VR at Rolls Roy­ce: how to test engi­nes that don’t yet exist as hardware

Whoe­ver gets out at the last stop of the S2 in Blan­ken­fel­de on the way from Ber­lin to Rolls Roy­ce in Dah­le­witz has left the big city far behind them. Only the pla­nes in the sky taking off and landing at near­by Schoe­ne­feld give a hint of the pro­xi­mi­ty to Ber­lin. The mul­ti­cul­tu­ral com­po­si­ti­on of the peo­p­le arri­ving in Dah­le­witz is striking. They all have a com­mon goal: the Rolls Roy­ce fac­to­ry in Dah­le­witz, just a 15-minu­te bus jour­ney away, is loca­ted on a huge site with seve­ral lar­ge halls. 2,800 peo­p­le from 50 nati­ons are working the­re. The plant for the con­s­truc­tion of air­craft engi­nes was foun­ded in 1990, imme­dia­te­ly after the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, as a joint ven­ture with BMW. Ten years later, BMW then made an exit from the ven­ture. Sin­ce then, the plant in Dah­le­witz has been a whol­ly-owned sub­si­dia­ry of Rolls Roy­ce in Eng­land. Some of the engi­nes built in Dah­le­witz are instal­led in the air­craft that now fly over Dahlewitz.

A big draw for visi­tors at Rolls Roy­ce is the Cave Auto­ma­tic Vir­tu­al Envi­ron­ment (CAVE), a space into which a three-dimen­sio­nal vir­tu­al rea­li­ty world is pro­jec­ted. It was deve­lo­ped in this par­ti­cu­lar form for Dah­le­witz. Ever­y­bo­dy can immer­se them­sel­ves the­re in vir­tu­al worlds wit­hout the need for the head-moun­ted dis­plays (HMD) that are nor­mal­ly requi­red for vir­tu­al rea­li­ty. Three walls and the flo­or are used as screens. A mas­ter puts on mas­ter glas­ses and holds a fly­stick in their hand. Both devices are equip­ped with moti­on cap­tu­re, i.e. a track­ing sys­tem that detects move­ment in order to adjust the images one is see­ing. Other par­ti­ci­pan­ts just need 3D glas­ses. The clo­ser they fol­low the mas­ter, the nea­rer their per­cep­ti­on will be to that of the mas­ter. Rolls Roy­ce had been deve­lo­ping this CAVE sys­tem with an open design tog­e­ther with the BTU Cott­bus bet­ween 2010 and 2014. The space was rea­dy for use two years later, in 2016. Engi­neers can pre­sent cur­rent pro­ject sta­tu­s­es the­re as well as con­ve­ne kick-off mee­tings for new pro­jects. The aim is to save money and time by using vir­tu­al rea­li­ty. A new model for a com­ple­te engi­ne from the engi­neers’ data­ba­se can be con­ver­ted into a vir­tu­al rea­li­ty model and pre­sen­ted in Dah­le­witz in five to six hours.

Deve­lo­p­ment engi­neer Ste­phan Rog­ge explains: “We sim­ply extra­ct the data for the engi­ne from our sys­tem. All com­pon­ents are defi­ned the­re”. Years befo­re the very first com­po­nent for an engi­ne has been pro­du­ced as hard­ware, the vir­tu­al rea­li­ty ver­si­on of an engi­ne can be exami­ned from all sides with all of its 27,000 parts, and defects can be iden­ti­fied at an ear­ly stage and in cost-effec­ti­ve way. Cer­tain tools had to be pro­du­ced for the new deve­lo­p­ment of a high-per­for­mance trans­mis­si­on. It was appa­rent during the visua­li­sa­ti­on in vir­tu­al rea­li­ty that the­re were pro­blems with one of the com­pon­ents. The sup­pli­er was then able to make adjustments.

Visi­tors curr­ent­ly get to see the Rolls Roy­ce BR 725 engi­ne as a vir­tu­al rea­li­ty model in can­dy colours that is alre­a­dy in use. Every screw, every washer is pre­sent. With the fly­stick, every one of the 27,000 com­pon­ents can be touch­ed and moved. The model can be view­ed from all sides. Whoe­ver wants to can stick their head through the ope­nings into the inte­ri­or. Howe­ver, the indi­vi­du­al parts sim­ply pene­tra­te the other mate­ri­al if they don’t fit through ope­nings. Work is still under­way on a model that would block if some­thing does­n’t fit through the ope­nings. “For­t­u­na­te­ly, you can’t do much dama­ge vir­tual­ly,” Ste­phan Rog­ge laughs.

So far, it is not yet man­da­to­ry for engi­neers to use vir­tu­al rea­li­ty for their pro­jects. “Howe­ver, in the future, its deploy­ment is set to beco­me an inte­gral part of the pro­cess here,” says press spo­kesper­son Ste­fan Wrie­ge. “We want to use it to acce­le­ra­te work pro­ces­ses ever­y­whe­re”. Alt­hough he can’t say exact­ly how long this will take. He expects this to be in a few months’ time.

By Eva Werner

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The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.