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-size, 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 uses the technology to tinker with a vehicle's styling and color, 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 to use virtual techniques at its other research centers worldwide, said project manager Michael Maile of the firm'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 in Traverse City.
``Some day, we'd like to see virtual showrooms [at dealerships] so our customers can view models without the need for extra floor space,'' Maile said.
The same does not hold true for designers. Daimler-Benz has set up 60 workstations at the Ulm center for design teams to tweak a car's look through 3D computer modeling. To look at actual-size vehicle renderings, designers strap on virtual-reality headsets and crystal eyeglasses in a cave-like 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.
At the Daimler-Benz facility, designers can adjust details such as the amount of light reflecting from the hood and the installation of a radio. An engineer also can simulate wind-tunnel conditions to check aerodynamic flow.
For the auto industry, only General Motors Corp. has previously announced the use of virtual reality techniques in design, Maile said.