Virtual Reality And Product Design Essay Research

Virtual Reality And Product Design Essay, Research Paper


In the not so distant past, all mechanical drawings and

blueprints were created by hand. Models of the parts were

then made, also by hand. Mistakes could cost a great deal of

time and money. Then the design world was revolutionized by

computer aided drafting. This new tool, along with the

addition of rapid prototyping, has saved industry a countless

amount of hours and money.

As efficient as the part modeling systems of today are,

a new tool is developing that may once again change the part

modeling process for good. Virtual reality systems can allow

a person to “walk” through a new building or examine a new

part before a mock up or model is ever made, allowing changes

to be implemented before anything is ever built. Although

only considered to be in its infancy stages, virtual reality

will soon become an integral part of the design process.

Virtual Reality Background

The term virtual reality describes a computer program

that stimulates some or all of the five senses in order to

create an “illusion of being somewhere or doing something”

(Bates 53). It can consist of programs that allow the user

to “fly through” a design, or it can be a room complete with

three dimensional graphics, sound, and the sense of touch.

In the world of virtual reality, there are six degrees-of-

freedom, or in other words, six different types of movement.

In addition to the normal up/down and left/right movements,

the user can also pitch up or down, angle left or right, move

forward or backward and rotate left or right. A normal

drawing from CAD can become a virtual environment that can

almost be percepted as real (Teschler 60).

Virtual Reality Applications

Numerous virtual reality applications are available on

the market, ranging from a price of several hundred dollars

to millions of dollars. As mentioned above, the simplest of

the virtual reality programs is the fly through program.

This type of application can be run from a personal computer

without the need of expensive hardware. Some of these

programs, such as ADAMS form Mechanical Dynamics and Working

Model from Knowledge Revolution allow designs to be subjected

to a kinematic analysis in order to see how parts will

perform. These types of applications are used extensively in

the automotive industry (Puttre 21).

Three Dimensional Graphics

The next step up is to make the virtual environment

three dimensional. This is done using a 3-D graphics

generator such as stereographic goggles, also known as head

mounted displays (HMD’s) (Derra 46). A simple movement of

the head will change the perspective seen through the

goggles, just as in real life.

Although the use of a HMD can provide a totally unique

perspective it increased cost must be considered. For

complicated, 3-D virtual systems, a graphics accelerator and

a six degree-of-freedom mouse are needed (Teschler 62).

These items coupled with the cost of the HMD can drive the

price up to around 130,000 dollars (Derra 46).

Virtual Touch

In addition to sight, virtual reality can also include

the sense of touch. Cybernet Systems Corporation has

developed a hand held system that will give the user a sense

of pressure when obstructions in the virtual room are

reached (Schut 23). Prosolvia Clarus of Sweden has developed

a pair of cybergloves that will produce a feeling of

restraint when trying to penetrate a barrier and a feeling

of weight when holding an object (Bates 54).

Advanced Virtual Reality Applications

The majority of virtual reality programs in industry

today are the fly through programs used with either normal

computer screens or goggles. However there are some advanced

virtual reality systems in use on a small scale. The two

systems in use today are the Cave Automatic Virtual

Environment (Cave) and Simulation Based Design (SBD) system.

These two cutting edge systems are very expensive and in use

mainly at universities and in the automotive and aerospace


The Cave system at the Argonne National Laboratory in

Argonne, Illinois is typical of most Cave systems. “Images

are projected onto the floor and on stretched Mylar screens

forming the front and two side walls for 180 (degree) of

immersed visualization” (Bates 55). Users wear special

goggles that cause depth perception, and the system is

controlled by mouse and joystick controls (Bates 55).

The Cave system is also employed at Caterpillar in

Peoria, Illinois. The virtual reality environment is created

by importing drawings from the Pro/Engineer CAD system. The

Cave system is equipped with a steering wheel, shifter, seat

and other controls so the imported design can actually be

“driven” (Teschler 62). Different environments, such as a

cornfield or a landfill, can be utilized during the

simulation. Managers of the new Caterpillar technology

believe that the device has significantly reduced product

development time (Bates 56).

Simulation Based Design (SBD) was started by the Defense

Advanced Research Projects Agency, in conjunction with

several private defense contractors. SBD combines CAD with

virtual reality and kinematic analysis to produce realistic

simulations. Using a SBD program, Lockheed Martin had

successfully produced simulations of Navy ship deck gun

firing arcs. As SBD technology continues to progress, design

times will decrease, physical prototypes will be eliminated,

and initial design quality will be improved (Puttre 22).

Although Cave and SBD systems are available, they are

not in use by many companies yet. Most companies refrain

from such a large system because of its high cost. The

initial cave system can cost around $400,000, and the

computers to run the graphic displays can cost an additional

$30,000 to $300,000 (Derra 46). It is not widely believed

that the benefits of these systems outweigh the initial costs

at this point in time.


Every new technology requires time before general

acceptance is achieved. Virtual reality technology has not

been around for long, so wide acceptance has generally not

been seen. However, as the technology continues to improve

and the cost decreases, virtual reality will find a home in

industry. In the not so distant future, virtual reality

simulations will be the norm and prototypes will be a thing

of the past.


Virtual Reality technology is in the beginning stages,

but will soon have a large impact on product development.

Several different types of virtual technologies are available

today. The basic systems operate on normal computers. Three

dimensional systems are available, and some even offer the

sense of touch. Cave systems and SBD systems offer the most

options and best effects, but are costly and not in wide use.

More applications for virtual reality technology will seen as

the technology evolves.

Works Cited

Bates, Charles A. “Come on in, the VR is fine.” American

Machinist. v. 141, 1997. pp. 53-6.

Derra, Skip. “Virtual reality: development tool or research

toy?.” R & D Magazine. v. 40, 1998. pp. 45-50.

Dvorak, Paul. “Engineering puts virtual reality to work.”

Machine Design 29 Feb 1997. pp. 69-73.

Puttre, Michael. “Simulation-based design puts the virtual

world to work.” Design News v. 53, 1998. pp. 21-25.

Schut, Jan H. “Autofact showcases low-cost, high-function

software and the first touchy-feely CAD.” Plastics World

Jan 1997. pp. 22-26.

Teschler, Leland. “Walk-through realism slashes development

time.” Machine Design 25 May 1995. pp. 60-64.

Table of Contents

Abstract 1

Introduction 2

Virtual Reality Background 3

Virtual Reality Applications 3

Three Dimensional Graphics 3

Virtual Touch 4

Advanced Virtual Reality Applications 4

Conclusion 6

Works Cited 7

Appendix 8


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