The venerable math programs Maple and Mathematica long ago outgrew pure math to include numerical and symbolic math, graphics, document preparation, and more. Maplesoft and Wolfram have each recently released a major update—Maple 12 and Mathematica 7—and Maple has a new simulation package as well. The company is increasingly pitching to engineers—an approach that has long been successful for another big math program, MathWorks’ Matlab.
For example, Maple’s new Dynamical Systems package helps users study the behavior of discrete and continuous time systems, central to many signal-processing and control applications. Maple can now communicate with the two leading computer-aided design packages, Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks, allowing an engineer to optimize a design in Maple and then send data back to the CAD program.
The new Exploration Assistant lets a user vary a parameter in an equation or graph and see the results. And inexperienced Maple users now have new templates that take common commands. Mathematica has had many of these features for some time. It’s great to see that competition between the two companies is easing the learning curve users faced on earlier releases.
The new MapleSim is an elegant product that runs in parallel with Maple 12. With a few mouse clicks, you can create, say, a model of a circuit, or a thermal or mechanical system, and the program will transparently call on Maple 12 to show how it performs. Models can even handle several domains, including motors, for example, as well as mechanical elements and the attendant friction and backlash.
MapleSim has a lot in common with MathWorks’ Simulink, but, interestingly, it works by finding the differential equations for a system, which Maple simplifies analytically before solving. This process is potentially faster and more accurate than Simulink’s purely numerical approach.