How Ontario's virtual reality caves can help the auto industry

Friday, June 28, 2019

Automotive News Canada


WINDSOR, Ont. – “Revolutionary” virtual reality caves could help automakers and their suppliers become more technologically innovative and competitive in the global marketplace, say industry experts.

A $4.6-million three-dimensional cave at Windsor’s Institute for Border Logistics and Security (IBLS), features three screens measuring 4.75-by-2.9 metres, and is expected to change the way projects design is developed, primarily in the automotive industry, by allowing companies to test their products in advance and reduce the cost of failures.

On Wednesday, using the IBLS as a backdrop, the federal government announced $144 million in funding from the New Frontiers in Research Fund as part of an overall $275-million investment in science and research over five years.

And while not all of the funding is earmarked for the automotive industry, it’s expected to have a significant impact as technology evolves and automakers move close to producing connected and autonomous vehicles, said Diane Deslippe, executive director of the Canadian Association of Mold Makers (CAMM).

The IBLS-based cave will allow small and medium-sized shops to test their technology before actually producing a mold, she said.

“It will cut down on design time and allow our suppliers to settle on a final design before production begins which will save both time and money and also speed up the process,” said Deslippe whose association boasts about 120 members.

CAMM has established an office at the IBLS to help its members access the virtual reality technology.

There are six virtual reality sites across Ontario, including Windsor, where an emphasis has been placed on developing technology for autonomous and connected vehicles.

 “Our government is making historic investments and fundamental changes to the way we fund Canadian science and research,” said Kirsty Duncan, minister of science and sport. “To ensure we are supporting the research community, we are giving them a voice and the opportunity to help shape new competitions so they will be better equipped to discover, innovate and improve lives of Canadians.”

Stephen MacKenzie, CEO of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation, said the IBLS technology will enable Ontario suppliers, the majority of which are located in Windsor, to retain their competitive advantages by developing new products for connected and autonomous vehicle markets.

“There’s no status quo anymore,” said MacKenzie. “You either grow or you decline.”

“We have to continue to evolve at the pace of technology and if we don’t do it here, someone else will and we will be chasing the market,” he added. “By being able to produce six or seven prototypes and testing them using virtual reality technology before settling on one design will be enormously beneficial from a cost and efficiency standpoint.”

Mackenzie said the odds of Canada becoming a low-cost jurisdiction are “very low and that our competitive advantage has to be found in innovation and technology development.”

Individual awards from the Canada-wide fund will be up to $4 million per year with researchers and institutions given until Aug. 1 to make applications for funding.

A further investment and another round of application opportunities will be announced later this year.

The funding will be released in three streams – exploration, transformation and international.