ELASIS,a scientific and technical network within the FIAT Group, is pioneering the use of Virtual Reality (VR) to develop new vehicles and to support product innovation. Metodologie Sviluppo Prodotto (MSP), a department of ELASIS, has been researching the capability of VR for the last five years.
WHAT THEY WANTED
Gennaro Monacelli, Manager of the MSP Group at ELASIS, thought it would be possible to incorporate all the data held on a vehicle and go beyond ergonomics to broad-brush design, aerodynamics, crash testing, focus groups analysis, marketing and manufacturing.
The Virtalis team flew over to work with ELASIS on the design and implementation of the first phase, which included a parametric car in which all the physical relationships between the various objects can be electronically controlled. This was linked to a VR system, so that the driver is immersed in a virtual world via a headset, but is touching the actual, proposed controls and seat of the virtual car. The spatial relationship between the real and the virtual must be kept constant, if it is to be believable, but the car is intended for use by people of all sizes, so the accurate tracking system must be quick to reconfigure.
The resulting, VR enabled seating buck can be fitted with different seats and steering wheels, so it is possible to simulate the driver comfort of a wide range of car typology. The virtual driver experience closely mimics that enjoyed by Cinquento or Ducato configuration, for example. Importantly too, it can be made to represent the cars of Fiat’s competitors, so that a comparison can be made between them and the car being designed or altered.
Monacelli explained: “The speed with which our parametric car can be transformed is important for us. Currently, altering the distance ratios of the various elements takes few seconds and altering the physical seats and steering wheels takes about an hour. This means our top management can easily check out different configurations early in the design process without too much time commitment. Such comparisons are simply not possible with a wholly physical model, where creating a new one might not only take weeks, but also be costly to produce. Likewise, CAD does not allow you to truly feel the car, yet with this system, we can take CAD data and create a VR model ready for its first ergonomic evaluation in just half an hour.”
At the moment, it takes 15 minutes for the system to prepare itself for a new driver and the team is now trying to lower this to a minute. When this goal is reached, the system will then truly have become the kind of high speed, flexible design environment originally envisaged.