Portable simulators

Designed to meet demand from chassis and safety engineers, compact simulators are now offering opportunities across multiple departments of OEMs to successfully solve market challenges in a more immersive environment.

With advances in simulation technology moving on in leaps and bounds over the last ten years, there is an overriding theme emerging of the rise of autonomy and the capability to validate AI and machine learning and ensuring driving simulators are capable of testing multiple scenarios efficiently, repeatably, and perhaps most importantly, safely.

With more automotive engineering departments relying on simulation, Driver-in-the-Loop (DiL) technology will undoubtedly grow in stature, allowing even more access for more people and vehicle constructors. No longer are they the exclusive preserve of high dynamics and OEM engineering departments. User Experience, Driver Assistance, Human-Machine-Interface (HMI), and legal departments and more are now trusting results gleaned from the virtual world. Having achieved the core fidelity needed to provide convincing human interaction experience and valid data, driving simulators have already come of age, backed by a long-life expectancy.

In fact, due to such megatrends in autonomy, electrification, connectivity, and driver assistance, portable driving simulators for vehicle development applications are providing the ideal solution to those who are restricted by space or cost, thanks to their compact footprint and sophisticated computational architecture.

As vehicle complexity continues to increase, more pressure is placed on development timescales and resources, creating a burgeoning need for companies and departments to now gain access to human-in-the-loop simulation technologies to validate hardware and software solutions. Where simple desktop solutions don’t provide the fidelity necessary, compact simulators can offer a fundamental building block for connecting real people with automotive simulations, anywhere in the world, through optimised complexity, quality, and time-to-deploy. It is just a matter of wheeling it in, plugging in and starting work, enabling it to be operated stand-alone, or it can be connected with external Software-in-the-Loop (SiL) and Hardware-in-the-Loop (HiL) systems.

With portable simulators incorporating features such as complex traffic and actor scripting, together with sensor integration, they are fast becoming ideal for validating scenarios for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), active safety and autonomy. Add to this integrated form and internal sound isolation, and it is easy to see why they are becoming used more and more in standard office spaces.

And with some of the latest solutions on the market including driver’s seat, fully adjustable steering wheel, dashboard,

pedals, gear stick and screen, along with the ability to be placed directly in an office, it is giving OEMs, Tier 1s, research institutes and industry bodies a more immersive and car-like environment, whilst making the practical operation much easier.

Portable, compact simulation technology is a direct response to its creators’ interactions with the various segments across the automotive industry, which are seeking dependable, rapid, and powerful validation tools. Acknowledging this steep rise in vehicle technological development and validation, Reportlinker analysts predict that the driving simulator market will reach $2.4 billion by 2025.

Ansible Motion, a provider of driving simulator solutions for vehicle constructors and suppliers around the world, began production of Theta C, a compact, portable, self-contained cube simulator after favourable responses were received from its initial exhibit at the JSAE 2019 Congress in Yokohama, Japan, in May 2019. According to Ansible Motion, each element of its Theta C product line is scalable in terms of both hardware and software aspects in order to keep pace with the automotive industry’s technology progression.

“What a compact, portable sim does is allow easy inclusion of the human experience into what would otherwise be an ordinary simulation, and this turns out to be a critical part of the process”, explains Phil Morse, international manager of Ansible Motion’s Commercial Group. “Considering the ever-increasing complexity of today’s vehicles and on-board systems, we believe that putting real people into early-and-often contact with virtual vehicle systems is a key part of successful and efficient vehicle developments.”

Morse adds that portable DiL simulation allows everyone involved in the development process – not just traditional test drivers – the opportunity to offer relevant subjective feedback.

“A compact simulator like our Theta C also offers a cost-effective solution that is easy to install in an office,” says Morse. “And although it may appear relatively straightforward to create something like this for those with simulation experience, its apparent simplicity belies its extremely well-thought-out form factor and its powerful computational backbone.

Theta C’s architecture is said to be robust enough to handle sophisticated vehicle and environmental physics models and connectivity to external systems like test benches, therefore allowing validation of emerging automotive technologies.

“‘Plug and Play’ is actually not that easy to achieve in a real simulator,” Morse continues. “But our customers don’t need to be bothered. They can leave the heavy lifting to us and carry on with their real work.”

This type of simulator is proving increasingly popular among the industry’s manufacturers and influencers throughout departments already invested in tech which have the existing simulation architecture in place, yet want to evaluate, experience and feel the technology from a human perspective. Simply put, a compact simulator connects real people with detailed simulation environments and is a solution that is addressing the increasing need for human-in-the-loop simulation.

This was seen recently when a leading tyre manufacturer installed a Theta C simulator at their North America R&D centre, in order to expand its research, development and simulation capabilities. The simulator was brought in to enable virtual test driving and evaluation of tyre-road-vehicle interactions in advance and in parallel with physical testing.

“Virtual vehicle models help manufacturers to gain efficiency, improve performance and reduce cost during the vehicle development process,” Morse explains. “Investing in a compact, portable DiL simulator allows more OEMs and key suppliers easier access to the technology, to help satisfy the need for reliable virtual test driving.”

Distilling the main engineering-grade componentry that’s required for human immersion inside a small physical space is proving key to portable sims. They are fast becoming the fundamental building block for connecting real people with automotive simulation environments, aimed at delivering a practical balance between cost, complexity, and capability.