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Understanding Computer Models

A model is defined as "a schematic description of a system, theory, or phenomenon that accounts for its known or inferred properties and may be used for further studies of its characteristics." (American Heritage Dictionary)

Overview

We rely on computer models in many aspects of our lives. They can help us evaluate the structural integrity of buildings, design automobiles to be safer in a crash, and steer spacecraft toward distant planets, among many other uses. Models are particularly useful when studying things that are complex, or necessarily important to get right on the first try.

Commonly used computer models

TIDE TABLES
Used originally for navigation purposes, tide tables are models that estimate the height of the tide at any given time.

TRAFFIC LIGHTS
In order to ensure that vehicles move through an area as smoothly as possible, computer models simulate traffic using collected road usage data. Traffic lights are then timed to maximize thoroughfare efficiency.

GPS
Satellites may be able to precisely locate where you are located relative to them, but to make the information useful, this information is overlaid on a computer generated map of the planet.

BUILDING AND ROAD CONSTRUCTION
Building projects have been modeled since the beginning of time in the form of architectural drawings, but these days, large building projects are first modeled within a computer where all aspects of the build can be controlled and various stressors can be simulated and planned for.

FLIGHT SIMULATORS
In order to give a potential pilot some of the hands on skills needed to operate an airplane, today's simulators are computer models that very accurately represent the process of aerial navigation.

VIDEO GAMES
Video games can be very sophisticated computer models that have the luxury of defining their own reality. While real world models must adhere to the rules of physics in order to be useful, video game creators are free to craft their own rules, though consistency and reality are often stressed to make the experience more genuine.