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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Virtual Reality Is a Real-World Draw at EMO

Virtual Reality PIC

EMO attendees immerse themselves in Formula 1 race car design with ImmerSight’s virtual reality technology.

One of the more “unreal” exhibits at the EMO Hannover machine tool expo this week is ImmerSight, a portable virtual reality system that could become a staple of product design and development in machining shops.

Virtual reality (VR) may seem like a whimsical addition to machining operations. But the company that developed ImmerSight, a startup of the same name that was formed this year in Ulm, Germany, believes that the experience is so vivid and accurate that it can support design- and process-related operations, even to the point of making prototypes unnecessary.

VR is in use by some OEMs. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin, for one, has for several years been using the technology to make virtual models of hardware designs for satellites, fighter aircraft and other complex systems. The idea is to detect design flaws and other problems before spending money on physical models.

The technology behind ImmerSight grew out of work in virtual reality at the University of Ulm. The system, powered by software from Palette CAD of Stuttgart, includes a lightweight (100 grams, or 3.2 oz), five-sided headset of carbon fiber called RoomGlasses that immerses a wearer in a VR scenario, and a hand-held control to operate the simulation. RoomGlasses has a pair of miniature lenses positioned in front of the wearer’s eyes that project 3-D images. The lenses incorporate OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology from optical specialist Zeiss, which produces high-definition images.

A USB camera mounted overhead tracks the movement of the RoomGlasses as a wearer walks, crouches or jumps. A special algorithm calculates the position and orientation of a wearer’s head to display the correct image perspective on the OLED lenses.

Head motion is monitored with tracking and filtering technology, computer vision and sensor fusion. The system has a powerful 6 DOF (degrees of freedom) head-tracking capability, which yields real-time updates to the virtual scenario, presumably with no lag. Most VR glasses, in contrast, have 3 DOF, which only records head turns, the company says.

At EMO, the ImmerSight technology displays an exploded view of a Formula 1 race car based on CAD data. Attendees can wear the RoomGlasses and virtually stand in the middle of the car and its components.

The VR technology is also being tested in five pilot projects in bathroom décor and design showrooms in Germany. Salespeople use the ImmerSight system as a tool in customer presentations.

The seeming mundaneness of these applications demonstrates how easily the VR technology could be integrated in the design or plant-floor environment of a machining shop.

At last year’s IMTS in Chicago, in fact, Virtalis, a company specializing in 3-D simulation and VR technology, displayed its capabilities in these areas. A representative said he had been in discussions with major OEMs about using the company’s VR programs for inter-departmental design evaluations and its simulations for training. He said that machining shops could do the same and achieve swift returns on their investments.

The biennial EMO expo is the world’s most international trade fair for metalworking. More than 2,100 manufacturers from 43 countries will be showcasing innovative production technology until Saturday at the event.

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