There was a time when an automaker like Buick would have to build scores of sheet metal prototypes for no other reason than to run them into a wall – or, more precisely, a barrier used for running safety tests.
These days, however, manufacturers have transferred most of their initial safety testing to digital simulators that are so accurate only a few of these hand-built prototypes, which often cost several $100 thousand each, are needed – and then only to prove to cautious government regulators the data are accurate.
So, if you can build a car that’s safer while rolling down the road, what about building a virtual road that will help make the car not just safer but quieter, more comfortable and more fun to drive?
That’s what Buick claims to have done with a new digital system that can simulate much of what normally requires months of driving at a test track. Want to see what happens when that new model hits some Belgian blocks? How about a patch of Michigan potholes? Just tap the keyboard and sit back as the simulation begins.
“Just like a photo scanner, we can scan the surface of a road to create a three-dimensional digital representation,” explains Mine Tasci, a Turkish native, who has worked with a team to come up with an innovative system using lasers and cameras to create a 3D model of all sorts of road surfaces.
A trip to the General Motors Proving Grounds, in Milford, Michigan will reveal that the maker has long tried to simulate what motorists might face on a daily basis, from some of the potholed stretches that give Michigan a bad name to the nearly impassible road leading up to the Cerro del Cubilete shrine, in Mexico.