Section: Research Program

Discrete modeling of frictional contact

Most popular approaches in Computer Graphics and Mechanical Engineering consist in assuming that the objects in contact are locally compliant, allowing them to slightly penetrate each other. This is the principle of penalty-based methods (or molecular dynamics), which consists in adding mutual repulsive forces of the form kf(δ), where δ is the penetration depth detected at current time step  [14], [30]. Though simple to implement and computationally efficient, the penalty-based method often fails to prevent excessive penetration of the contacting objects, which may prove fatal in the case of thin objects as those may just end up traversing each other. One solution might be to set the stiffness factor k to a large enough value, however this causes the introduction of parasitical high frequencies and calls for very small integration steps  [6]. Penalty-based approaches are thus generally not satisfying for ensuring robust contact handling.

In the same vein, the friction law between solid objects, or within a yield-stress fluid (used to model foam, sand, or cement, which, unlike water, cannot flow beyond a certain threshold), is commonly modeled using a regularized friction law (sometimes even with simple viscous forces), for the sake of simplicity and numerical tractability (see e.g., [32], [25]). Such a model cannot capture the threshold effect that characterizes friction between contacting solids or within a yield-stress fluid. The nonsmooth transition between sticking and sliding is however responsible for significant visual features, such as the complex patterns resting on the outer surface of hair, the stable formation of sand piles, or typical stick-slip instabilities occurring during motion.

The search for a realistic, robust and stable frictional contact method encouraged us to depart from those, and instead to focus on rigid contact models coupled to the exact nonsmooth Coulomb law for friction (and respectively, to the exact nonsmooth Drucker-Prager law in the case of a fluid), which better integrate the effects of frictional contact at the macroscopic scale. This motivation was the sense of the hiring of F. Bertails-Descoubes in 2007 in the Inria/LJK Bipop team, specialized in nonsmooth mechanics and related convex optimization methods. In the line of F. Bertails-Descoubes's work performed in the Bipop team, the Elan team keeps on including some active research on the finding of robust frictional contact algorithms specialized for slender deformable structures.

Optimized algorithms for large nodal systems in frictional contact

In the fiber assembly case, the resulting mass matrix M is block-diagonal, so that the Delassus operator can be computed in an efficient way by leveraging sparse-block computations  [15]. This justifies solving the reduced discrete frictional contact problem where primary unknowns are forces, as usually advocated in nonsmooth mechanics  [28]. For cloth however, where primal variables (nodal velocities of the cloth mesh) are all interconnected via elasticity through implicit forces, the method developed above is computationally inefficient. Indeed, the matrix M (only block-sparse, but not block-diagonal) is costly to invert for large systems and its inverse is dense. Recently, we have leveraged the fact that generalized velocities of the system are 3D velocities, which simplifies the discrete contact problem when contacts occur at the nodes. Combined with a multiresolution strategy, we have devised an algorithm able to capture exact Coulomb friction constraints at contact, while retaining computational efficiency  [29]. This work also supports cloth self-contact and cloth multilayering. How to enrich the interaction model with, e.g., cohesion, remains an open question. The experimental validation of our frictional contact model is also one of our goals in the medium run.

Continuum modeling of large fiber assemblies

Though we have recently made progress on the continuum formulation and solving of granular materials in Gilles Daviet's PhD thesis  [19], [17], [16], we are still far from a continuum description of a macroscopic dry fibrous medium such as hair. One key ingredient that we have not been considering in our previous models is the influence of air inside divided materials. Typically, air plays a considerable role in hair motion. To advance in that direction, we have started to look at a diphasic fluid representation of granular matter, where a Newtonian fluid and the solid phase are fully coupled, while the nonsmooth Drucker-Prager rheology for the solid phase is enforced implicitly  [18]. This first approach could be a starting point for modeling immersed granulars in a liquid, or ash clouds, for instance.

A long path then remains to be achieved, if one wants to take into account long fibers instead of isotropic grains in the solid phase. How to couple the fiber elasticity with our current formulation remains a challenging problem.