French automobile manufacturer Renault has recently implemented a new CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) facility at its Paris headquarters. While other auto manufacturers have also implemented CAVE technology, Renault’s facility boasts the highest resolution ever realised in a VR environment, with five sides of Sony-based imaging that can deliver up to 16k resolution.
Andras Kemeny is founder and head of Renault’s Virtual Reality and Immersive Simulation Technologies Group, which provides virtual mock-up and simulation tools for various departments within the company, including Vehicle Architecture, Ergonomics and Styling.
“At Renault, we were aware of CAVE technology from the beginning, around 1990,” he said. “We had talks with others in the field, including the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart, where they had an early six-sided CAVE. At the time, the general consensus at Renault was that the image quality and frame rate were not sufficient for our use.”
It was a chance meeting that renewed Kemeny’s interest in the CAVE. “I was teaching a class at Paris Tech, and one of the invited professors was Jim Oliver, who was the head of Iowa State University’s VRAC (Virtual Reality Applications Center) facility,” said Kemeny. “They had one of the first 4K CAVE systems. It was really impressive, and we felt it was finally time to move forward with CAVE.”
Renault partnered with Mechdyne to design and implement the CAVE facility. “Renault approached us to bid on the project, because we had already built a six-sided CAVE of that resolution, and we understood the challenges,” explained Mechdyne’s Dr Richard Cashmore.
“We found that Mechdyne was not bound to a specific technology,” Kemeny explained. “They were able to look at the entire technological landscape, and consider combinations of different brands and products. Their approach was very focused on our specific goals, rather than on whatever technology they favoured.”
“We had a number of meetings with them to talk about their ideas,” Cashmore continued. “We worked to create a solution that fit their budget, and to address their space limitations, including a height restriction.”
The system includes five sides of Sony 4K projectors at 5.5K lumens, scalable to 16K – the first 16K VR environment anywhere in the world.
Kemeny added: “The Sony projector Mechdyne specified was designed for cinema-based solutions. Calibrating multiple projectors was not something Sony had addressed. Sony provided us some data, and then our engineers at Renault and Mechdyne collaborated for several months to design a calibration protocol. We’ve been quite happy with the results.”
The CAVE and supporting PowerWall are also equipped with three Digital Projection Titan WUXGA projectors, screens from Stewart Filmscreen, a computing and rendering cluster comprised of a head node with 18 rendering nodes each with a single NVIDIA Q6000 GPU (graphics processing unit), and an ART optical tracking system.
The collaboration between Renault and Mechdyne created a powerful synergy. “Originally, the relationship was that of client and provider, but over time it evolved to where we were all really part of the same team,” said Kemeny.
Though Renault’s CAVE was initially created for interior ergonomic design, Kemeny reported that the technology has become popular with other departments in the organisation.
“One thing that was very exciting for us was the fact that the CAVE was being embraced by various departments within Renault,” he said. “Ultimately, this is enabling us to build a better vehicle.”
In fact, the Renault CAVE has led to discussions with Daimler (parent company of Mercedes-Benz) on a new collaborative project.
“The collaboration with Mechdyne has given us the most state-of-the-art facility in the automotive industry,” Kemeny concluded. “It’s a system we can be very proud of.”