FCA’s new simulator has dynamicists floating on air

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FCA’s Automotive Research and Development Centre (ARDC) has installed a new Vehicle Dynamics Simulator (VDS) lab at its University of Windsor site in Canada, which it claims houses the most advanced driving simulator technology available in North America. With nine directions of movement and specific driver calibration, the centrepiece of the lab – the high-tech simulator, co-developed by VI-grade – is designed to closely duplicate the real-life driving experience.

While many driving simulators feature six actuators to deliver six degrees of freedom, the FCA VDS system uses nine actuators, which create additional ranges of motion to create a stronger feeling of immersion, closer to driving an actual vehicle. This deeper immersion helps the vehicle dynamics team accurately reproduce vehicle ride, handling and acceleration characteristics.

A particularly interesting feature of the VDS is its ability to create a three-micron cushion of air, which floats the entire 4.5-tonne motion platform above the floor, allowing for quiet and seamless motion via the massive electric actuators.

The simulator has the ability to add subsystems, such as brake and steering, ABS and ESC functions, to create a hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) test bench to better meet functional targets. This strategy helps reduce product development times and lower project validation costs.

Tony Mancina, head of engineering at FCA Canada stated, “This new technology offers the driver a customised virtual immersion that replicates the ride and handling of a specific vehicle on a multitude of simulated road surfaces and driving environments.”

The simulator can be fitted with any vehicle body, and can simulate any road and environment. To create a visual experience on the five projector screens, data is collected by scanning various environments and roads, such as FCA’s proving grounds in Chelsea, Michigan. The data is then ‘stitched together’ to create a real-time virtual environment that can include elevation changes, off-camber roads and potholes.

“The ability to simulate a drive experience with HIL is key to our engineering efforts and assists in identifying design changes much earlier in the development process,” said Rob Wichman, head of vehicle engineering at FCA. “By using simulators, we can create a virtual environment to assess the ride and handling of a vehicle, perform tests on sensor technology for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) applications, evaluate different Human Machine Interface (HMI) configurations, and test for driver distraction and distraction remedies.”

Initially, the VDS will be used to support chassis vehicle dynamics, but in the future will be used to support development of ADAS and HMI systems. The VDS represents an overall investment of CAD$10.1 million (US$7.49m/Euro6.8m), including support from the Ontario government through the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund.

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Adam divides his time as an editor between the worlds of aviation and motoring. These worlds may seem a little diverse today, but autonomous technology and future urban mobility is bringing them ever-closer. Adam is also chairman of the Vehicle Dynamics International Awards.

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