Automotive industry eager to gain access to Windsor's virtual reality cave

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell


Canada’s largest and only publically accessible virtual reality cave for connected and autonomous vehicles became an actual reality Wednesday with the unveiling of the $4.6-million project at Windsor’s Institute for Border Logistics and Security.

The three-dimensional cave, with three screens measuring 4.75-by-2.9 metres, promises to revolutionize product design not just in the automotive industry but in all the related industries now dragged into that increasingly high-tech sector.

“This is really aimed at small- and medium-sized businesses that can’t afford this type of equipment,” said Susan Anzolin, executive director of the IBSL. “The impact to area businesses will be having access free of charge.

“That will impact their ability to prototype and create new products and test and validate new products.”

The province, through the Ontario Centres for Excellence’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network, provided funding for the project with industry offering match grants.

Windsor is one of six sites around Ontario involved in the research of AV and connected vehicles aimed at making the province the centre of emerging technologies in the field.

The private sector simulation companies involved in constructing the cave were Ontario’s SimuTech, American firm ANSYS and Belgium’s Barco.

Raed Kadri, director of Automotive Technology and Mobility Innovation for Ontario Centres of Excellence, said Windsor was a perfect fit for the cave due to its proximity to the emerging tech mobility giant that is Detroit, the challenges of working across an international border along with having a century of automotive expertise.

“The intention (of AVIN) was going into communities, look at the resources already there that can support commercialization,” said Kadri, a Windsor native.

“For Windsor is just one of six sites in AVIN that are working collaboratively to help Ontario businesses develop the technology that’s the future of the industry.

“It’s a wide–open game right now. We want the automotive industry coming to Ontario to buy the technology it needs.”

The virtual reality cave is already drawing interest from companies and organizations outside of Canada, just based on word of mouth.

Partnerships with such key tech mobility players as the University of Michigan’s M City are already being discussed and representatives from Michigan and the City of Detroit were in attendance Wednesday.

One of Canada’s telecom giants was also present and even automotive OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have inquired about the project.

“One of the aims is definitely using the cave as a lure to attract more investment and new businesses,” Anzolin said. “We haven’t even started marketing it yet and we’re getting inquiries.”

Those companies interested in accessing the facility can do so by going contacting AVIN (

The cave can handle simulations for operating 18-wheel trucks down to the functioning of the tiniest engine part to how sunlight reflects off a McLaren Supercar’s premium paints.

Wednesday’s demonstration featuring the McLaren created the sense of actually sitting inside a vehicle that will remain a fantasy to most.

The realism of the three-dimensional images revealed the car’s details down to the grain of the leather and the colour of the stitching on the seats.

The infotainment and driving instrument clusters called out for a firm foot on the accelerator to slam the fun into gear.

The body of car, which could change colours and paint content, reflected the sunlight in ever changing angles as the vehicle was spun around.

“This brings product development to a new level,” said Alan McKim, vice president of SimuTech.

“Having the capability to visualize and interact with your product before it’s fully developed is a game changing opportunity.”

Jonathon Azzopardi, president of the Canadian Association of Mold Makers and Laval Tool, said the cave will dramatically reduce the cost of failures.

“Simulation and digital twinning gives you the ability to try new things at a lower risk,” Azzopardi said. “That’s a big opportunity for us.

“In our industry, failures are expensive.”

The cave will also speed up the process of going from innovation and development to commercialization of new products.

Barco systems engineer Marius Braun, who has worked on the project from its inception three years ago, summed up the value of the virtual cave with a historical example.

“In the past, companies had to make physical prototypes for testing and change that and make another and that’s expensive,” Braun said.

“Now you can create something, present the project, and if everyone says, “Ah, that’s an Edsel,’ you simply hit the delete button and move on.

“It reduces the fear for companies of being innovative.”

Suresh Rama, director of innovation, research and development for Valiant Machine and Tool, envisions a variety of benefits.

“What will be tested here will end up in cars made by OEMs and Tier One suppliers,” Rama said. “It will also allow us to study what we’re doing on our assembly lines. I think there’s a real safety benefit here too.”