Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), now part of the Indian Tata organization, is using an advanced Virtual Reality Center (VRC) that it estimates will cut new model development time by at least three months and lead to significant cost reductions.
Engineering Director Bob Joyce said: "The system is so effective that we are considering using it 24/7. We believe it is the most advanced system of its type in use in the global automotive industry. It does not just allow us to look at the shell of a car and its interior in detail but to look deep within and beneath the whole vehicle. We can ‘slice’ sections through it and look inside doors. Other systems can do some of this but not with the speed and clarity that we can achieve. It allows us quickly and consistently to achieve the quality levels we require."
The four-wall CAVE (Computer Aided Virtual Environment) VRC has been installed at the company’s Gaydon Engineering Center and took JLR 18 months and almost $4 million to develop, working in collaboration with Sony, Sun Microsystems, ICIDO, and HoloVis International. Its manager, Brian Waterfield, said it was now possible to see design details in place that would previously have needed the building of a physical buck: "We told the JLR Board that we would achieve payback in 12 months and we are on course to achieve that. It is the sharing of knowledge by all partners that is the key to the VRC’s effectiveness."
The system is based on passive stereo technology and provides a 3-D life-size image of a whole vehicle and its components. Like the human eye, it delivers two images—for right and left eyes—via eight Sony SRX-S105 high-resolution projectors described by JLR as delivering "the world’s highest resolution imagery," with a definition four times that of high-definition TV.
Each projector is controlled by two PCs, each of those with two graphics cards. "A year ago, it would have needed four—that’s the rate of progress being achieved," said Waterfield. "So we have 16 PCs running the projectors and a 17th running the slaves—and another Gateway PC that talks to our internal company network. Each engineer works on his or her own vehicle part or component, and that work is stored on a database overnight. It is then sent to the VRC. The accumulated database is then distributed to those concerned throughout the company. We also have two PCs running an Autodesk product—Alias Showcase—which gives us the ability to put picture realistic images in mono. We hope soon to have a stereo version."
The next step in the system's development is the introduction of a haptic glove to give sensation to ergonomic design. It is being developed with David Roberts at the U.K.'s Salford University. "We can already feel contours and texture in research areas, so the commercial option is not far off—maybe six to 10 months," said Waterfield.
The basis of the tracking system used for the VRC has come from military programs involving helmet-mounted technology.
A demonstration of the system included a "ride" in the front seat of a Jaguar XF in an urban environment to monitor any serious A-pillar visibility impairment. The only physical part of the system apart from the operator’s wand was a driver’s seat and the CAVE’s walls. Surround sound for exterior and interior noise is installed.
At present, the VRC is running 32-bit software on a 64-bit machine. "But we are now moving to 64-bit so we will double the memory capacity. What we are doing will be 20% better—and it’s all instant," said Waterfield.
Added Joyce: "Not only is the VCR reducing development time efficiently and enhancing quality, we expect it to lead to reduced warranty costs. Also, we can now write service manuals only 14-18 months into a new model program knowing exactly how to change any part on a car and the cost involved. That is before we reach the ‘pencils down’ final data judgement point with engineering done and specifications released."