Virtual Reality Enters Automotive Engineering

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【Summary】Virtual reality is now being used in the automotive engineering process

Original Mia Bevacqua    Sep 04, 2017 12:00 PM PT
Virtual Reality Enters Automotive Engineering

Virtual reality is everywhere nowadays. Consumers can strap on an inexpensive virtual reality (VR) head set, link it to a smart phone, and get lost in a world of fantasy. But, VR has more useful purposes than killing time playing "Chair in a Room" or "Minos Starfighter". It's now being applied towards automotive engineering. 

The benefits of virtual reality for engineering

Since the beginning, automotive engineers have been building prototypes. The problem is, building a physical model can be slow and expensive. This makes virtual reality an appealing alternative. 

According to Joe Guzman, Group Manager for Global Virtual Design for General Motors, "Creating a VR prototype takes hours or maybe days, compared to weeks or months for a physical prototype." 

Some may argue that two-dimensional CAD renderings are sufficient. But, we don't live in a flat, 2-D world. Having access to a 3-D prototype allows engineers to interact with a vehicle in a more realistic fashion. 

VR also allows for collaboration efforts that would have been impossible otherwise. Elizabeth Baron, Virtual Reality and Advanced Visualization Technical Specialist for Ford, points out that a Ford employee in Australia can interact through the VR room in real time with a colleague in Dearborn, MI.

How manufacturers are implementing virtual reality

The introduction of consumer-based headsets, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, spurred VR interest in the engineering sector. For example, Ford has a "powerwall" equipped with multiple fully-immersive headsets. Slipping on a headset allows the user to be surrounded by a 3-D environment. At the same time, the powerwall broadcasts what's displayed on the headset for anyone else in the room. 

Ford also uses their VR system in conjunction with 3-D printing. For example, they may print out a part and then use VR to try colors and textures on it. 

General Motors has a four-sided, six-foot CAVE environment used for VR. In this setting, any number of individuals can view and manipulate a 3-D projection of an entire vehicle. Although the CAVE is the focal point of VR engineering for GM, the company uses VR headsets as well. 

The future of virtual reality in engineering

The demand for virtual reality engineering tools is high, according to Mohsen Rezayat, Chief Solutions Architect for Siemens PLM. As such, Siemens and many other companies are working hard to develop new VR engineering technology. 

One concept is electronic work instructions. Such instructions could be presented right on the vehicle. Information on performing tasks such as installing parts, could be displayed. Having step by step 3-D instructions would help reduce mistakes. 

Another approach is to mix virtual reality with augmented reality (AR). This could allow a remote VR user to interact with others involved in a real-life situation. For example, a remote expert could use VR to train personnel. 

Virtual reality enabling the future

Thanks to the abundance of affordable equipment, virtual reality has become mainstream. This allows for experimentation that may lead to the next great advancement. Who knows, maybe one-day we will be able to put on a VR headset and avoid going into the office. We can only hope, right?

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