The benefits of composite materials are now widely appreciated in the automotive industry. From city cars to Indy 500 race cars, the unique blend of low weight and high stiffness offered by carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRP) and other composites has led to a surge in their use over recent years. But one company is taking this a step further, looking at how the innovative use of materials can enable virtual sign-offs in the digital domain as well.

Developing cars

The life cycle of a car starts long before its release and before it hits the road. The road to market can be a very long one. Development and testing to maturity involves many complicated and time-consuming processes. Car manufacturers and race teams test their cars at company owned proving grounds or test tracks where roads have been designed to replicate real-world conditions. Cars are shipped all over the world to be driven in extreme conditions like the jungles of Brazil or the mountains of New Zealand. If a manufacturer misses the cold weather testing in Europe, cars and entourage are shipped or flown to New Zealand to complete the testing process.

Rise of simulation

Ansible Motion, based just down the road from Lotus Cars in Norfolk, England, designs and builds Driver-in-the-Loop (DIL) simulators that are used by automotive constructors. Founded in 2009, Ansible Motion designs and builds ‘Driver-in-the-Loop’ simulators that are increasingly used by vehicle manufacturers and motorsport engineers to develop and test vehicles in a virtual world. Ansible Motion focuses on ‘engineering-class’ simulators that are so advanced they can be used to validate road car safety vehicle systems, sign off vehicle settings and predict how a car will perform before actually creating a physical or real car.

Better than the real world

Done properly, DIL simulation can actually offer a variety of benefits over physical testing of prototype vehicles. However, its effectiveness hinges entirely on a simulator's ability to realistically engage a human driver. That's harder than it sounds, and one of the biggest issues is getting motion systems to be responsive enough to convince a driver that real steering, brake, and throttle inputs are controlling the “virtual car”.

This article appeared in the March/April issue of Reinforced Plastics.

Download now