BMW’s new simulation center

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BMW Group is creating every opportunity for its vehicle research and development engineers to simulate and test the product requirements of the future under realistic conditions with its new Driving Simulation Centre. Featuring 14 simulators and usability labs covering an area of 11,400m2, it is said to be the most advanced and diversified simulation center in the automotive industry.

Michael Brachvogel, head of BMW Group Research Interiors, User Interaction, User Experience and Driving Simulation, explains, “The aim of the new center is to provide the ideal simulation tool for every area and every phase of the vehicle development process, all under one roof.” The focus on the customer in the development stage is also being raised to a whole new level. “We can perform test drives for studies with up to 100 test persons per day.”

The optimum simulation tool for every stage of development
From the early concept phase through to the final function validation stage, BMW says the center provides the various specialist areas in vehicle development with an ideal simulation tool. Facilities range from static simulators without a motion system to the high-fidelity simulator, which transports the road into the lab to remarkably realistic effect with its nearly 400m2 of motion area. Thanks to an installation concept featuring an ingenious transportation and docking system, all of the simulators can be used on the same day with different vehicle models if required.

BMW engineers have also devised a Seamless Simulator Experience in order to offer test persons an even more realistic simulated experience and therefore increase the validity of results. In future, test persons in selected studies will wear a VR headset as they make their way to the simulator. They will be in a virtual BMW or Mini dealership, for example, with the vehicle parked in front of the dealership ready for the test drive.

While they walk through the virtual space, they are actually moving toward the driving simulator. They only remove the headset immediately before entering the simulator.

“We attain an extremely high degree of immersion with the Seamless Simulator Experience,” says Driving Simulation Centre project manager Martin Peller. “This allows the study participants to immerse themselves far more fully in the driving situation, which in turn means that we obtain very valid and robust results for optimising our user functions.”

High-tech on an impressive scale: the high-fidelity and high-dynamic simulators
The high-fidelity and high-dynamic simulators are the standout highlights of the Simulation Centre, both visually and technologically. According to BMW, they create the type of test conditions that in the past could only be experienced with actual test vehicles on the road. Besides targeted optimization of innovative user functions, testing in the lab has the added benefit of making it possible to reproduce specific driving situations as often as required, significantly increasing the validity of the evaluated test results.

The high-fidelity simulator:

  • Development focus: user functions in challenging driving situations, such as those encountered in urban driving.
  • Simultaneous longitudinal, transverse and rotational movements possible.
  • Acceleration of up to 0.65g
    (similar acceleration to a BMW M3 sedan: 0-100 km/h [62mph] in 4.2 sec)
    [353kW/480hp; fuel consumption combined: 10.8 l/100km (26.2 mpg imp); CO2 emissions combined: 248g/km.]
  • Motion area of nearly 400m2.
  • Over 10m in height.
  • Moving mass of around 83 metric tons.
  • Peak electrical power required: up to 6.5MW.

In the high-fidelity simulator, real-life driving scenarios are reconstructed in exceptional detail. Braking and accelerating in corners, negotiating a roundabout, and a quick succession of turns can all be recreated with high precision on this installation’s motion area, which measures nearly 400m2. This means that complex urban driving situations – which present a particularly wide range of challenges for automated driving systems – can now be replicated under laboratory conditions.

The high-dynamic simulator:

  • Development focus: user functions in highly dynamic driving situations.
  • Highly dynamic longitudinal and lateral acceleration of up to 1.0g
    (acceleration similar to the BMW iFE.20 Formula E racer: 0-100 km/h [62mph] in just 2.8 sec.)
  • Sled length 21m.
  • Moving mass of around 23 metric tons.
  • Over 9m in height.
  • Peak electrical power required: up to 3MW.

The new high-dynamic simulator is capable of generating longitudinal and lateral acceleration forces of up to 1.0g. It replicates highly dynamic evasive action, emergency braking and hard acceleration when testing out new systems and functions.

The longitudinal and lateral movements of both simulators are produced using a sophisticated system of wheels and rails, which reacts virtually instantaneously to driver inputs such as steering commands. This allows all the characteristic nuances of driving pleasure in a BMW to be experienced in the simulator. This is achieved by using linear electric motors with no moving parts.

In order to generate the necessary forces, these electric motors hover above a series of magnets with poles alternating in quick succession, similar to the magnetic levitation technology found in high-speed maglev trains. Supercapacitors deliver the peak power required by the motion system in fractions of a second, with the motion system then recuperating energy by means of regenerative braking and feeding it back to the supercapacitors.

The tests take place inside a platform of the driving simulator with a distinctive dome shape. Here, the systems for testing are installed in a vehicle mock-up. The dome is mounted on an electromechanical hexapod system and can be moved in both a longitudinal and a lateral direction by means of a further electric drive unit. Inside the dome, the vehicle mock-up stands on a turntable for recreating rotary movements.

The dome is used for a 360° projection of the surrounding area to give drivers a realistic visual image of the simulated traffic situation. Precise synchronization of the visual projection with the vehicle mock-up’s movements gives the simulated driving situation a very realistic feel. The visual impressions and the longitudinal, lateral and vertical acceleration forces acting on the test person merge to create a near-perfect overall sensation of dynamic motion.

Completing the virtual test drive scenario is a simulated soundtrack that is likewise matched exactly to the situation being replicated. The test persons enter the vehicle in the dome via a gangway similar to those used for boarding an aeroplane.

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Lawrence has been covering engineering subjects – with a focus on motorsport technology – since 2007 and has edited and contributed to a variety of international titles. Currently, he oversees Automotive Powertrain Technology International and Professional Motorsport World magazines as editor.

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