TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Daimler-Benz AG has opened its first virtual reality center - and one of the few publicly announced by an automaker - to help designers come up with future models by studying full-sized, animated vehicle renderings.
The Virtual Reality Competence Center, which cost the carmaker about $2.5 million in building and equipment, opened in September in Ulm, Germany. The company has started using the technology to tinker with a vehicle's styling, study its assembly on a mock factory floor and even take it on a virtual test drive.
Daimler-Benz, which makes Mercedes-Benz vehicles, plans eventually to use virtual techniques at its other research centers worldwide, said project manager Michael Maile of the company's research and technology center in Palo Alto, Calif. Maile discussed Daimler-Benz's use of the three-dimensional visualization technique Aug. 5 at the University of Michigan Management Briefing Seminars here.
'Someday we'd like to see virtual showrooms (at dealerships) so our customers can view models without the need for extra floor space,' Maile said. 'But the technology is not as far along as we'd like. Cars in virtual reality still look a little too clunky for consumers to see.'
The same does not hold true for designers. Daimler-Benz has set up 60 workstations at the Ulm virtual reality center for design teams to tweak a car's look through 3-D computer modeling. To look at actual-size images of vehicles, designers strap on virtual-reality headsets and crystal eyeglasses in a cavelike setting that features 200-degree cylinder projectors sending images from all sides.
The company expects the use of virtual reality partly to replace clay models and other, more tangible prototypes, Maile said. Virtual reality, which uses computer-aided design techniques to create a simulated environment, can reduce errors and save design time, Maile said.