During a recent press event, Caterpillar showed off a virtual realty (VR) demonstrator that allowed editors to walk straight through a current production D6, viewing internal components along the way. (See video below.) If Cat offers this same experience at ConExpo, it will have a line of attendees snaking through the aisles waiting to get in.
Working with graphic card producer Nvidia and software provider ESI Group, Cat has merged its CAD drawings with their capabilities and is now “two to three years ahead of where we thought we were going to be” with its VR capabilities, says Galen Faidley, engineering project team leader with Cat’s Immersive Visualization department. “We’ve only had this system for a couple of months. Now that the broader world is paying attention to VR, we can take consumer technologies developed for gaming and apply them to basic product engineering.”
Faidley stresses that virtual reality is nothing new for Cat. “We’ve been involved with it for 20 years,” he says. However, what editors experienced last week is something that takes the technology great leaps forward, he contends.
Donning a VR headset, users employ a wand (seen in the video as a green device) to move through the D6, “cutting through” virtual components to see what lies beyond and around. Users can also turn their head and move their body to explore the machine. (While we can’t give you the total immersive experience, the video does show what the user—in this case our Senior Editor Chris Hill—is seeing through his headset as shown on a screen in the demo area.)
Taking time out of design
Cat’s use of this advanced version of VR will take time out of the concept and design phase of its products. “This allows us to visualize our designs on a 1:1 scale and see where everything is placed,” Faidley says. “We’re always trying to answer the question of how a human is going to interact with the product, so we look at things such as visibility, ergonomic controls and serviceability. With this, we can go through the servicing steps early in our design process. All of this gives us more flexibility to optimize the design.”
For example, if Cat wanted to examine just the routing of the hydraulic system on a concept machine, it could highlight that system in one color and make the rest of the VR machine semi-transparent. Then designers can “step inside” the VR and trace where everything goes. “We can have the engineers, service technicians and operators all interact with the virtual product before we build anything,” Faidley says.
“This is the next step in the evolution for head-mounted VR display,” Faidley says. “A few months ago, there was no way we were going to be able to get the performance necessary for this kind of experience, and now we have it.”