German executive car manufacturer Audi seems to have an innovative approach to every step of the process of making a car. Even before first prototypes of the new car are produced, company tests individual assembly steps in a 3D projection in the Pre Series Center.
Using such projection engineers assemble components virtually, which helps to determine whether assembly process will not be too complicated or uncomfortable for the assembly line worker. Now this technology has been upgraded and engineers are able to move individual components in the 3D projection using gesture control.
The main goal of this technology is to make assembling car feasible and ergonomic for the employees on the production line. Therefore Audi pre-checks every step of the assembly process to see if it is practical for everyday usage. The pilot tests of the gesture control are performed at the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment.
This technology, ironically shortened as CAVE, is very impressive indeed. It consists of images projected on a floor and a wall by 3D projectors. Although it does not sound so amazing, but the result is a virtual reality that can be observed with help of 3D glasses.
Engineers move parts inside of this CAVE using video gaming technology. As surprisingly as that sounds, Audi cars are assembled using a controller from a games console for this virtual reality. However, now it soon will be possible to do using simple gestures, which will enhance the experience and usefulness of the CAVE.
Katharina Kunz, Audi development engineer for virtual validation, explained the reasons for such ambitions like this – “We want to make picking up and moving the components more intuitive in the future”. However, even moving forward will require technology from gaming industry. Currently Audi is testing the Myo – an armband developed in the gaming industry for gesture control. But this is still only a pilot phase and only Kunz herself and her research team are now toying with the technology.
The armband itself works rather amazingly. It measures the muscle currents in the forearm and uses this data to deduce how the user of the Myo is moving his arm and fingers. It is a very streamlined system, because the device itself is rather small, does not restrict movement and can easily be forgotten as engineers are working in the virtual reality. It does not even use any wires – the motion data that armband collect is sent to the computer using Bluetooth.
To make sure that armband does not interpret every single small movement of the user as a gesture control, user has to touch his thumb with his middle finger to activate the Myo. However, system does not only rely on the armband. There is also an infrared camera on the ceiling of the room, which collects the user’s position coordinates. At this point it is already not surprising that the camera comes from gaming industry as well. It is a Kinect – the control hardware in a games console.
Although we are used to hearing about video games related to automotive culture, it is rather surprising that automotive industry uses technology developed for gaming. However, Audi says it is not so unusual. Engineers in the Pre Series Center are actually using gaming technology pretty often, since it develops very fast and is affordable. And virtual reality is pretty similar to a game, except with real life practical application in the industry. Myo will be used in CAVE in series operation in the coming months.