Virtual Prototypes

Using “Augmented Reality,” auto manufacturers can integrate virtual CAD prototypes into actual modules or vehicles to find and solve assembly problems before production begins. The Unifeye Prototyping System from Metaio with AVT digital cameras makes it possible.

As a pioneer in the area of augmented reality technology, Metaio of Munich, Germany develops software products for systems driven by visual interaction in both real and virtual worlds. The company’s Unifeye software platform not only lets you place 3D animations directly into live video streams, but also supports the seamless integration of images from the external user envi-ronment.

The Challenge: Combining Real and Virtual Prototypes

CAD and virtual prototypes have long been part and parcel of the engineer’s toolkit at VW, Daimler, Toyota and others, thanks to which the time and cash investments in prototype con-struction have fallen considerably. However, it is still necessary to test the integration of new components, such as a new motor for an existing vehicle model: does the unit fit into the engine compartment? Can it be installed without new problems aris-ing? Is there enough room for brake assemblies and cable connections?

The Solution: Unifeye Prototyping
Augmented Reality provides answers to questions such as these: thanks to this technology, engineers can combine virtual prototypes with real compo-nents. Metaio is at the forefront of Augmented Reality and develops soft-ware products for visually interactive applications in real and virtual worlds. In cooperation with measurement arm specialist Faro, Metaio developed Unifeye Prototyping, a system that can reduce development lead time and prototype costs, for example, in the automobile industry.

With the Unifeye Protyping System, engineers can measure virtual CAD prototypes with real elements. In so doing, they can check during an earlier phase of development whether future components can be installed in an existing vehicle, and problems can be identified in a timely manner.
The system consists of a Faro measur-ing arm, to which a digital camera from Allied Vision Technologies is attached. Using the measurement arm’s three-dimensional positioning, the physical prototype can be precisely located and measured in space with the help of measurement software. The camera delivers a live video stream of the object. Metaio’s Augmented Reality Software processes the video data as the virtual 3D element is integrated into the real image.

The camera’s exact positioning using the measurement arm enables the virtual 3-D images to be adapted in real time to the changing angle of view and to be precisely overlaid onto the live stream. A combined image is presented on the monitor in which the virtual prototype is built into the real one. Engineers can thus precisely view how both elements integrate with each other. Using the arm, they can move the camera to capture more detail or to view the object from different an-gles.
Thanks to this Augmented Reality solution, draftsmen can immediately see in real time if a bolt for a virtual screw is missing or if the geometry of both parts is less than optimally aligned in any way. This capacity al-lows for the exclusion of errors during preproduction which previously could only be found on the first physical prototype of the new component.

The Requirements: Image Quality and Compact Construction

The digital camera used is a Guppy F-080C color camera from Allied Vision Technologies; its extremely compact construction and suitability for indus-trial environments make it the perfect choice. It connects to the system computer via a digital FireWire inter-face (IEEE1394a), allowing image data to be transmitted quickly and reliably — critical for real-time processing. The Guppy F-080 delivers XGA resolu-tion (0.8 Megapixel) at an image rate of 30 fps (frames per second). “At Unifeye Prototyping, it’s all about detail. The AVT Guppy won us over with its high image quality and compact dimensions that don’t limit arm movement ,” explained Dr. Ronald Müller, Product Manager Industrial AR Solutions of Metaio.
Implementation by Ford: “Interface Between Theory and Practice”

Unifeye Prototyping has already been successfully installed at automakers such as Volkswagen, Audi and Ford. “Augmented Reality delivers the perfect interface for us between theory and practice,” explained Ute Gehle of Ford Werke GmbH in Ger-many. “With this tool, our CAD development work meets up with the reality of actual vehicles and prototypes and their toler-ances. Thanks to early recognition of assembly issues, we save a lot of time and money and avoid difficulties that have negative effects on quality.”