This past Wednesday, the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Automotive Research and Development Centre (ARDC) launched its most advanced driving simulator in North America, in its new Vehicle Dynamics Simulator (VDS) lab. The VDS features nine directions of movement and specific driver calibration, which closely duplicates an actual driving experience.
“Our new VDS is cutting-edge technology that emulates a vehicle’s driving dynamics in a real-time, virtual environment,” said Tony Mancina, Head of Engineering, FCA Canada. “This new technology offers the driver a customized virtual immersion that replicates the ride and handling of a specific vehicle on a multitude of simulated road surfaces and driving environments.”
While most driving simulators make use of six actuators, to accurately reproduce vehicle ride, acceleration, and handling characteristics, the FCA VDS system uses nine actuators to create even more variations of motion to mimic an actual vehicle in real-world conditions.
One of the features of the new VDS is a three-micron cushion of air, which floats the entire 4.5-ton motion platform above the floor, similar to a hovercraft or an air hockey puck. This allows for a quiet and seamless motion from its giant electric actuators.
The simulator also has the ability to add vehicle subsystems like braking and steering, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Anti-Lock Brake System, or to create new hardware in a loop test bench to meet projected targets. This ability helps the company reduce both product development times, as well as project validation costs.
“The ability to simulate a drive experience with hardware in the loop is key to our engineering efforts and assists in identifying design changes much earlier in the development process,” said Rob Wichman, Head of FCA Vehicle Engineering. “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.”
The simulator can be fitted with any vehicle body, on any type of road, in any environment. To help create the visual experience are five projector screens. Data is collected by scanning different roads and environments, like FCA’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan and put it together to create a real-time virtual environment with elevation changes, off-camber roads, and the dreaded potholes found in places like Michigan roads.
The VDS will initially be used to support FCA’s Chassis Vehicle Dynamics teams, but will also be used to support the development of HMI and ADAS systems. The VDS included an investment of $10.1 million CAD (or about $7.6 million USD). This included support from the Ontario government through the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund, FCA worked with VI-grade, the developer of the new driving simulator technology.