Zero Prototype Summit 2024: The Future Is Closer Than Ever

VI-grade introduced a Driver in Motion Full-Spectrum Dynamic Simulator for multi-attribute virtual tests.

VI-grade’s Driver-in-Motion DiM50 can be used with the company’s WorldSim software that creates a virtual world. (VI-grade)

Despite rainy skies above northeastern Italy in mid-May, the mood at VI-grade’s 2024 Zero Prototype Summit (ZPS) was decidedly sunny. VI-grade’s partners from around the world were on hand to see the world premiere of the company’s new Driver in Motion Full-Spectrum Dynamic Simulator (DiM FSS) that allows for multi-attribute applications.

The University of Michigan will use VI-grade’s Driver-in-Motion DiM400 simulator at its Mcity advanced mobility research hub. (VI-grade)

An update to VI-grade’s advanced DiM units, the DiM FSS is a carbon fiber cockpit with shakers that can be mounted on top of VI-grade’s existing dynamic simulators to provide NVH simulations at the same time as dynamic simulations.

May was a busy month for the Darmstadt, Germany-based VI-grade (owned since 2018 by Spectris plc). VI-grade is part of HBK’s Virtual Test Division (HBK is itself part of Spectris plc). HBK CEO Ben Bryson told SAE Media that VI-Grade’s virtual test tools can significantly improve time to market - “in some cases, it’s halved,” he said - while reducing costs by up to 20%. These benefits, as well as getting real-time, accurate feedback, are of particular interest to premium brands, he said.

VI-grade’s Driver-in-Motion DiM50 is a dynamic driver-in-the-loop simulator that can perform ride and handling and ADAS simulations. (VI-grade)

“Companies like BMW and AMG need to know that their brand is protected through the innovation cycle, and that the products that they’ve designed, their physical attributes, the structural load and dynamics, match how the driver feels in that environment,” he said.

Bentley Motors participated in ZPS with a presentation on the “Importance of a Virtual-First Mindset in Engineering.” The automaker backed up this viewpoint by announcing earlier in the month that it would use VI-grade's Compact FSS Simulator to build virtual prototypes of upcoming EV models, noting specifically that the digital tools would be used to improve NVH development and ride and handling tuning. Bentley will install the Compact FSS at its new Driver-in-the-Loop (DiL) Hub that it is building in Crewe, UK.

Compared to the original DiM150 and DiM250 simulators, the DiM400 uses a unique cable drive system on the lower stage to enable a larger motion envelope for even longer time exposure. (VI-grade)

In the U.S., the University of Michigan's advanced mobility research center, Mcity, also announced in May that it would use VI-grade’s Compact Simulator to test autonomous technologies with VI-grade’s VI-WorldSim software stack.

EDAG’s Zero Prototype Lab opening soon

But perhaps the biggest news out of ZPS was independent engineering services provider EDAG Group announcing it would open the first EDAG Zero Prototype Lab (ZPL) in Wolfsburg, Germany, this spring featuring VI-grade’s Cable Driven DiM500 Simulator. Jonas Grötzinger, senior expert for vehicle motion and performance vehicles at EDAG, told SAE Media that the ZPL already has two other VI-Grade simulators – a desktop unit running and a Compact FSS simulator both running Autohawk16 – but it’s the DiM500 that is more likely to convince OEMs, including nearby VW, to use EDAG’s services. The DiM500 has 5 meters (16 ft) and 1.5G of longitudinal and lateral movement and 298 mm (12 inches) and 2.5G of vertical movement.

The Politecnico di Milano University adapted a Maserati MC20 Cielo with autonomous technology for the 1000 Miglia Autonomous Drive in 2023. (Sebastian Blanco)

“We choose the DiM500 because we can do one-to-one cueing for a lot of relevant maneuvers, including double lane change maneuvers, in combination with a good ride comfort performance,” he said. “On a smaller simulator. like a DiM250 or DiM400, you have to use lower cueing so it’s not one-to-one to the force you get on the body, it’s maybe 0.5 or 0.7. That means the driver had to adapt his feeling to the simulator.”

It’s the combination of simulators that Grötzinger said sets EDAG’s ZPL apart.

“We also have an FSS simulator in the lab because we want to combine the attribute development between the handling and steering with the attribute development in NVH and higher frequency ride comfort, and I think this combination is unique on the market,” he said. “The additional desktop simulator [can be used] to update models, to develop models, and do small checks of the models before using the other simulators.”

VI-grade’s Guido Bairati at ZPS 2024. (Sebastian Blanco)
HBK president Ben Bryson speaking at ZPS 2024. (Sebastian Blanco)

The combination of the DiM500 and the FSS simulator also means EDAG can run completely new tests by regenerating data from real-world tests or from simulations.

“You can also make a combination out of this. You can hear only the input from the front axle, or only the input from the rear axle, or from both. You can add wind noise or remove wind noise, and so on. It’s quite good for the engineers because it’s quite difficult to do it in the real world or on the proving grounds,” he said, laughing. “It’s not possible to remove one axle and then drive the car again.”

“With the DiM500, we can only run structural inputs up to a certain level of frequency,” he said. “With the FSS simulator, there’s no limit between the structural transfer path and airborne transfer path. Of course, the airborne noise will be simulated in the FSS simulator. And we can use airborne noise that was measured from a car on the proving ground and use the signals in a simulator as well as we can use transfer paths from the simulation.”

The more, the merrier

VI-grade managing director Guido Bairati told SAE Media that the more simulators a company uses, the better its overall virtual testing becomes.

“If you really want to change the way you develop vehicles, if you really want to accelerate product development, if you really want to decrease the number of physical prototypes, you have to believe in what simulation and simulators can do,” Bairati said. “Believing in a simulator means that you start using simulators in all different locations like Ford is doing, like Stellantis is doing, like Honda is doing, and you need to have a number of simulators in order to study all different disciplines virtually using digital twins. That’s the only way to be able to really say that you are changing the way you develop vehicles and that you are shrinking the development time.”

EDAG’s senior expert for vehicle motion and performance vehicle, Jonas Grötzinger, speaks at ZPS 2024. (Sebastian Blanco)

Despite the sunny predictions at ZPS, there were some clouds obscuring exactly when the industry will reach truly zero-prototype development capability. During breaks and informal conversations, many attendees told SAE Media they face steep challenges getting their companies to fully invest in virtual testing, despite the potential benefits. Bairati, though, said he thinks companies are closer to zero prototypes than they’re willing to say.

“I’m fully convinced that in 2024, a vehicle can be developed fully, virtually,” he said. “That means the first prototype you build, it’s basically right. But some of the decision-makers are still old-school engineers, and they don’t really believe that simulation models can reach the level of reliability and predictability that they actually are able to reach. It’s a cultural shift.”