Virtual reality CAVE in Windsor creates virtual twin of Canadian-made Project Arrow concept vehicle

Thursday, March 25, 2021

CBC Windsor/Chris Ensing


Prototype allows for testing, engineering of zero-emission vehicle

A pair of projects that aim to transform how Canada competes globally in the automobility industry have collided in the birthplace of the country's auto industry: Windsor.

There is now a digital twin of the Project Arrow vehicle, a zero-emission Canadian made concept vehicle spearheaded by the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association (APMA).

The virtual model of the fully rendered Arrow vehicle will exist inside of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation's (WEEDC) virtual reality CAVE.

"We're challenging people's perception of manufacturing," said Flavio Volpe, president of the APMA, who believes there could be close to a third of the Arrow vehicle's parts made in Windsor-Essex.

The digital twin will allow the project team to manipulate a virtual model of the vehicle in a fully immersive 3D experience through the VR CAVE at the Border Logistics and Security (IBLS) building in Windsor. 

Recently updated technology allows people to access the model through virtual reality systems that are connected through 5G.

Digital prototypes a cost saving measure

Engineers and product designers will be able to test and adjust parts for the vehicle digitally, cutting costs and saving time while a physical concept is built at the Ontario Tech University in Oshawa. 

"Building prototypes is expensive," said WEEDC president Stephen MacKenzie, who described the VR CAVE technology as something straight out of a science fiction story.

"Depending on the complexity you need the tooling and things for — let's call it a one-off project — that's incredibly expensive and could be a barrier for some of our smaller companies."

WATCH: MacKenzie and Volpe describe how these two projects are linked

The completion of the digital twin, which took 350 hours to build, comes as the APMA sifts through more than 300 Canadian companies interested in partnering up with Project Arrow's concept and vision. 

Project Arrow will update the virtual model in Windsor as more progress is made in the design and engineering process.

The virtual build will also be tested under real world conditions, simulated inside of the VR CAVE. 

WATCH: What's possible at the VR CAVE in Windsor

The reality is that we're not dealing with dot matrix printers, we're not dealing with sketches and clay models anymore — we're dealing with digital twins," said Volpe, describing the shifting landscape of manufacturing. 

"You can do crash testing, aerodynamics testing, computer modelling on performance and dynamics in the digital world."

Volpe said this project goes beyond the end results, an all-Canadian vehicle that meets vehicle production standards that are increasingly heightening zero-emission standards. 

He sees Project Arrow as a research and development inspiration similar to the Canadian-made Avro Arrow, a world leading Canadian aircraft that was designed, tested and eventually scrapped in the 1950s.

WATCH: Here's how the original Avro Arrow was built

MacKenzie and the WEEDC see Project Arrow as an example of how Windsor is harnessing a century of automotive experience to create opportunities in the increasingly digital world of manufacturing. 

"Buzzword city — but industry 4.0, one of the main criteria is using technology to improve manufacturing process," said MacKenzie.

WEEDC is working with more than a dozen companies through the VR CAVE, including additional digital twinning projects that will allow companies to design efficient floor layouts of factories, test different tools in real world conditions and run products through full sized test tracks virtually.

Ed Dawson, senior manager of automobility and innovation at WEEDC, works with local companies to develop their projects for use in the VR CAVE.

"Without spending any money or doing anything physically, let's take it to the next level before you can go and build it," Dawson said. 

Project identifies gaps in EV supply chain

The VR CAVE is available for use by Ontario based companies with less than 500 employees that are building connected and autonomous products through an application process. 

"It's been really a blessing. It's allowed us to pursue our own regional transition from automotive, to automaton to automobility. It's just a phenomenal tool," MacKenzie said. 

WATCH: How Project Arrow may find gaps in the Canadian supply chain

The head of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association (CVMA) has applauded Project Arrow for its innovation around creating an electric vehicle supply chain.

"They're trying to figure out through the supply chain where Canada has the capacity to be part of the shift to electric vehicles and this is really important," said Brian Kingston, president of CVMA. 

General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford have all made billion dollar investments in converting production in Ontario plants toward electric vehicles.

Volpe plans to show the completed Arrow to as many manufactures as possible, putting Canadian made parts products on display to producers. 

Kingston sees this as a good move for all Canadian suppliers who might find new opportunities in the shift to electric vehicles.

"They're going to be shifting their supply chain and their sourcing patterns because these vehicles will require different inputs," Volpe said.