DETROIT - Virtual reality - formerly a technological toy found in video arcades - is rapidly finding its way into commercial markets.
Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas, is marketing virtual-reality projectors that let automakers and suppliers stand 'inside' 3-D vehicle mockups.
EDS displayed some of its products at the annual Computer Technology Solutions exposition here this month sponsored by the Society for Manufacturing Engineers.
One device, a holographic projection booth about the size of a phone booth, lets a person stand 'inside' a 3-D picture.
The other, a so-called lenticular screen, lets a viewer look inside a 3-D image displayed on a flat screen. The screen works by focusing different light patterns toward the viewer's left and right eyes.
Either device could be used in places such as engineering offices, conference rooms and medical offices to help specialists analyze complex assembly problems.
EDS was an early automotive leader in virtual reality, working with academic partners to develop a holograph projection 'cave.'
But EDS was slow to commercialize its innovations. The company's Virtual Reality Center here operated like an academic research lab, not a commercial business.
Now, EDS is trying to capitalize on its early investment. The company is providing virtual-reality services to automotive suppliers and nonautomotive customers such as medical centers.
It costs less than $100,000 for the most basic virtual-reality devices, but prices quickly climb when customers want to add more functionality.
Despite the cost, EDS has 20 customers for its virtual-reality services, and the number is growing steadily, said Robert Mehall, director of the center.
The auto industry's push to design component modules for vehicles makes virtual-reality mockups a useful tool.
'We've creatively taken some of the excitement and applications that we have done at the center and are changing it into business opportunities ...' Mehall said. 'Digital mockup, inspection, simulation for assembly, even mobility and reach for the service people can be studied.'