SmartUQ helps companies dig into complex decisions

The Madison startup SmartUQ is dramatically cutting the amount of time it takes companies to simulate the different options they have while designing a product.

Even something as simple as a bicycle wheel has several different variables with “lots of uncertainty,” from the diameter of the wheel to which materials should be used, said SmartUQ founder and UW-Madison statistics professor Peter Qian.

Products such as semiconductors or airplane parts are infinitely more complex, leaving those manufacturers with an even greater challenge during product design.

Qian’s software company takes all of those uncertainties and runs statistical analyses that quickly predict how each of those options would play out, reducing the time and money companies spend on simulations.

“We find a way to predict all the possibilities,” Qian said. “We can take into consideration all the scenarios to minimize risk and also potential problems.”

SmartUQ’s method is much faster than current options, with Qian saying it can save 90 percent of the time it takes to simulate a product. But it also provides a service that currently doesn’t exist, as Qian says his competitors only focus on simpler products and are less accurate.

Qian, who leads a UW-Madison research group on uncertainty, founded SmartUQ in early 2014 after hearing from large companies who couldn’t easily predict possibilities with products that have complex variables.

“We got a number of requests from potential large customers,” Qian said. “They told me they need a solution, and they had no other thing they could do. So it was basically a trigger for me to start the company.”

SmartUQ has now raised $1.8 million and is at 14 employees — a number that Qian says could double next year.

Its customers include “some of the largest companies in different industries,” including manufacturers of automotive products, highway construction equipment, semiconductors and aerospace and defense products. Qian couldn’t disclose the names of the companies.

SmartUQ’s product, however, can be applied to a number of different fields, Qian said. The company’s website lists potential uses in the pharmaceutical industry and health care, as well as sophisticated financial modeling.

And the goal, Qian said, remains the same.

“I want to basically understand and mitigate uncertainty,” he said.