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Getting there faster with virtual reality

Is the navigation system too complex? Does it distract the driver’s attention from the traffic? To test electronic assistants, their developers have to build numerous prototypes – an expensive and time-consuming business. Tests in a virtual world make prototypes unnecessary.

The engineer stares intently at the display on the virtual dashboard. His task is to test the new driver assistance system from the user’s perspective. How seriously does it distract a driver to listen to a text message while negotiating a roundabout? How does the driver apprehend a collision warning in the fog? Developers of electronic assistants have to build large numbers of prototypes and test countless functions. A great deal of time and money must therefore be invested before the product is ready to go on the market. Tomorrow’s engineers will have a much easier time: They can simply create virtual prototypes and simulate all the functions in a virtual world. Car manufacturers and suppliers will be the chief beneficiaries of Personal Immersion® in future. Developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO in Stuttgart, this virtual reality and stereoscopic interactive simulation system makes it possible to display tailored virtual environments for purposes such as the development of driver assistance systems. “Our VR system not only simulates the instruments,” explains IAO project manager Manfred Dangelmaier. “Every level of this system is virtual. The user is seated in a virtual driv-ing simulator, surrounded by a virtual world, facing a virtual dashboard with a virtual control system.” This allows the engineers to simulate every conceivable situation in order to test the man-machine interfaces. Whatever traffic situation is to be illustrated, and whatever demands the driver may make on the vehicle electronics, such as retrieving up-to-date traffic jam warnings – there are no limits to the imagination when testing these systems. “Interactive simulation of this kind significantly cuts development time and costs,” says Dangelmaier. Virtual reality also facilitates communication within the interdisciplinary teams engaged in immersive design. Up to now, a major problem in portraying virtual worlds was the projector resolution. “In technical terms, it is not easy to achieve a satisfactory portrayal of both the full-size surroundings and the close-up details at the same time in a virtual environment,” says Dangelmaier. But the researchers have solved the problem: Instead of the two projectors customary in VR systems, their systems operate with four projectors in a complex stereo projection setup. The scientists will be presenting potential applications at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt on September 13 through 23 (Hall 1.1 Stand A19).

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