizations to core mathematical and signal processing routines are part of the LAPACK library, which replaces LINPACK and EISPACK, resulting in speed increases largely because the LAPACK algorithms take advantages of memory hierarchies on modern machines, MathWorks officials claim.

For simple matrix computations, such as matrix multiplication, operations on matrices of order several hundred are six to eight times faster, while more complex operations, such as eigenvalue and single-value decomposition, are approximately two times faster, MathWorks officials say. The FFT functions also now rely on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's FFTW library, resulting in faster performance across the range of FFTs, but particularly for arrays with composite, prime, and large prime factors, they add.

Another key finding is the obstacle to analysis and algorithm development that moving data into the program creates. As a result, the MathWorks Release 12 introduces several different new and updated tools for accessing and acquiring data, Kempler says.

The new MATLAB Import Wizard provides an interactive tool that lets users access and selectively import data stored in external files in a variety of industry-standard formats, such as JPEG and AVI, MathWorks officials say. Data from peripheral instruments and devices such as printers and modems can also be brought directly into MATLAB through the computer's serial port via the new MATLAB serial port interface, they add.

Desktop components of MATLAB 6 include a cross-product, fully searchable HTML-based help reader, a command history window that documents a user's MATLAB sessions, and a workspace browser.

For more information on MATLAB 6 contact John Binder by phone at 508-647-7000, by fax at 508-647-7001, by e-mail at [email protected], or on the World Wide Web at

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