Vauxhall-Opel has given designers at its International Technical Development Centre in Russelsheim, Germany, access to a virtual 3D design studio to cut development times on new cars.
The studio consists of a 3D virtual reality room called the `Cave’, in which designers can be given the impression of walking into their computer models.
Measuring 2m wide, 3m deep and 3m high, it is fitted with projectors which beam images to the front, sides, and below the viewer. When the viewer wears specially designed glasses the perception of being inside a 3D model is created.
The Cave’s floor is made of strengthened glass which can support the weight of four people. The floor image is generated by a projector below. Images are beamed in a distributed pattern which, when the viewer wears the 3D glasses, makes the corners of the Cave vanish. The viewer then has a 180 degrees view of the model.
The glasses act as a shutter running at a frequency of 114Hz. Each lens blanks 57 times per second, creating the virtual reality effect.
The computer can only give one viewer a true 3D image, and to create this image, the computer must track the viewer and alter the image depending on his or her position and movements. For other people in the Cave, an approximate illusion of 3D can be achieved by staying close to the wearer of the control glasses.
A separate feature in the studio is the Powerwall, a 6m wide screen which is used for 3D presentations. Two projectors beam the image of the 3D model which can be rotated through any angle. Its main use is allowing groups of designers to view a 3D model simultaneously. It also has uses for presenting designs to management.
Full animated mock-ups of suspension systems and moving components can be checked for geometry with the Powerwall, and components can be brought together to simulate the full operation of a prototype. Work has also been done in simulating the working environment on a proposed vehicle’s assembly line.
But virtual reality still has its limits. Crash testing will still be necessary in the future and wind tunnels will be needed to verify aerodynamic data.
`This aspect of the engineer’s work will still be essential,’ says Wolfgang Strinz, Opel’s deputy managing director and executive director of manufacturing. `As virtual development work spreads, it will become more and more important to confirm the quality of our cars in emotive terms, using our five senses.’